Walking “Into the Fire” and Coming Out Renewed {On The Sun Magazine’s Retreat}

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Just back from another great trip to Wildacres for The Sun Magazine’s “Into the Fire: The Sun Celebrates Personal Writing” retreat.

“Life-changing,” said a fellow Pilgrim Writer who went with me. I don’t think she’s overstating the matter. Top-notch presenters, beautiful scenery, good food, and kindred spirits. Plus, it’s in western North Carolina, my soul’s home country, so I’m always fed there.

In short:

Krista Bremer: I didn’t attend any of her workshops.

John Brehm: Don’t tell Precious but I think I’m in love. John is a poet who teaches in Oregon. He’s edited a volume of poetry for those of us who work in the realm of mindfulness and who are tired of relying on Rumi and Mary Oliver exclusively. And although Oliver’s “Wild Geese” is hands down my favorite poem in the universe, and Rumi’s “Guest House” opened up the work of my heart, it’s nice to have other options. His workshop, “The Magic of Metaphor,” helped clarify what metaphor is (I know, I know; by now I should have a handle on the difference between metaphor and simile and how to employ them effectively but, alas, I didn’t until I met John, who says he doesn’t make a big deal about trying to distinguish the two, so it’s no wonder I like the guy) and how we can use in it our writing, be we poets or creatives of another sort.

Frances Lefkowitz: Her workshop, “The Art of Short: Flash Fiction and Micro Memoir” was great. And by great I mean accessible, informative, and a whole lotta fun. People raved about her last year at the retreat, so I was glad to get the chance to hear her this year. (She was the only repeat teacher from 2016, if memory serves, which it doesn’t sometimes now that I’m, you know, old.)

Heather Sellers: One of the best writing teachers around. Buy her books Page After Page and Chapter After Chapter if you want to write, and hear her live if you get the chance. I did not attend Heather’s workshops as I had the pleasure of hearing her at Kentucky Women Writers a few years back.

Marion Winik: Let’s just say she’s “candid.” I knew Marion’s work from her days on NPR. She was a bit crude for my taste during the workshop, but her model for memoir has already changed–for the better– how I write, and teach.

My most treasured memories, though, will be the people I communed with, whether sitting in Adirondack chairs facing the mountains or while passing the lemony green beans (delish!) at the dinner table. People of varying ages and assorted physicalities, people who have been published widely and people who just like to read, people from all over the country, brought together through their love of the written word and their respect for The Sun—what it publishes, all it stands for, how it informs and inspires.

One evening, I talked with a twenty-something neuroscience major from Tulane. Egads I could not stop staring at this rare, lovely creature; so young and full of promise and smarts and drive; “You’re going to be a neuroscientist?” I kept repeating. “Who plans to work in impoverished countries?!” Then there was a Quaker from Up East, who knew all about the Earlham School of Religion, a Quaker seminary in Indiana where I’ve taught; the woman I had met five years ago when I led a workshop in Seaside, Florida, but hadn’t seen since; and a retired lawyer who wants to write memoir but is hesitant to reveal herself. “Quite the challenge, then,” we joked.

What a luminous assortment of humanity, this gathering. It’s worth going simply for the people you’ll meet, even if you don’t write.

But I hope you will, of course. I hope you will write your hearts out, fellow pilgrims, for it’s the sharing of our stories that saves us.

ALW SiteHeader2

Missing Martha {On Mother’s Day}

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Martha Lee Lyles Wilson, 1922-2016

Last month my two sisters and I met in Oxford, Mississippi, to see our mother’s gravestone for the first time since we had buried her just over a year ago. We’d all made sojourns to the cemetery before this particular April afternoon, but it had taken a while for us to get the ledger in place. So we walked from The Square over to St. Peter’s Cemetery, around the small grouping of trees I think are cedar but don’t know for sure. Then, just past the curve of the road, we veered right to the Wilson plot on the hill.

It looked beautiful, elegant and classic, just like Daddy’s. “Well done, good and faithful servant,” it read. Ann, Ginny, and I got her as close to Daddy as we could. It’s where she liked to be in life, right next to our father, and she told me more than once, “that’s it for me,” after he died, some sixteen years before she did. She would quickly add that she still loved being with her family, but I knew what she meant, I think, for something life-giving abandoned her the day he died.

We had a ritual when we got back to Ginny’s house, putting out some pictures, lighting a candle, and telling stories of our childhood. I read a poem entitled “We Remember Them,” by Sylvan Kamens and Rabbi Jack Riemer, sent to me by soul-friend Sheri Malman when I told her what I wanted to do. She also managed to have a bouquet of flowers waiting at the cemetery for us, which contained calla lilies and roses, my parents’ favorites. That’s a good friend, people.

The last line goes like this: “For as long as we live, they too will live, for they are now a part of us, as we remember them.”

Let all those who miss their mothers on this day say Amen.

Somehow comforted by hearing Patty Griffin’s “Heavenly Day” on WMOT, the fabulous Americana station I listen to daily in Nashville, as I write, and remember.

 

Watch Your Step {On Noticing}

IMG_7718While walking in the Radnor Lake Natural Area near her home in Nashville over the weekend, MayBelle stopped to watch some deer feeding among the trees. Lovely, calm creatures nourishing their bodies while MayBelle filled her soul. It was one of those quiet, still moments that keeps MayBelle going when she thinks all the noise and unsettledness in the world at large might overtake her. She has come to crave time in nature, finding it to be as sacred as any brick and mortar church she’s ever knelt down in.

Soon she heard some Very Loud People headed her way, in the form of two young women debating with enthusiasm the best bars in Tuscaloosa. MayBelle heard enough to be able to make some recommendations, so let her know the next time you’re headed that way and she’ll hook you up. Consumed by their chatter, they almost ran smack into MayBelle, who had stepped to the far side of the trail. She had not called out to the women so as not to disturb the deer. MayBelle is nothing if not polite, even when meandering in the woods.

“Oh,” said one of the women as she stopped short in front of MayBelle. “What are you looking at?”

MayBelle tiled her head in the direction of the deer.

“Wow,” the other woman said. “We hadn’t even noticed.”

Indeed, thought MayBelle as the deer skittered away.

There were other delights during MayBelle’s time in nature, like the big woodpecker beating his heart out; the call of the turkeys; lines of turtles on logs. And, alas, there were other Very Loud People. But MayBelle is learning, slowly, how to tune out what she doesn’t need to hear and instead concentrate on what really matters.

 

Dog Love {On Losing a Pet}

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Sloopy: The Beginning of MayBelle’s Dog Love

Sloopy was the dog of MayBelle’s young childhood, a sweet, block-headed lab who was her constant companion. When MayBelle looks at old pictures now she wonders if she had any friends at all, so often does she appear with the dog.

Then there was Savoy, and Rasta, and F. Scott. And, in her thirties and forties, Quay, who was the dog of MayBelle’s adulthood, by her side as they made their way in Nashville, just two. When Precious came along he was warned that he had to pass muster with Quay Girl or the dating deal was off. At their first meeting, Precious got down on his knees and rubbed Quay under her chin, resulting in two smitten gals instead of one.

Quay Girl was MayBelle’s heart. She was scared of thunderstorms, wary of screaming children, and shed her mixed-breed hair like tumbleweeds. She was also fiercely protective, a great traveler who never threw up in the car, and prone to trying to curl up on MayBelle’s chest long after she had grown too big for such. Her fatty tumors came, as they do sometimes in older dogs, and then it became clear she also had cancer throughout her system. MayBelle and Precious knew it was the humane thing to do to let her go at age fourteen. MayBelle cried for days.

Then came Hiram, a West Highland Terrier chosen for his low shedding properties, as Precious is allergic. Hiram was the smartest dog they’ve ever had the pleasure of tending to. Stubborn, funny, endearing, and dead at only seven and a half. MayBelle and Precious are bereft.

If you are a pet person, what is it about these creatures that crawl on our laps and steal into our hearts? Chew our furniture, demand our attention, and calm us like nothing else can?

Recently a piece about people who refer to their dogs as their children made the rounds on social media. The writer was outraged that anyone would presume to compare a pet to a child. MayBelle gets it, really she does, that dogs are not people. And as cute as she thought Hiram was, he didn’t hold a candle to her great- nephews and nieces. But seriously, people, dog love is its own thing, and if it brings someone joy to spoil his or her pooch, what’s the harm? Sure, it sort of creeps MayBelle out when she sees dogs dressed up in human clothes, but she doesn’t feel moved to criticize their owners for it (not out loud, anyway).

As for MayBelle, she’ll spend her time on articles such as this one that proclaims the health benefits of pet ownership. That said, she understands that not everyone loves dogs like she does; even some of her own family members back away at the mere mention of slobber. (MayBelle is sometimes tempted to bring up “expressing anal glands” when around these relatives but so far she has resisted the impulse.) MayBelle, on the other hand, relishes the time with her canine companions and knows she will need one with her until the end of her days. There have been times in her life, after all, when a dog was the only living, breathing creature she’d see for days. It’s hard to let go of a bond like that.

So dress up your dogs, saddle them with family names (MayBelle’s personal proclivity), spoil them with treats and toys, post their pictures on Instagram. MayBelle, for one, doesn’t mind.

Dear Wednesday: What Do You Have for Me?

IMG_6362Dear Wednesday,

As you dawned this morning, I hesitated, tempted as I was to stay in bed, or maybe wear my pajamas all day. Some days are like that for me, slow to get started, peppered with doubt about if what I do in the world is enough, seeing that I’m not curing cancer or alleviating poverty or even sitting behind a desk from nine to five at a big corporation. It’s easy for me to get caught in a whirlpool of worry, first, because it’s my nature, and second, because as a self-employed, freelance creative such as myself I sometimes pay more attention to what the world might think of me than to simply doing the work I am called to do. So even though I hesitated, Wednesday, I did get dressed, I am up and working, stringing words together and helping others do the same. It may not sound like much, but it’s what I have to bring to the table. So give me what you’ve got, Wednesday. I’m ready for you.

Looking forward,

Amy Lyles Wilson

Hospital Aftermath {Every Patient Has a Story}

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Some of the fine people who helped me at Vanderbilt. Even though they couldn’t give my malady a name, they gave me excellent care and comfort.

Not long after I returned home from the hospital, I noticed a pain in my chest, near the lower part of my ribcage.

“Maybe you pulled a muscle,” said Precious, which might have made sense if I’d actually moved since I’d been home. The most exerting (is that a word?) thing I’d done was spread a quilt over my feet and reach for the remote. Active I was not after four days in the hospital and a mandate from the doctors to stay put. They probably didn’t mean I couldn’t leave the couch, but I am a literalist at heart and I wasn’t taking any chances.

“Maybe,” I said, both appreciating my husband’s tendency not to overreact and simultaneously needing him to freak out on my behalf.

“But it hurts to breathe.”

Because we had not sought help immediately when I started feeling bad earlier in the month and thereby ended up in the hospital, we vowed not to make that mistake again. So we consulted my primary care doctor, who said she also suspected a pulled muscle but would x-ray just in case. We got word it was pneumonia before we even made it out of the building. I’ve never had pneumonia before, so I didn’t realize that it’s actually painful. Yowza. More antibiotics.

(WARNING: If you are squeamish about the female nether region, run for your life. Or just skip to the last paragraph.)

Then about a week later, I noticed an intense itching in my privates. Seriously scratchy. And my skin was flaking off like those little balls of rubber cement you roll up after you’ve been acting a fool with the arts and crafts supplies. It made me want to cry out like when you were a kid and your mother ripped the Band-Aid off the abrasion you got when the Doberman from down the street yanked you from your banana seat bike and you fell into a puddle of gravel. Yes, like that. I was scared to look, but I did, and then I was really scared and really grossed out. I grabbed some antibacterial cream and started googling.

Shortly thereafter I convinced myself I had Norwegian Scabies (FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY DO NOT LOOK THIS UP!) and that I had gotten it from the hospital, having already suspected they didn’t change my sheets often enough.

For the next day or so I continued to slather creams of varying consistencies on the affected areas, hoping my discomfort would go away. It did not.

Back to the same walk-in clinic where we had gone when this saga first started and we were told I had the white blood cell count of someone who was receiving chemotherapy and that I needed to get to the emergency room immediately.

I’m not a sexist (gender-ist?) about doctors, having had both male and female along the way, but I must say I did request a female this time around. I told her about having been hospitalized for neutropenia and then added, “Something’s wrong,” I said. “You know, down there.” I lowered my head for effect.

“I’m pretty sure it’s Norwegian Scabies.” I think I was whispering.

“Let’s take a look,” she responded, snapping on a pair of blue latex gloves. She might have been smirking but I can’t be sure because I was too busy planning my lawsuit against the hospital for having unsanitary conditions that resulted in my contracting this rare and embarrassing disease to notice her facial expression.

One beat, two.

“This is easy. It’s a yeast infection, most likely as a result of all those antibiotics you’ve been on for the low white cell count.”

“You mean it’s not Norwegian Scabies?”

“No,” she said. “Whatever that is. I’ll give you a prescription for some cream and you’ll be fine.”

She did and I was, although for weeks afterward I continued to wonder about each ache and every itch. Eventually, though, I stopped obsessing and gave up googling. We’re all healthier for it.

And Then a Crow Ate a Goldfinch. {Every patient has a story.}

img_6788I lose it about 4 a.m. on Wednesday. I think I scare the nurse a bit, for it must be like seeing his mother break down. That’s how young he is. And he is great at his job. Also, a doll.

“I need to draw more blood,” he says. “Another culture.”

This means taking a good bit of blood. How do I have any to spare? I start to cry.

He stands in the doorway a few seconds, unsure.

“I just need a minute,” I say, grabbing for some tissues. “I don’t think it’s all that strange for me to feel frustrated.”

It’s as if, as usual—I’ve done it all my life so I shouldn’t be surprised—I’m seeking permission. Approval.

“Of course,” he says. “I know it’s hard. We’ll get you through this.”

Oh, those words, precious boy. He doesn’t say they’ll cure me, or that it will be easy, or that he has answers. Just: We’ll get you through this. Pardon the cliché but it is just what the doctor ordered. (Or should have.)

Later Wednesday morning I feel a bit better, but there is still no diagnosis. Some big things have been ruled out. The hematologist tells me this happens more often than you might think, that an infection invades your body and you never know its source.

Then, toward evening, I see a crow eating a goldfinch. Right there on the ledge outside my window. I notice little bits of fluff wandering around the sky, and I see the crow picking at something at its feet. When it turns over its prey, there is a brilliant flash of yellow. I am mesmerized, trying to decide if this is a sign of some sort for me—the cycle of life and death and all—or merely nature doing its thing. And if it is the cycle of life and death, which will it be for me? I am sad and mesmerized by nature all at once.

I can’t get to my phone to take a picture and while I hear you saying, “Bless her heart. She was probably hopped up on good drugs and just imagines she saw a crow eating a goldfinch,” let me remind you that when I ask for some calming medication, I am given melatonin, people, not anything mood inducing. (And when I tell the nurse the melatonin didn’t really do the trick, I am given MORE melatonin.)

I decide not to take the crow incident as a sign and instead say a blessing of gratitude for all that nature–and man–is capable of. I go back to watching Gilmore Girls. I didn’t follow the series when it first aired and I am quickly becoming hooked. Hooked, I tell you. I want to dress like Lorelei (sp?), drink coffee out of bowl-like mugs, and matriculate at Yale. Somebody get me out of here…

My dinner is pretty tasty, and, ta da, is actually what I ordered. (Several times my order was not what I ordered and that was disappointing. Not a big deal, but when what you have to look forward to is a biscuit with turkey sausage and you don’t get it, it can seem like a much bigger deal than it would on a regular day, like when you don’t think you’re dying and there isn’t a crow eating a goldfinch outside your window.)

When I wake up on Thursday morning I am covered in sweat. Instead of being grossed out, I am delighted, as I think it means I am on the mend.

“I think my fever broke,” I text Precious.

“On my way,” comes his reply.

Several hours later the doctors tell me my white count is on the upswing, my fever is down, and I’m free to go. Still no diagnosis, and oral antibiotics and follow-up checks will be necessary. I’m a little scared to leave, actually, what with the not knowing and all. But apparently if I want to wait until I get some sort of definitive answer, a reason, I will be hospitalized for a very long time.

Although I have never believed in a puppeteer kind of God, a deity that picks and chooses who will suffer and who will flourish and decides which of us needs to learn a lesson and which folks can afford to skip class, I must say I’m trying to see this experience as a learning opportunity for me, in that I have long been one who wanted to figure everything out, to have a cause and effect that I could grasp. To understand. Even if it was bad, I’d say, I want to know. And now I don’t. I am being called to lean into the mystery, so lean I shall.

 

From the ER to the Eighth Floor {Every patient has a story.}

In these posts I’m looking back on a recent hospital stay. I seem to be fine now, and am writing my way through the experience for therapeutic purposes.–ALW

I don’t see Doctor X again. Nor do I meet again the woman who introduces herself to me, I think, as my “case manager.” Maybe she was just supposed to manage me in the ER? (My entire stay was from Monday-Thursday.)

The two nurses I have while in the ER are fabulous, and for a while this amazing thing I think one of them refers to as a “butterfly” works wonders so they don’t have to stick me every time they need to draw blood or give me antibiotics. The one on my left arms lasts most of Monday and then another one is inserted in my right arm. Eventually neither of them allows for drawing blood, but they both continue to work for intravenous delivery of antibiotics, which I’m given four hours on and four hours off. Someone takes me for a CT of my head (“to see if anything has crossed the membrane”) and chest. The young female doctor I’m falling in love with tells me they may have to do a lumbar puncture but it won’t be today and they won’t do it unless absolutely necessary. Part of me thinks I can’t survive that, while most of me knows I will have to do whatever is necessary to see this through. I hope I am stronger than I look.

The night nurse reminds me of a dear friend of mine, a woman I’ve known only for two years but it might as well have been a lifetime for the connection we share. The nurse is kind and funny and tells great stories. She is tender and forthright and has an air that radiates calm and competency. I relax a little feeling the spirit of my friend Leila surrounding me, for Leila is one of the most grounded people I know and I’m hoping I can grab on to her faith (in God? in medicine?) across state lines in Florida while mine is under assault in Tennessee.

img_6630I watch television, delighted to find a channel that runs Murder She Wrote, one of my personal favorites. And imagine my glee when I see Mannix make a guest appearance!

I do not sleep.

I’m moved to a room about 6:30 Tuesday morning. It might as well be the Ritz, as it has a window and its own bathroom, meaning I no longer have to ask for the IV to be stopped, gather the flapping ends of my gown around me, and pad to the bathroom in the ER common area every time I needed to pee. (This is another thing that I realize makes my hospital stay not so awful. I can get to the bathroom myself, feed myself, etc. Also, the fact that I am cognizant enough to ask questions along the way and understand, sort of,  what is being done to me makes everything better.)

It’s shift change time, and I’m not sure but I think this might be why a couple of things get overlooked, such as offering me breakfast and doing a proper “intake,” which the day nurse says repeatedly she needs to do but never does. (One of the ER nurses gave me graham crackers and peanut butter on Monday, but I haven’t eaten a meal since Sunday evening.) I wonder if the intake cues several things, such as getting the patient something to eat, getting the patient a clean gown, and providing said patient with toiletries. It’s Wednesday before I get a new gown and toiletries, which Precious has been retrieving from home for me. Not a big deal, I realize, but when you are scared, and in pain, and just want some semblance of normalcy, a little deodorant goes a long way. I’m not sure why I don’t think to ask about this. I’ve only been hospitalized overnight once before, some thirty years ago, so maybe I don’t realize I have the right to request such. Or maybe I am too preoccupied, you know, with matters of life and death. Mine.

Hallelujah! The two perfectly lovely doctors from the ER are on my primary care team and they tend me throughout. The young woman I mentioned above, and a young man, both of whom are compassionate, professional, thorough without being alarmist, willing to answer any question I can conjure. They are funny, and personable, and I want to write their parents to tell them what good jobs they did with their children. They treat me with respect without making me feel I’m old enough to be their parents. I had no idea I would see familiar faces once I was moved to a room, and it makes a world of difference for me. (My mother, who was hospitalized often in the last years of her life in Mississippi, never had that experience of consistency in her care. It matters.)

“We still don’t know what’s causing your white blood cells to be so low,” they continue to say. “We’ve ruled out some things, but we’re running lots of tests.”

More tests, more questions, more tests, more questions.

Fever up and down. Mostly up.

img_6614And then, lunch! What a gift to be handed a menu and told I can order what I want as long as I follow the diet restrictions imposed by my condition. I can’t have fresh fruit and vegetables, as a precaution against additional infection. The menu provides me with several options, and I’m thankful I have choices. Again, when so much has been taken out of your control, any decision you get to make seems bigger than it might under normal circumstances. (The food throughout my stay is good, tasty enough, although my orders rarely match my approved requests.)

img_6624That night I ask for something to help me rest and am given melatonin. It does not do the trick, but it may be that I am simply too wired to sleep. So I look out the window at the other wings of the hospital, row after row of rooms, window after window, some with lights on, others darkened. Each one with a story.

In that window there, is a baby being born? What about next door, is someone losing his life?

I watch the LifeFlight helicopter come and go, each landing, each takeoff, a story.

“This Could Be Serious” {Every patient has a story.”}

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I don’t have to wait long to be seen—maybe because I’m so sick or maybe because the doctor from the walk-in clinic alerted the ER, as she said she would—but I am in the waiting room long enough to be reminded what a microcosm of the human condition the hospital is: All walks of life brought together by all sorts of maladies. People whose paths you quite likely would not cross save for the fact that you are all in need of medical attention.

One woman complains that others, who came in after she did, are being seen before her. Another alerts us to the children who are playing with plastic spoons near an electrical outlet.

“If those were metal those kids would get shocked. Electrocuted, maybe.”

An older man eats a hamburger, a teen texts, and I think I recognize a lady from my church. There is just enough time for me to begin (okay, so I’ve been doing it since I woke up) ruminating on chance, luck, Divine purpose, the vagaries of life, before I’m called back by a nurse.

I’m put in a room, and the blood draws and IVs are underway almost immediately. My nurse, the first of several, is lovely. She talks me through everything she’s doing. I feel so bad I don’t really care what they do to me, but I appreciate her treating me with respect.

This is what I am thinking: This is how people find out they’re really sick. Someone’s husband is parking the Subaru with the dog slobber on the backseat windows and a doctor comes in and says something life-changing. On an otherwise normal day, people get bad news all the time. This is how it happens, without fanfare or warning or your loved one having time to get back from the garage. You have a fever and no energy and your life unravels. The old “Why me? Why not me?” toss up.

I begin to weep.

It’s an actual room, not just a curtained corner, so I do have privacy, which is nice. When it’s determined that I’ll need to be admitted, and there’s not a room available, the nurse has a hospital bed brought in, so I can get off the thin mattress that reminds me of the fold-out mat I used in kindergarten at naptime. It is a thoughtful thing to do and I am grateful. Any comfort–like the nothing short of a miracle shampoo shower cap–in this storm feels like a life preserver.

There is a lot going on out there.

Someone (as I make my way to the bathroom later I see a policeman in the hall) yells for a man to get back in his room. Apparently he doesn’t realize that being under arrest means you can’t just go tooling around the ER willy-nilly.

Several medical professionals come and go from my room. I am asked the same questions by different individuals. I think my answers are pretty consistent: Been feeling a bit poorly for a week or so but not alarmed until this morning; no I haven’t been out of the country; no I didn’t notice a tick or a rash on my body; yes I get yearly physicals; no I haven’t seen blood in my urine; no I don’t smoke.

One man, let’s call him Doctor X (not his real name) shall we, pulls a chair close to the bed and gets even closer to my face.

“Ms. Wilson.” Pause. “What do you think is wrong with you?”

His tone makes me feel like a kid, when my mother would ask me, “What do you think you did wrong, sweetheart?” (For the record, she did not have to ask me this often as I was an exemplary child. Or so the story goes.)

“I have no idea,” I say, when what I am thinking is more along the lines of, “If I knew, I promise I’d tell you. If I had a nagging suspicion, a mere inkling, any semblance of intuition, a scrap of insight, I’d share it with you.”

He makes me feel as if I am holding something back, as if I don’t want them to know everything they need to know in order to figure out what is happening with my body.

“What about HIV? A lot of times these low white cell counts indicate HIV.”

“I don’t think so,” I said.

“You’re not at high risk, you don’t think?”

“No sir.”

“Multiple sex partners? Drug use?”

“No sir.”

I don’t have the strength for regaling him with all the reasons I don’t think I’m a candidate for HIV, and I feel so bad I start to think maybe I’ll be some fluke case of contracting it. It could happen, I guess. I don’t have an issue with the testing; test away. I have an issue with the delivery. Why not something like, “It’s standard for us to test for HIV when we see such low white counts.” More equalization; less shame.

“Okay, well. You need to know that this could be serious.”

Again, maybe you could try: “We don’t know what’s wrong with you but we’ll do everything we can to find out. It could be an infection, or it could be something more serious.”

So, um, Doc, I’m already convincing myself I might be dying. I’m in the ER, so I get it, that this might be serious. To me it already is. I’m way ahead of you.

Doctor X leaves and comes back so fast I’m surprised he had time to turn around.

“I’m testing you for HIV.”

“Okay,” I say. “Fine. Of course.”

An Otherwise Ordinary Day {Every patient has a story.}

The next several posts will be about my recent hospital stay for what has been deemed “an acute infection of unknown origin.” I’m writing about my experience in order to process what happened—and is happening—to me.                                                                                    

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I would swear I had a neck when I came in here.

After several days of feeling “not quite right” I wake up and know something is terribly wrong.

“We have to go,” I croak to Precious. So we drag my exhausted self to a walk-in clinic, whereupon I am promptly instructed to go to the emergency room.

“You have neutropenia,” says the doctor. “Something we often see in cancer patients. You’re not a cancer patient, correct?”

“Correct.”

“You have a fever of 101 and your white blood counts are low. You need to get to the ER, now.”

I start to cry, that’s how bad I feel, how frightened I am becoming.

Precious drives me to Vanderbilt and I resist the urge to Google scary diseases on the way. Thankfully I don’t have the energy for it.

I have long been a person who says she “wants to know, even if it’s bad,” but right then I am not so sure.

The nurse at the ER put a mask on me, and repeatedly expresses her surprise when I tell her, repeatedly, that I am not undergoing treatment for cancer.

“No,” I say. “I’ve never had a cancer diagnosis.”

I am convincing myself, of course, that I’m about to get one.