Setting: an exam room. Peaceful. Few small pictures on the wall. No scary anatomy charts. Cabinets are clean and orderly; no labels of scary medical tools. When scene opens, the female patient and male doctor are seated, discussing the case.
Patient (incoherent): mumbles about symptoms
Doctor: Hmmm, that sounds bad. Why don’t you come over to the exam table so that I can take a look?
Doctor carefully uses fancy instruments to examine patient. He’s careful to move slowly and talk calmly to the patient, but he looks worried and perplexed by the presentation.
Doctor (to patient): Ok. You can take a seat again. Motions to chair. Patient moves off the exam table and sits down. Hmmmm, I think you’ve stumped me again. I can’t wait for the day when you present something normal. smiles
Patient nods, then responds: Yes. Actress can insert a clever response here, such a reference to breaking an arm or catching the flu. Well, uh… laughs
Doctor: Well, yes. Well, I can’t really say without taking some images, but it’s likely that it’s not serious. Why don’t you wait and see if it gets better over the weekend? Maybe think about taking some over-the-counter medication. If it doesn’t get better, call me first thing Monday morning. But… conversation continues but incoherent. Doctor clearly looks puzzled by presentation.
In the drama that is my life, this is what this afternoon’s appointment with Dr. Mark looked like. Fortunately, a sense of humor can come in handy sometimes.
Symptoms. New medications. Medical tests. Calendars. Notes. Progress. Fevers. Records. The typical patient-doctor conversation. The chronic patient rehashes the same experience over and over and over again. But one thing Dr. Samuel said made all the difference:
You’ve really grown a lot, Abigail. You’re so much happier now. I’m really proud of you, proud of all that you’ve accomplished. You have great grades, and you’ve made it through almost a whole year of graduate school despite lots of setbacks and hindrances. You’ve really blossomed in the place you’ve been planted.
As tears filled my eyes, I realized he was right. Blossoming where I’m planted, winning with the deck of cards I’ve been dealt, following the Lamb on the path He’s ordained for me… they’re all different ways of saying the same thing. I’m succeeding in the place I am; I’m becoming who I’m meant to be.
For someone important to me to say that I’m doing my job well is incredibly validating. Thank you, Dr. Samuel; it truly is a beautiful day.
In one of my classes today, the professor made a rather striking comment:
Don’t fill up on sweets.
This is the history of American popular culture. He’s using food as an analogy for art. Most of the advice is straightforward: Try new dishes. Vary ingredients. Chew well. Learn to cook. But filling up on sweets? How does that translate into consuming art and entertainment?
In simple words, it means, Don’t always go for something easy.Thai food wonderfully combines the sweet and the tangy, the savory and the textured, but many of their dishes are complex. It takes time to appreciate and absorb, but the result is amazing. The nourishment is so much more than from sweets. And you discover that you really do like sweet and tangy, and food comes in lots of amazing textures.
More than ever, I’ve begun to realize that this principle applies to life as well. I’m so glad that I went out on a limb and attended vespers with Timothy. And I’m also glad that I sat with members of the Occupy movement for an hour or two this past fall.
The professor made a point that attending one ballet is a risk, but it’s not that big of a risk. It’s only a few hours out of one day, not a commitment to watch a ballet every Tuesday night at 7 pm for the rest of your life. Who knows? You could discover that you like ballet (or costume design or people watching or gardens.)
The question is: Do you know what you like or do you like what you know? None of us know everything. Let’s not be afraid to learn more.
Sitting off to the side in a church pew, I marveled as I listened to people around me whispering prayers. As I sat and prayed, it felt so normal to be a part of community of people, setting time aside to worship God for His goodness and petition Him on behalf of others.
Grace invited me to dinner with some of the church folks after vespers. Even though I didn’t actually eat dinner (food allergies strike again!), I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation and hospitality of the four people I was with. The humility, the simplicity, the kindness, the care… it all meant so much to me. The emptiness in my heart was filled by these people’s humanity.
As I navigate through the stormy seas known as chronic illness, I am at peace. I know that Jesus is in my boat because His peace fills my heart and He brings me into the arms of friends around me. What a blessing.
It’s been a very long day, and I’m really exhausted these days. But, I do have rare news. Remember this medical test? It came back positive. It’s the first test to come back positive since I became a chronic patient nearly six years ago. It means we (Dr. Leo & I) finally have something tangible to treat!!
There’s still a lot unknown and a long road ahead, but I’m happy and thankful for this moment and for the care and support of all my friends who’ve answered crazy medical questions and uplifted prayer upon prayer. As much as it is my own battle to fight, I’m glad for companions to walk beside me.
Exhausted but blessed in so many ways, Abigail Cashelle
Reflecting on this morning’s happenings, I cannot help but marvel at the power of community and the joy that comes through friendship. I had a diagnostic test scheduled for the whole morning plus an afternoon of classes. Definitely not a day to look forward to. But here’s how it actually unfolded:
I woke up really early, probably almost an hour before my alarm because I suddenly realized that the test may actually make me really, really sick. Trying not to panic, I started reading information online and wondering how I had gotten into this mess in the first place. In the back of my mind, I knew that I couldn’t make any rationale judgments when I was exhausted, in tons of pain, and hungry, but nevertheless I was going to go to the hospital in an hour and I wanted to be prepared.
The internet is a tricky thing: sometimes it provides us with far too much information. Today, however, it also provided me with a way to communicate with my network of friends and supporters. Someone had to be awake at 7 am. Maybe someone could hold my hand.
Yes, Elliot was awake and online. A trusty medical student with a calm demeanor, he helped me transition from panic to strategy. We decided that I would go to the clinic, ask them what test they were running, tell them about my allergies, and make sure that I won’t be put at extra risk through the test.
Once I actually saw a nurse, things were fine. She told me quite simply that the test on my intake form was not really the test that I was undergoing. Oh. It turns out that the doctor wasn’t trying to kill me after all. It was, however, a do-it-yourself test that involves sitting in a hallway and blowing air into a foil bag every fifteen minutes, all on an empty stomach.
Sitting in the basement of a hospital for two hours can get very boring. But, the miracle of community meant that I could share this amazing experience with two other patients. At first the two other patients were very shy, and everyone was hiding behind the tasks they brought with them: homework, games, puzzles, etc. But blowing into foil bags can get pretty funny, especially if you’re all scheduled to blow at about the same time. After an hour, we had become instant friends.
Esther, age 4, and Caleb, age 9, helped me laugh through a boring (and painful) morning. At one point, Esther was sitting on my lap showing me a virtual porcupine on her mom’s phone. The porcupine kept talking, but the volume wasn’t loud enough for me to understand what he was saying. Caleb was leaning over me, trying to look at the porcupine. Then Esther said, “He doesn’t speak English. He only speaks porcupine. That’s why you can’t understand him.” Then she started laughing, this cute little laugh with her hand partially covering her mouth. Before you knew it, Caleb and I were laughing, too. When she brought up the virtual giraffe who spoke neither English nor porcupine and also was perpetually sad, we couldn’t stop ourselves; everything was funny, and the kids started a competition over who could make the funniest faces. The nurse walked by to collect our bags of air and asked how everything was going. The two moms just looked at us and said, “I think they’re having a good time.”
Yes, even when Miss Abigail had to take a break to blow into yet another bag, Esther and Caleb were pondering what they could show me next. The three sick patients who had been complaining about abdominal pain so much an hour before were now having the time of their life. No matter that it was a random hallway in the basement of a hospital. No matter that we’d never met before. At that moment, they were the best friends a girl could have.
When it was time for me to leave, I realized how much the moms appreciated the break from caring for their kids. Having a child with a chronic illness is very demanding. Here was a stranger giving their children the time of their lives even while they were starving and undergoing a medical test. The energy and attention I gave to Esther and Caleb was miniscule and helped me feel so much more relaxed. But I realized that I had done for these moms what Elliot had done for me. A little bit of time and a lot of care and compassion translated into a shepherding beyond measure. I’m so glad that I can give as much as I receive.
Grateful for life’s little blessings,
Life has continued to be crazy for me. My symptoms seem all out of control, and I feel like I’m drowning in a sea of expectations and tasks. And being sick? It’s tiresome.
But throughout this week, I’ve had little glimpses of love from the amazing people God’s placed in my life. And I know, deep down inside, that I personally matter and that the real world really is beautiful. Here’s what I see:
– a card tucked into my work mailbox. It says, “Get better NOW because getting better soon is too vague.” My classmate had written a little note to say that she hoped that my fatigue was reading the card because it was the only thing in the way. It was SO sweet that someone was thinking about me enough to buy me a card and also to point out that, yes, there are things in my life that aren’t really in my control.
– a professor postponing my independent study meeting because she was invited to an important meeting, thus giving me an extra 48 hours to prepare for said class
– vespers with a whole new group of people who were more than willing to have a seventh person and who weren’t afraid of being human and admitting their shortcomings. They didn’t ask me for credentials. They didn’t need to know why I was there. I was there, so I became one of them.
– a friend who dropped everything to come spend the night with me when she found out that I wasn’t asleep 2 hours after my bedtime because I was panicking because I was in so much pain
– a church elder who took time out of his schedule to meet with me to talk about some things (and people) that had been bothering me and that I was too tired to deal with on my own
– a whole classroom of students cheering when I wrote on the board “papers: now due on Monday” (instead of Friday). My voice is not loud enough to carry in a room that seats 400, so I figured writing it was much simpler. What I didn’t expect was a whole classroom of college students thanking me for making their lives so much better.
– the fact that it’s only Wednesday afternoon & I still have half the week left!!
Today, I participated in my first vespers service. I’ve wanted to go for a long time, but I finally had the opportunity today. Beforehand I was really nervous. Trying something new by myself takes a lot of courage for me, and even though Timothy said that he would be there, I knew that he wouldn’t be there early.
Once we started praying and singing, my heart was really comforted. I realized that a lot of my life is very fast paced. Even when I’m extremely exhausted, it’s still about what I can do with the limited energy that I have. And, I’m always trying to fit the maximum amount of sleep time in between classes and other activities. It felt good to stop everything, to pause, and to reflect on the majesty of God. No matter what happens in our lives, no matter how we feel, no matter what choices we make, nothing changes Him. In His majesty, His love, and His simplicity, He is eternal.
Sometimes, life with a chronic illness simply isn’t fair. Now that I’ve been really sick for over a month, it’s been harder and harder to justify (to myself) missing classes even though I’m not getting better. Since there are only three weeks left to the semester, I’ve found myself self-consciously reorganizing my priorities.
For example, if I only have enough energy (and time) to get out of bed and (a) take a shower or (b) go to class, maybe I’ll just go to class. It’s hard to imagine taking a shower as an activity requiring massive amounts of energy, but these days it really is. Sometimes, it seems worthwhile to go to church and see people rather than take a shower.
I do still take a shower on a fairly regular basis. I wear new clothes every day. I long for days with more energy. But in the mean time, I create posters like this one.