Monday, April 10, 2017

Coming Home to Carolina

     Deep breath. Here we go.

     In mid-February, after a fairly lengthy text message in which I summarized many of the health issues I was experiencing at the time, my dear friend Amelia replied, "I know you were really looking forward to this year and this is making it a whole lot less enjoyable." I instantly connected with that statement, one that I had been previously unable (or perhaps unwilling) to admit to myself. I considered all that I had pictured college to be, and then looked at the reality of what college has been for me given all of my health challenges, and I knew Amelia was right. I have spent so much time trying to convince myself that I can be happy despite my health, when in reality it is very difficult to enjoy things when I am sick most of the time.

     When I called my mom, who works within a university, the next day, she said, "I always tell students that we want them to thrive at college. Rachel, you're doing a really good job, and I am so proud of you, but I just don't think you've been able to thrive." I think this was a hard case to make without seeming accusatory, and I was impressed by my mom's graceful use of words. I have had a great time this year, and I have participated in so many incredible things, but I have not been able to fully live the way I want to. The combination of poor health and being so far from home (and therefore unable to remain with a consistent set of trusted medical providers) has inhibited me from having the college experience I have always hoped for.  

     Beginning in the fall, I will be attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I want to be very clear by saying that I have no ill feelings towards Tulane University whatsoever, and I made the right choice coming here for college. I adore Tulane, and transferring to UNC is not my way of correcting a mistake. I have not regretted joining the Green Wave for a single second. My year in New Orleans will always be an important part of the person I am. From oak trees to streetcars to second lines, this city and campus will continue to hold a special place in my heart. But the reality is that I need to be closer to my family and to my NC health care providers in order to maintain an acceptable quality of life. Making the decision to give up everything I have in New Orleans, most notably my dozens of compassionate friends and professors, was agonizing.


     Over the past few weeks, I told many of you that I was not considering transfer and/or that I was definitely staying at Tulane. I apologize for being dishonest. I was keeping this information private because I was not seeking outside opinions and needed to make this decision without a million voices pulling me in different directions. Part of me just wanted to keep it a secret for as long as possible because I was not completely ready to face it myself. This blog post is the first that anyone outside of my immediate family (and a few university faculty members) are hearing of my decision to transfer to UNC. Please know that my secrecy was not intended as an insult.

     When my first rheumatologist spoke the harsh words "juvenile rheumatoid arthritis" into the still air of a tiny hospital exam room, I never imagined that this diagnosis would end up pushing me away from a place I love. The past year has dealt me blow after blow by exposing many of the things that my body simply cannot do, no matter how hard I try, how passionate I am, or how much effort I put in. While I am very optimistic about UNC, this is obviously not an ideal situation.

      Over the past two months, whenever I felt completely broken and unsure what to do, I reminded myself that there were no bad options. UNC and Tulane are both world-renowned universities with excellent academic programs and vibrant social atmospheres. Both are stocked with thousands of brilliant professors and fascinating students. I am so lucky that returning home for me means attending one of the best universities in the country. However, as I am sure you can imagine, knowing this does not make being ripped apart from all of my friends in New Orleans hurt any less. It took many hours of consideration and conversation and tears to reach this decision, and I am asking everyone to please be respectful of the change I am making, keeping in mind that my emotions regarding this decision are very mixed.

      In the span of only a few weeks I went from planning out study abroad courses for my sophomore year in Amsterdam to blinking back tears in my academic adviser's office as we combed over a transfer application that was actively breaking my heart. I am excited to see what the next three years at Carolina will hold, and the opportunity to be a Tar Heel is not something I take for granted by any means, but leaving Tulane is very painful and upsetting. I am walking away from a full scholarship, an entire undergraduate public health program/degree, and my current minor (Homeland Security), among many other things. Your love, support, and understanding are greatly appreciated.

      This blog post represents a condensed version of an incredibly complex two month application process and eight month struggle for health. I realize that it leaves questions unanswered, and rather than speculating on any information that is unclear or absent from this post, I urge you to directly ask me any questions you may have. Text me, call me, comment, shoot me an email, or come knock on my door. I will answer questions candidly. I am going home to North Carolina this Wednesday night for Easter break, but, as my academic advisers heard me say over and over again, I will be finishing the spring semester at Tulane, and I plan on finishing strong.

     This year has been full of doctors, illness, and tears. It has shattered my heart and led me to friends who have gently pieced it back together. I am doing my best to turn this sad thing into a happy thing. Despite my heartache, I am choosing to celebrate all of the laughter, adventure, and (fingers crossed) health that awaits me at Carolina. I hope you will join me. 

Monday, April 3, 2017

10 Days of Freedom

         I flew back to New Orleans last night and will be flying home again next week for Easter break. This means that I am only actually in school for 10 days before I go back home again. Unfortunately, most of my spring break, plus the extra medical week I took beforehand, was packed with doctor's appointments and tests (a blood draw, finger prick, lots of spirometry, two x-rays, a CT scan, and an MRI). I saw three specialists along with my primary care doctor, and in between all of these appointments I was forced to make repeated trips to radiology clinics as my medical team attempted to gather as much information as possible. I need a break.

        Accordingly, my family and I created a goal for these next 10 days that I am in New Orleans: no trips to the Student Health Center (excluding my allergy shots, which I must receive later this week).

A sweet (and beautiful!) welcome home sign that my roommate, Allison, made for me!

         Given the frequency and severity with which I am sick, I genuinely feel that the Student Health Center should be awarding me class credit for the many hours I have spent in there being examined, diagnosed, treated, and monitored. It takes up more of my time that any of my extracurriculars.

Using my new nebulizer while I do homework

        Ten days may not seem like a lot of time, but, if successful, it will be my longest stretch without doctors in months. Luckily, this mission has been made possible by my new nebulizer. Many of the treatments I was having to rush into Student Health for before are now available in my very own dorm room. I am not feeling too good arthritis-wise (my left hip was killing me after my flights yesterday, and today I have some swelling in my right wrist) and because I am on antibiotics right now I am having a considerable amount of nausea, but there is not much that they can do about those things anyway. My rheumatologist, parents and I have decided not to allow me to have any more steroids for the time being, which is a complex decision, but I am hoping that some of my other medications will rise to the occasion and manage all of the inflammation in my body.

       I cancelled my Thursday appointment with my New Orleans rheumatologist, because anyone who writes off my symptoms (see: Three Lessons from a Sick 17-Year-Old) is just not worth my time, and my North Carolina rheumatologist is on top of some of my more immediate arthritis issues at the moment. Sometimes you just have to put your foot down and realize that you deserve better.

       Wish me luck! The 10 day countdown has begun.