I Know I Am Dying

I Know I Am Dying

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.

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When You’re Stuck With a Fake Disease

When You’re Stuck With a Fake Disease

When my test results came they were covered with multiple +’s. My doctor assured me that, yes, I was truly sick; that the myriad of symptoms harassing me were not the imagined folly of an attention seeker, or an attempt to get out of work. They were, he said, signs of a real and, while not curable, treatable disease. I hobbled from his office that day on legs stiff with pain, climbed into my vehicle, put my head on the steering wheel, and wept.

Relief.

I was not glad to know I was sick or to be sick, and had no idea the long road ahead of me. I was simply happy to know I was not insane. In my body, I carried a pathogen – – a wiggly, sneaky spirochete that could be identified under a microscope. So now, when people asked what was wrong, I could say definitively, “I have Lyme Disease.”

Little did I know . . . truly little . . . this disease, at least the chronic version, came wrapped so tightly in politics, it had been strangled into a mere syndrome. Just a collection of symptoms and the claim of unknown etiology.

Once again, almost three years later, I am in my car with another laboratory report. This time, a Lupus panel. I requested it because I suffer so many of the symptoms. This page is full of “negatives” and “within ranges,” and I am weeping. Not out of joy as one might assume but frustration, plain and simple. I was hoping for the words, “positive,” “elevated,” or “out of range.”

You may be thinking, I am insane after all. This has to seem crazy and probably offensive to those who have Lupus. I may, indeed, at this point, be a little mental, and I really do not mean to offend. I will try to explain my desire to be diagnosed with a progressive, awful disease.

As a nurse, I knew going in, there was no test to confirm Lupus. A positive on any one of the many tests commonly run does not mean one has the disease, while a negative does not mean one doesn’t. Confirmation involves, as with most autoimmune illnesses, a battery of tests that could all mean something else, and the clinical diagnosis of a physician based on symptoms.

This has to be exasperating for Lupus patients, always leaving them with a hint of doubt, a bit of worry; the possibility they may have something else instead, afraid they may be on the wrong track. They probably feel some days they would give anything for pathogenic proof.

But, as I have learned, a clear etiology doesn’t always hold up in the court of medical or governmental opinion. A wiggly, active, clever spirochete in your blood, muscles, joints, and organs does not, for some reason, necessarily make a convincing argument.

So I wanted a Lupus diagnosis. I wanted it because it is legitimate in the eyes of the world. And if I am going to have the symptoms of a real disease, I would like people to believe I have one. Lupus, MS, ALS, all count. They are not referred to as “post disease syndromes.” They garner, as they should, sympathy, empathy, walk-a-thons, telethons, marathons, ice bucket challenges. Celebrities raise awareness and money for these ailments. And all the governmental agencies that hold the power and the purse strings take them seriously and search for cures.

These afflictions should get attention. They are serious and devastating and treatment needs to continue to advance. But the horror of one disease does not negate the horror of another.

So I am in my car, weary of explaining; of the questioning looks, implications, and innuendos. Did you see a tick? Did you have a rash? Lyme disease makes your knees hurt, right? It’s caused by a bacteria? I didn’t know that. Well, at least it can’t kill you. Just a few weeks of antibiotics and you should be good, right?

I am in my car thinking that I am done; done feeling defensive and trying to prove this is genuine. Just because I am sick, doesn’t mean I have to become an activist, does it? I can just close up and know within myself that I am really ill. Someone else doesn’t have to believe me.

I am in my car thinking maybe I am crazy; maybe this is all in my head, and I do not really have crippling pain, suffocating fatigue, memory loss. What if my sometimes stumbling, drunken-like gait is put-on, but I’m so nuts that I don’t realize I’m doing it. What if some psychosomatic invention is causing the muscle spasms, the shortness of breath, the heart palpitations? It’s been awhile since I have had doubt about the truth of my condition, but somehow this piece of paper takes me back.

I am in my car crying, experiencing all the symptoms of multiple real diseases that people believe in and care about; suffering as much as some with MS or Lupus, but stuck with a “fake” disease, just this left over syndrome that is supposedly “cured” by 21 days of antibiotics but has cost me thousands over the last three years.

I fold up the results and tuck them in my purse. I don’t even tell my family they were negative. I think they might be disappointed too that I am not sick with something they won’t have to defend or explain. This paper in my purse, doesn’t mean I don’t have Lupus, but it means I can’t say that I do. Maybe I’ll talk to my doctor about testing for something else, or maybe I’ll pretend I’m well. Maybe, as hard as that is, that would be the easiest.

Lyme feels like this.