People keep asking me, “When’s your next blog post coming out?” “Talk to my agent,” I tell them. But seriously…
I feel a tremendous amount of pride and gratitude that people want to read what I write, but I have a sense of dread in the pit of my stomach every time I hit the publish button. Doubts swirl through my mind – will they be thinking, “Here she goes again! More of her cancer ‘conundrum’ and cutesy thoughts on sprinkles.” I suppose most writers feel this way; they wonder if what they are saying is relevant and how is something that is so personal to them going to be received in the world (I wonder if my students think this when they turn in a writing assignment? I’ll have to ask.). Admittedly, I am my own toughest critic and I think more about the reader who doesn’t care and wonder why, than the reader who does care and write for them. I assume if you’re still reading this, you care, so I write this for you.
Last week I had the flu. Everyone gets the flu; it’s a normal human experience, a miserable one, but normal. I work at a boarding school, which means I live in a petri dish of disease in the middle of winter, so it’s expected that one would contract whatever nuisance is making its way around campus. But for me, these ordinary ailments can be far from normal in my world.
First, the symptoms begin and my mind races: Why do I feel more tired than normal? Are my blood counts off? Do I need a transfusion? Oh, no is this another blood clot? What do I do with Sadie? Another trip to the emergency room with a never ending hospital stay? I suppose the food isn’t that inedible…
Second, I wake up in cold sweats, the thermometer rises and a call to the doctor is placed. Yes, you must go to the ER – “Make sure you tell them you’re on chemo,” the nurse tells me. Well, I’m not exactly on chemo, but this way, you actually get a space separate from the general population because they assume your immune system is compromised. (Note 1: My immune system will always be compromised since I received a new one in 2012. Note 2: A separate space is valuable real estate at the Mass General Hospital Emergency Room and I will not hesitate to pull the chemo card!) After pokes and swabs and x-rays, they send me home with some Tamiflu and instructions for rest. That’s it? No transfusion? No scan? No admittance to Phillips 21 with a view of the Charles? You’re just sending me home? What’s going on here? Aren’t you worried? “Wait it out,” is what they tell me. Wait it out?
So, I wait it out. Sleep…fluids…Tylenol…repeat as necessary. I feel trapped and helpless – a very familiar feeling. I start to get flashbacks: Will I ever leave this room and get back to my big red couch? Will people think I’m unreliable? I have so much to do – plan my final exam; do my taxes; prepare for spring break. Am I really watching the 11th hour of the Today Show AGAIN?!?!?! Then, as I’m rolling my eyes at Kathie Lee, I start to come back to life and realize that this is normal. People get the flu, they suffer through it and come out on the other side.
I have been trapped on a medical merry-go-round for the last six years that has never seemed to stop. I forgot that I can get sick and not be SICK. Every cough does not equal cancer and feeling extra fatigue does not mean a relapse. Do I have to take extra precautions? Yes. Will my medical dream team overreact from time to time? Yes. But, at the end of the day, I can just be like everyone else and get the flu. The flu sucks, but feeling like a normal person certainly doesn’t.