Eve of Destruction: How do Sick People do it? (3/2000)

It’s been six long weeks since I’ve seen my rowing instructor, picked up a dumbbell, had a glass of scotch, cleaned my house, colored my hair or written a column.  Running in my new neighborhood has become a fantasy.  Almost like not resting my head against a pillow, sitting up or walking.

The neurologist at first advised me to toss all of the meds and get back to my life.  Ed and I celebrated over a much-needed glass of cabernet.  Then the first test results came in: my white blood count is 4000 over normal limits.  And, at press time, all we know is that I have an infection.

It may go away in it’s own time.  I may miss more of work.  The one thought I hold onto is to try and get back to my life.
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  Mind over matter.  Red wine over white blood so to speak.  But with every tap on this keyboard a little bubble-like balloon bursts in my brain saying…pain, pain, and pain.

Deb sees the light at the end of the tunnel.  She has a real job keeping people like me calm every day working as the sole secretary for her doctor.  I keep thinking I need to re-think what I do for a living now that I compare it to what she does.  She takes care of sick people that really need her.  I schedule patients with toothaches.

Deb is warm, patient and understanding.  I’ve never met her because her doctor only has one day in our valley and she works everyday in his Encino location.  But she has become my focus.  Because, God forbid, I stop focusing on what she has to say and start listening to the way my brain seems to want to burst of my shoulders and flee to higher ground.

How do sick people do it?  I seem to almost have forgotten what it’s like to be healthy and in shape.  My pal, Lisa, another friend I’ve never seen has a similar take to it.  Lisa and I started our phone friendship when she began calling me for cerebral palsy donations a few years ago.
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  A few months ago she explained that she now collects for the blind.  Two calls ago she told me that she had been though cancer.

Last night she happened to call and I told her what was happening to me.  I joked that when she calls in three weeks again if I’m six feet under she can have everything.  Then she told me a story.  She used to have thin long blond hair, much like mine.  She hated dealing with it and wished that baldness were the norm.  (We are like sisters in this wish.)  When she was diagnosed and spent six weeks in the hospital she lost it all.   And it grew back different.  Now it’s short, coarse and dark.  I thought she was joking, that she had decided to stop coloring her hair.  Nope, she said.  And do you know what else?  She loves her hair this way.

So illness and death and having your life change drastically is nothing to laugh about.  People like Deb and Lisa can handle that.  But those of us that flirt with illness, hanging over the precipice of dismal acceptance are just learning.  Learning how tough it is to be sick and how tough we have to be in fighting it.

So tomorrow I may make it past eleven at work before the headaches force me to drive myself home.  I may get a diagnosis that gives me more definition.

  I may actually get meds again, be hospitalized or take a jog around Happy Valley.  But what I won’t do is expect it all to make sense.

  That’s what people like Lisa and Deb are for.  Thank God.