One of the scariest things for a writer to face is death before ever getting published (aside from leaving loved ones behind). Yesterday was one of those days where I had to deal with the possibility of living with a terminal illness. Let me explain …
When I was 9 years old, I was diagnosed with acid reflux aka GERD, which basically means I deal with a burning esophagus about 90 percent of the day. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what I eat, although the fresher my food, the less I burn throughout the day. Surprise, surprise!
My childhood BFFs Lindsey and Haley celebrating my 9th(ish) birthday.
There were countless nights where I’d wake up at 3 am to vomit or the other thing because of something too acidic that I ate or if I ate too late at night. This led to a lifestyle overhaul. For example, when I first started drinking alcohol at 21 years and 3 months old, I had to learn how to deal with my heartburn before bed. So after returning home from the bars, I would have to eat a slice of bread with butter, drink a full glass of water, take a Tums and let it all settle before I could even think about going to sleep. When I finally did lay down, I slept elevated at a 45-degree angle. But it’s really not all that bad. I suppose I could have much worse diseases to deal with, but I always knew in the back of my mind how important the burning was to my future health.
Lately, it’s been so bad and I could have swore things were getting caught on their way down that I finally gave in and set up an appointment for another EGD, or Endoscopy test. It’s something I hadn’t done since I was 9 years old and the doctors felt it was a good idea to make sure nothing too crazy was starting to happen. They say around year 20 the doctors start to pay a little more attention. I’m now 27. You do the math. I’m a writer; I don’t like using numbers.
Yesterday I had my EGD. I wore my Super(wo)man shirt that my sister bought me because she knew it was the first movie Luke and I saw together before we started dating. I also wore my Tree of Life ring, but asked my mom to wear it for good luck while I had the procedure done.
My doctor is a very religious Muslim from Pakistan with a full beard and a turban on his head. If I wasn’t so terrified of the test and so drugged up afterward, I would have tried to speak to him in arabic, or at least thanked him in arabic. Shukran, man, shukran. I really thought about impressing him by saying Insh’allah aka God Willing. I thought he’d get a kick out of it, but everything moved so fast once I got into the room that my nerves took over and I didn’t have time to be my playful self as I usually am in hospitals. His daughter (a future doctor herself) sat in during the procedure. She liked to smack her gum loudly like a little teenager and looked way too young to be working at a hospital, but I figured this will make her a brilliant doctor someday.
One of the hundreds of images I was given on CD from a veteran in my college speech class in 2009.
When I met with his nurse to set up the EGD appointment a few weeks prior to the procedure, Doctor (as they call him) had pamphlets all over the office about what it means to be Muslim and what Islam is really about (aka I’m not a damn terrorist, but I am super religious! If you don’t like it, find another doctor.). I snuck the pamphlet about the Islam/Jesus connection in my purse and read it when I got home. It talked about how Jesus is mentioned in the Quran as an amazing man of God and how Muhammad’s birth (for those who don’t know, he is the prophet in the Quran — the equivalent of Jesus in the Bible) was predicted in the Bible since he is the last and most recent prophet in any religious scripture. I always found that connection between the two religious texts so interesting. It always surprised me that no one talked more about it when fundamentalist Christians and Muslims kill each other over their “difference in beliefs.”
So you know I wasn’t getting completely off topic: It seemed too ironic that faith in a higher being surrounded my EGD appointment and it nearly convinced me that it was possibly a sign I’d have to face death or be fighting to live soon. I kept having nightmares and was terrified I’d have to say goodbye to loved ones. But when it came time to be wheeled down, my nerves lifted a little and I realized everything would be out of my hands. No matter what happened in the next few hours, it was all up to the doctors now. And I was OK with that. I relaxed into the notion that something could go wrong or that the results could be devastating, but it was out of my control until I awoke at the gates of heaven or on the hospital bed. It’s the same feeling I imagine when people terrified of flying feel during liftoff. Or those who are at the brink of death and give up their spirits to God.
After the procedure, they invited my mom into the room (because Lord knows I wasn’t going to remember anything Doctor said, even though I was awake when he spoke) and showed us pictures of my esophagus and stomach. The only thing I remembered him say:
GodSpell at Kimberly High School.
“Here you’ll see you have a benign polyp in your stomach. And it’s nothing to worry about, you know.” Having a tumor-like growth anywhere in your body is scary enough for me, but I trusted his Word.
He did mentioning taking a biopsy from my stomach and esophagus to make sure there weren’t any abnormal cells. I figure it’s only a matter of time, but I felt blessed hearing the word “benign” and “nothing to worry about” for now. It’s pretty much all I remembered until later that night when the anesthetics finally wore off and my memory slowly recovered, one moment at a time.
One of the last memories that returned was of a nurse bringing me to the car in a wheelchair. I was so sluggish in my seat until I heard him say, “Superwoman is leaving the building!” I sat up straighter in my seat and smiled for the people waiting for their loved ones in the lobby.
For now, I don’t have to face a terminal illness; but knowing someday this could change makes me all the more determined to get published.