I have been fortunate to have had good health throughout my life. I’ve never broken a bone nor had surgery or had to stay in the hospital overnight. Friends have described me as “hale, hearty, and healthy.” My sick days at work equal two months. Doctors visits find me “normal”, and I can count on having a head cold and losing my voice once a year. On the survey at doctor’s offices where they ask about past problems, I draw a straight line through the column of “None”. I don’t smoke, do drugs, and only have one glass of wine when I drink. I’m sickeningly healthy.
That is until recently. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about getting sick before my trip to New York and the grilled cheese that brought me back to life. When I wrote that post I was confident that it was a random case of food poisoning or the stomach flu. What I didn’t count on was for it to come back the next day after I hit “publish”. Again I was sick and waylaid on the couch. I had the exact same symptoms as before: sore throat, nausea, vomiting (and other stuff that is really TMI). The next day I recovered and felt fine. Another fluke, right?
I woke up the following day with the sore throat again. My stomach felt heavy and nausea rolled over me in waves. I called the advice nurse and followed her advice: urgent care. With Steve by my side, the doctors took my vitals, swabbed my throat, and tested my blood. In the meantime I grew progressively worse– to the point where they gave me my own room, a bucket, and my very first anti-nausea injection. My tests came back normal except for the CBC; my white cells were elevated. They determined that I needed more services than they could offer and packed me off to the ER. They let me keep the bucket.
At the ER they performed more blood tests, gave me another dose of anti-nausea meds (the first had done little to ease it), and hooked me up to an IV, another first. Instead of a private room, I had a bed in the hallway that allowed me to watch the parade of patients going here and going there. Again my tests only revealed elevated white cells. This suggested an inflammation or infection, and they sent me for a CT scan (another first). I learned how painful it was to try to move around with an IV hooked up to my arm. The CT scan revealed nothing, and the ER doctor basically said, “Your body’s fighting something somewhere.” He wrote me a prescription for anti-nausea pills and released me.
A day later I was back at work teaching, not knowing what I had or when it would it attack again. Anxiety shadowed me whispering “what if, what if, what if…” in my ear. Over the course of the week I lost three pounds. The only thing I could do once I got home was sleep. However, I made it through the week without an incident and by Friday gained my appetite back. Saturday broke sunny and clear, and I felt great. I took a brisk two mile walk, went to the foothills with Steve, my sister-in-law Lisa, and some friends, and fed my growing appetite.
The next day I woke with a sore throat– the precursor to hugging the toilet– but I didn’t feel sick and ate breakfast. Around ten in the morning, it started. This shattered my confidence. Normally the sickness would begin around six or seven in the morning, but this time was later. It couldn’t be counted on. So when I woke up this past Wednesday with the worst sore throat yet, I really had no idea what was going to happen. I drove to work visualizing what I would do if for some reason I had to run out of class. My contingency plan was to give the principal’s secretary’s extension to a responsible student in each class with the instructions that if I were to run out to call her. During one class I had to step outside to talk to a student who was having personal issues, and when I came back in my designated student was on her way to the phone, seeing that I had stepped outside.
But whatever it is attacking my stomach took a more sinister turn that day: it attacked my joints. My ankles, hips, shoulders, elbows, the back of my neck, and my jaw were all sensitive and tender. Each move agony. But all of them combined did not equal the pain I felt in my knees. Walking was laborious and taking the stairs near impossible. I went from someone who usually skips down the stairs to clutching the railing and using my arm strength to guide me up and down. I normally avoid the elevator, but this time I used it. By the time I got home from work yesterday, I had to lift my left leg out of the car. Last night using a can opener was a herculean effort. It crossed my mind that I might wake up this morning as a board. Fortunately it didn’t happen, I was still stiff and sore, and my knees still screamed, but somewhere along the day most of the pain eased off.
My doctor thinks I have an inflamed stomach lining (she doesn’t know about the joint pain), but Steve and I think I have a virus. Whatever it is, it gave me much more empathy for those who are chronically ill and who have severe (or any) arthritis. These past few weeks have been full of uncertainty, have chipped away at my confidence, and depleted my energy. Those who have to work consistently through pain– especially those who work with others and have maintain a positive and chipper attitude– have to rely on physical resources that are often just not there. This has been a real mental exercise that required me to put my positive attitude and patience to the test. The joint pain was worse than the stomach ailments. Eventually that would go away and life would be “normal” again, but the joint pain prohibits me from doing what I love: walking. The ramifications of not getting enough exercise and relieving stress reverberate far beyond a stomach ailment. It showed me the frustration and disappointment that people who have rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia or any other kind of pain must go through.
This illness has also shown me how lucky I am. I have friends who have checked up on me. The staff at my school has been wonderfully supportive– their care and concern has made it easier to be at work knowing that if I did get sick, everything would be taken care of. Then there’s my husband who has made numerous runs to the store to pick up 7-Up, crackers, and chicken noodle soup and then comes home to prepare it for me. He stayed by my side through my visit to urgent care and the ER, making sure I was comfortable. He’s picked up the slack on the nights when I’m too tired or sick to cook. He has also been making me really good grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup. I know that this is what husbands are supposed to do, but it doesn’t stop me from being blown away by it.
Right now, I have no idea what tomorrow or the next day will bring, but if I’ve made through the recent bouts, I will make it through whatever my body throws at me next.