I know I am dying.
I am aware; cognizant of the microscopic enemies swimming through my blood and crawling through my tissues. I can’t deny the conflict they have created on the inside turning my body against itself. A house divided . . .
From birth, we are all dying, but I have never been so conscious of my shift toward biological retirement as I am now. This wasting away is no longer a secret concealed from me by the trickery of a once busy life.
I can hear it. I hear it in the ringing in my ears – – the horde of spring peepers that seem unable to escape the labyrinth of my cochlea so they call out day and night in despair or panic. I hear it in my breath, heavy and desperate after the shortest flight of stairs, or an inclination to tie my shoe. I force my lungs into submission – – in through the nose, out through the mouth. “Smell the flower, blow out the candle,” I used to tell my patients, when I was a nurse. I hear it in the tympany of heart beats against my eardrums that happen for no apparent reason, and wonder if they might be trying to put an end to those peepers for me – – one way or another.
I can taste my decline in every tablet, capsule, or rancid liquid drop that lands on my tongue. I taste it in the crumbling, unsubstantial, and disappointing squish of gluten free bread; the watery, bitter aftertaste of “milk” made from nuts. I taste it in the memory of all the foods I am doomed to watch others savor.
I can smell death. Oddly, when a body is deteriorating, sometimes it seems to switch to high alert. Sensitive to everything now, I cannot tolerate sounds and lights, and yes, smells. Fragrant anything can make my throat burn, eyes water, stomach turn, and head hurt. I have banished scented lotions, soaps, shampoos. I cannot enter a Croc store, Bath and Body Works, or Yankee Candle. And although, I don’t always smell it, I know in five minutes if mold is present. Some pay thousands and use laboratories to find it, but they could hire me. As soon as the right side of my face draws downward, my right arm and leg go numb, my stomach starts to churn, and my balance slips, I can say decisively that mold lives. I was a thrift store shopper and lover of used books, but no more. They are poison to my over-reactive self.
I can see it. Others say they cannot. They say I look really good, healthy even. One side of my face droops, I walk with a limp, and my color is sort of the shade of wet peanut butter. I see it in the atrophy of muscles previously strong and taut. It is plain in the cobwebs that cover my ceiling, the laundry overflowing, the dirty floors. I see it when I look at my hiking shoes with dusty tops and spotless soles, unused for too long. I see it in my neglected gardens, some so overgrown you would not believe they had been gardens at all. I see it in my new normal; no regular visits with other people, and few spontaneous. No longer pulling on a uniform and going to work. My scrubs are in storage. I don’t go to church, our building has mold. I am mostly alone. When I need to vent or want to offer help, I don’t meet a friend for lunch or coffee, I log in to Facebook or Twitter and rant and cry to other Lymies and don’t know what I would do without their empathy.
And I can feel it. I feel death coming everytime I stand up, sit down, lie down – – in every stiff, slow, painful movement. I feel it when someone touches my skin because it hurts to be touched. I feel it when my foot hits the earth because the soles of my feet are like raw meat; in the pressure in my chest, the freezing then boiling then freezing of my flesh. I feel it my frustration when I cannot remember what happened one second before, when I cannot get letters in the right order, when I mean to say “security” but instead can only say “discovery,” or “ketchup,” or “potato,” or some other nonsensical word. I feel it in my panic, when I cannot remember where I am or where I am supposed to be going, or how to get there if I do recall my destination. I feel it when my mood becomes manic and nervous; when it shifts suddenly to a silent, suffocating misery that is so heavy it holds even my tears captive.
I am aware. I know my invaders and am conscious of their continuing work. So what do I do with this knowledge of death? Matthew 10:28 says “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” In context this passage isn’t talking about bacterial, viral, or parasitic infections. It is talking about evil men, but these bugs are no less destructive than the worst of men. The Apostle Paul reminds me in Corinthians of the decay of my “outer self” and says to be encouraged because the “inner self” is being renewed. Admittedly, I struggle to focus on that renewal when the decay is so overwhelming. Sometimes, I blame the illness for what feels like the ruination of my soul, but I can’t rely on my shifting feelings, if I do, I will fall. Instead I rest on the truths I know. I know souls are strengthened in times of trial, and I know I just need to be open to God, to whatever and however He wants to work in and through me.
I am not afraid, really. One day, I believe God will make me glad – – glad that I am not in the dark about my deterioration. Consciousness of my fragility can, by God’s grace, lead to a greater strength, a lasting peace, and a solid, unshakable joy. I do experience moments of buoyancy; times when I feel the goodness and wisdom of His purpose in my suffering, but most days, if I am truthful, I still just want to be well.
I believe these microscopic warriors have lived in my body for a long, long time. They kept to themselves; didn’t bother me. Ignorance was bliss.
I was unaware. I did not know I was dying.
Now I know. I pray to be thankful that God has let me in on the secret and to use this knowledge well.
Lyme feels like this.