Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Semester Behind Me

      I am so, so tired. This semester chewed me up and spit me out. I expected to feel triumphant upon finishing my final exam at 9:45 this morning, but I feel broken and weak and weary. Yet this brokenness is forced to coexist with the fact that I also did something I thought I had no chance of doing just two months ago: I finished a full course load during my first semester at UNC.

      Many people have told me that they are proud of me and/or that I should be proud of myself, but as appreciative as I am, I am struggling to embrace that sentiment. I cannot convince myself that I am proud of the semester, but I am relieved. Maybe relief is the best I can do right now.

Hannah & I - Mortality Beach Day

     On Sunday, particularly in the morning, I dealt with severe nausea, but I was determined to make it to church, because I figured that if I was going to have a completely empty stomach I might as well have a full soul. I stuffed my purse with plastic grocery bags, hoping that I could at least prevent my class and the congregation from hating me if I continued to be ill every 10-15 minutes. I drove to church, allotting myself 20 extra minutes because I was so sick, but was only a pinch away from driving straight to urgent care for IV fluids and injectable anti-nausea medication considering that in the 3 hours prior to when I sat down in my car to start the drive I had already vomited over a dozen times. I stayed in the right lane and became obsessively aware of all the places I could potentially pull over. I ran inside and threw up as soon as I made it to church, stared blurrily at my teary, bloodshot eyes as I washed my stiff, arthritic hands in the sink, and contemplated lying down on the carpet of the classroom for a few minutes before everyone arrived. I decided that even severely nauseous people can be classy, so I sat in a chair with my head rested on a pillow instead. In a true Christmas miracle, I began to feel like my vomiting was over, but I was exhausted and the reduction of the nausea forced me to finally notice the swelling in my hips.

      During communion, I quite literally begged God to help me hold down the blood of Christ. I ate lunch successfully and thought I was completely recovered, and then upon drinking one small cup of water after an evening service I found myself vomiting in the church bathroom yet again. It was a day of desperation and defeat, especially considering that I had two exams yesterday and two today and no desire to study with such a painful stomach.

      I woke up yesterday feeling pure gratitude for my lack of nausea, but in the middle of my first exam my medical blessing was quickly replaced by a fever, sore throat, fatigue, and abdominal pain. I fought through and took another exam yesterday afternoon, submitted a final paper that is technically due on Wednesday last night (I am feeling miserable, but I need to be done), and finished my last final at 9:45 this morning.

      I walked out of the accommodations center this morning with the entire semester behind me yet with so much ahead of me. I was and am so exhausted. I walked down the stairs and out of the building feeling my hips and knees and ankles all too vividly, reflecting on what a difficult semester I have had and wishing that someone could wrap me up in a cloud to allow me to truly rest for a little while. Before  I could even make it outside, I threw up in a restroom, and now, even as I am writing this in a heated space, I am shaking uncontrollably from internal chills.

     Today also marks a week before my next surgery, which will be my third time undergoing anesthesia since mid-October. I am nervous for recovery, nervous about the medications that make me loopy, and nervous about pain. In between now and then, I am visiting New Orleans to catch up with some of the incredible people who have supported me since the very beginning of my college career. Finishing an unbelievably painful semester, visiting a school that I adore but that was snatched from me by my health, and undergoing surgery all in the span of one week is overwhelming. I am hoping that life will be peaceful after this.

    I wish I had some grand lesson that I learned from this semester. To be honest, it just hurt a lot. More than I thought it could. It is not a tragedy, but it would be wrong to try to warp it into some motivational story. I had appointments and underwent procedures with over ten specialists, none of whom have been able to diagnose my current symptoms, and I was instructed by my doctor to wear a mask literally everywhere I went, and I took more than thirty days worth of three different antibiotics, and I brought my nebulizer just to watch Netflix with friends because I was so scared of not being able to breathe, and a mystery autoimmune disease made me feel more alone than I have ever felt, and a boy in my English class told me he would kill himself if he were me, and I underwent a minor jaw surgery, and my beloved dog, who suffered from arthritis just as I do, died, and my chest hurt so badly that I ended up in the emergency room at 2 in the morning, and I cried in the offices of several administrators as they helped me to decide whether or not to withdraw.

   That is one narrative, and it is a crucial one. I am afraid that I will be sugarcoating it by tying it to another narrative, but it feels impossible not to, because these two realities coexist.

    A rheumatologist looked me in the eyes and told me she believed me, and my friends assured me that my medical mask was cute and fancy, and my infectious disease specialist freed me of antibiotics as he released me from his care with an astounding degree of empathy, and a friend took my hand and sat on my bed with me when the nebulizer permitted panic to seep in, and my community rallied together to raise over $2,000 for the Arthritis Foundation, and one of my English professors implored me to just keep breathing, and my mom held me in her arms as I recovered from all of my procedures, and I had the opportunity to see my beloved dog trudge through the sand and stick her paws in the ocean before she died in my arms, and my professors worked with me to accommodate such rapid and mysterious changes in my health, and I was able to keep all of my academic courses without missing a single assignment.

    In some ways, I hope this semester counts as a failure, because I do not want this to be my success. I am still processing all that has happened. I have no idea how to describe it. I know that I am glad I am done. I am glad that these awful three months are behind me. At the same time, I feel unusually lucky. I have had so many people rooting me on and pulling me up from the ground and assuring me that everything will be alright, and I am painfully aware that this support system is not something everyone has the privilege of depending upon. So thank you for believing me, and thank you for staying, and thank you for all of the tears you have cried with me, and thank you for all of the hugs, and thank you for going through this mess of a semester alongside me.
    On August 21st, the day before my first day of classes at UNC, I published a post in which I wrote, "I am giving my goal of a positive, relatively healthy college experience another chance." So here I go, giving myself yet another chance to try to experience college at its best in the spring. Don't tell anyone, but I am very, very hopeful.

1 comment:

  1. You can tell that kid in your English class to shut his ignorant mouth! Love you, praying for you.


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