The Solitary Endeavor of Getting Better


There are so many beautiful things that happen when you're sick, like beautiful people who show up for you. But still, it can still feel lonely sometimes.

I’m sitting in a hospital bed, with dirty hair, itchy scars across the right side of my head and heavy bandages holding a drain in my back. I have an ice pack on my neck and my stomach churns every time I think of food. My stomach looks like there is a constellation of tiny bruises on it from the Heparin shots I am given each day to avoid blood clots. The incision for a fat graft across my stomach is covered over so I am unable to see the damage done. I'm ten surgeries in and I have no idea about whether I am any better.

There is hardly a part of my body that doesn’t ache or itch. I have to ask permission to get up and walk, to go the restroom and to have any semblance of my independence. The nurses whisper that I am steady on my feet, but that they are afraid I will tangle myself up in the drain coming out of my back. So I push a red button each time I need to get up and I hope someone comes before my stomachache gets worse. The back of my gown stays perpetually open so that doctors, nurses and all others assigned to help me have a full view and easy access. I’ve lost all sense of modesty, figuring my butt can’t possibly be the worst butt these docs saw today.

I took a few days to mourn the loss of my summer, or at least how I thought it would be, and then I took time to recognize the various gifts that come with a long hospitalization. Having just witnessed the way families can bond together and build bridges as my boyfriend’s father went through his own illness, I tried to keep perspective on my own. I have not lost my summer; in fact, I spent it with all the people I dearly love. I am so grateful for them. Each night and day my family shows up with snacks, jokes and joy. My mother and boyfriend have set up camp in the corner, referring to their bunks as only “tiny house.” My friends show up to surprise me. Everyone shows up. I see the gift that that is.

That said, I’m tired of being here. I miss home. I miss my puppies. I miss wearing underwear. No one warns you about the little things when you get diagnosed with something big. No one tells you that you have to wash your hair in a no-rinse cap with a picture of an overly enthusiastic old lady on it. No one tells you that a life without underwear takes a lot of getting used to. No one tells you that most of your family will see your rear end and then act like they didn’t. No one tells you that while you keep your humor up some days, some days you’re just mad. No one tells you that you don’t have to have an eloquent reason to be mad, you just get to be that way. No one warns you that your sleep will be perpetually interrupted by beeping, alerts and alarms. Not even in sleep do you get a reprieve from that reality that your body is sick. No one warns you that every time a family member or loved one leaves, you have a twinge of fear that they will never come back because you see how tired this process has made them.

Even when you’re surrounded by the folks who love you most, you still fear the loneliness. There is an assumption in any kind of diagnosis that it will be scary, but it is sort of a point that is taken for granted. We suffer, it is scary, we survive. That’s the hope, at least.

I don’t have a moment of uplift in all this. I have jokes, I have family and friends, I have love and I have light and that is my wish for anyone else going through anything that is remotely like this. Truly, that’s my wish for everyone, to let the light in.

Ernest Hemingway once said, “We’re all broken, that’s how the light gets in.” So I am sitting in this hospital bed trying to embrace my broken pieces so I can let the maximum light shine.

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