IT IS 11:24 AM, I have been attempting to get things done for the better part of two hours at the local coffee shop, and this is the fifth day of feeling not quite at home in my body.
It comes in waves. Waking up my head feels nearly normal and I’m able to rearrange furniture, in the coming hours this illness infiltrates the marrow of my bones and my head aches dully, despite my borderline compulsive behavior of drinking water from a sticker covered Nalgene.
My intestines groan, seemingly unamused by my choice of meal, or perhaps simply the fact that I decided I would try to eat solid food at all. If I knew why this happened, I would fix and prevent it. But I suppose any clear-headed person would do the same.
Pulling out the intake paperwork I received weeks ago for an appointment still months away, each answer is a cruel reminder of what the last year has looked like. From inconclusive bloodwork to medications that made my health worse, writing each answer reminds me of the current ache in my wrist and forearm; working through it has never alleviated it, but rest doesn’t help as much as I wish.
The barista comes over to check in; I haven’t been in as much this week as I normally am, and she asks about my wellbeing.
Then and only then do the tears of frustration and apprehension fall, heavy drops dotting my daily schedule and the paperwork I’m trying to fill out objectively.
I’m apprehensive because I don’t know when or if this will get better. I only know what the worsening is like.
How much do I have to lose to finally be taken seriously? How long will I have to accept this as part of normal? Is this my normalcy?
The terrifying answer: I don’t know.
Blinking lazily, my eyes open to the sunlight streaming in and Lady purrs at me, trying to stir me from where I had been asleep on the couch. Elizabeth has already left for her shift at the local coffee shop but before we went to sleep she had told me to take my time in the morning, just make sure the door is locked on my way out.
The morning felt not quite right, for I woke without pain. Seeing as it is Thursday now and the last time I felt almost well was Saturday, a lull in the pain was the solace I’d been waiting for. Folding the blankets that became my nest the night before and putting the pillow I used back on the bed to make its arrangement symmetrical, the flat was the way it was when I’d shown up the night before, desperate for rest and company. It looked like the calm after the storm had come, but I never get particularly lucky for long on that front.
Naturally, making a breakfast at home that was more than a banana and decaffeinated coffee made sense. Did a fiddlehead-mushroom skillet make sense? Perhaps not, but when your arms and hips have been aching all week, when you feel the way one should you make a proper meal.
The thing is, with the current dietary protocol I’m on, I technically shouldn’t have been eating fiddleheads, nor sautéing them. Twenty minutes after consuming the most satisfying meal I’d had in a week my stomach began to protest and churn and that was when I knew: this wasn’t going to be the first okay day this week.
Limping to the couch, I rummaged through my bag to find the medicine I’d been given in the UK for times like these. Slipping a saccharine coated dot onto my tongue, I chase it with water.
That was 9:30am. At 3:30, I am nauseous and the back of my throat erodes, reminding me that my stomach has become an increasingly uninhabitable environment.
Thinking I needed to pee, as it always goes, I meandered to the bathroom where I proceeded to be released from the stomach pain of the previous six hours. Tears and gasping came, as they always do. I have always loathed the need to vomit, and even though I was immediately better, the emptiness that followed was worse.
Instinctually I went roaming for my father, who always knows what to say or do and I imagined he would tell me to curl up on the couch with a blanket and he would bring the water and rice cakes that I could slowly appease my stomach with. I had forgotten he had left to enjoy the sunshine. And my mother was hard at work upstairs, her maternal mindset turned distinctly off.
Not unlike my time living alone in the UK, I went into autopilot, grabbed the rice cakes and filled a water bottle for my continued stint on the couch. I knew once my parents emerged I would ask them to make mild food and they would comply. Until then, I must rest.
Things you’d prefer doctors not saying: “Shit! Pardon my language, but you really need a neuropsych eval.”
From the mouth of my primary care within five minutes of me being in her office, it’s certainly not what you want to nor expect to hear when going in for an appointment regarding short-term memory and headaches. (Or perhaps it is exactly what you should expect to hear when going in for such things.)
My health hasn’t been what you would expect for a driven twenty-year old. Or perhaps it’s exactly what you’d expect given the chronic stress and numerous rounds of antibiotics my body has been through over the past five years.
Regardless, I certainly didn’t expect to be here. And yet, it feels like I haven’t been here in Maine long enough to find equilibrium, considering my doctor’s bedside manner slipped when she realized I wasn’t going to be based locally at the end of the week.
This has become routine. I leave with medical appointments outstanding. I know how to schedule appointments for the weeks I’m home, and I know how to get medical records from Maine to Massachusetts to the UK and back again.
I can’t decide if I’m lucky that I’ve done this before so I’m empowered to succeed or just incredibly unlucky to know how to handle doctors from away. (I hope I never need to set up Skype appointments with doctors in Maine while I’m based across an ocean again.) Regardless, I’m still here, and I persist in this process. I’d be interested to know though, what other option do I have?
Tori Arau is an environmental chemist completing her degree at Gordon College. When she isn't in the lab she enjoys swimming in the ocean, hiking, and exploring new creative outlets.
"Sister" by Sofia Yalalova