No end in sight

Hey. This post discusses uncomfortable medical procedures and instances of illness, including vomiting. Proceed with care.

Earlier this year, I got a bacterial infection. I’m accustomed to things in my body going wrong, so I didn’t think much of it. It took me several days to get medical care because I couldn’t walk well, for unrelated reasons. After six hours of waiting and blood-testing and x-raying, I finally saw a doctor. He was a balding, gravely serious man who looked me directly in the face as he said, “You’re lucky you came in when you did. You could have died.” I didn’t know how to explain to this man that I’m familiar with this particular flavor of almost. I said, “okay.” He seemed rather nonplussed.

I stayed another two hours that night to get an intravenous infusion of antibiotics. They tasted like metal and drain cleaner, but that was familiar, too. The nurse and and I agreed that it would be best if I kept the IV port in my arm. I returned every day for a full week for more IV therapies, and I took oral antibiotics at home all the while. It was miserable, the getting up, the being in the car, the taste of metal, the feeling of the port in my arm every time I moved, the not sleeping, the not keeping food down. I got better. Then it happened again. This one wasn’t as interesting. No blood work; no x-rays. Just a shot and some pills to take at home. Ten more days of not keeping food down, and then the infection was gone.

One day, I had a hand failure while cleaning glassware. I told myself to hold on, but I didn’t. I watched it fall and splinter apart, and then I used the rest of my energy cleaning it up. I dropped a stack of books, then fell and hurt my shoulder trying to pick them up. I started getting cramps in the middle of a work meeting and could hardly form sentences. I tried not to think about any of it. When your baseline sensations are generally bad, you learn to ignore them. What’s the misery going to tell you that you don’t already know?

I am so tired, all of the time. Things hurt the way they always have, but the pain finds a way to settle in a little deeper. Sometimes I want to vomit for no reason. I oversleep. I undersleep. I cancel plans. It’s a steeper version of the same downhill trajectory I was already on. I think I have cried more times in the past few weeks than I have in the last few years combined, not because it’s that bad, but because it’s worse than it was, and that’s all I am now. I don’t talk about it because there’s nothing worth saying. People tell me they hope I’ll get better. It’s rude to tell them that where I am now is as good as I’ll ever be again, so I don’t say that. I thank them. I move on.

I remember what it was like before, of course. Every time things get worse, the before gets that much clearer. I can itemize every single thing I’ve lost to injury, to illness, to just being alive. If I work my way backwards, I can conjure a ghost who can still do everything I can’t. I try to make peace with it. I dig a grave. I sing a little hymn. I recount the good times. But where does all the grief go when the body is yours? I haven’t figured that part out yet. Maybe I just have to live with that, too.