On Friday, I was FaceTiming my sexy boyfriend (a necessary detail) and started joking, “This time last semester, I was…” But before I could even finish my sentence, he told me. interrupts.
“No! Don’t say it!” he exclaimed, as if saying that would open Pandora’s satanic box again.
I laughed and said it anyway because it’s true: the first Friday of the spring semester, I was hospitalized with sepsis, and I’ll be hospitalized twice more.
On a Friday in January, doctors found bacteria in my blood and diagnosed me with sepsis, an extreme whole-body reaction to infection that is spreading throughout my body, which can be life-threatening.
The doctors deduced that the dog who double-crossed me was my port-a-cath, the implanted device I rely on for my life-saving medication. It’s something that cancer patients use for frequent intravenous access. I stick a big needle in my chest to access a tube that goes into my heart. Some normal bacteria on the skin clung to the plastic port as a host and gradually grew, slowly infecting me.
You may be wondering, “Catherine, what is this five-star experience like?” Imagine yourself on an IV drip of antibiotics 24/7, with fatigue so overwhelming you’re basically Tom Cruise firing 10G Top Guns, waiting for the antibiotics to swoop down on the bacteria.
Back at school, I was sending mass emails to all my teachers like, “I know we’re just getting to know each other, but I’m in the hospital and I don’t know when I’ll be out. .” I was unprepared for the sepsis saga that followed for five months and went something like this:
January: Zooming in on classes from my hospital bed. I am only released after fighting with my doctors to remove the port. They wanted to preserve it in the hope that intravenous antibiotics at home would eliminate the infection. I wanted that motherfucker out, but they refused.
February: I dragged myself to class only to fall again 24 hours after finishing my antibiotics.
March: I am septic again and hospitalized in another hospital where my cardiologist quickly slices the infected port. He places a peripherally inserted central catheter instead. I am being discharged with more intravenous antibiotics at home, relieved to be spending time at home recovering.
A week later, it’s April and the fever is back. This time, I’m not taking any risks. We pull out the PICC and my ruined body collapses on spring break. To finish…
HAH, YOU THOUGHT THIS SHIT WAS OVER? Without wasting any time, on the last day of the finals in May, my body gave out and I was again hospitalized with a major lupus flare-up.
Recently I learned that one of my improv classmates thought I was just some cool kid for school who “rolled when I wanted”, when in reality I was a bag of infected meat masking everything with a smile. My smile hid the eight hours a day I spent resting in my room only to use up the energy I had saved for taking a shower. It hid the weeks of nausea where I ate nothing but saltines and ginger ale and the two inch drop in the waist of my pants. It hid weeks of dissociation from reality and crippling anxiety as I lived in constant fear of another hospitalization if I tried anything that brought me joy. As a result, I have very little memory of those five months.
During those five months, my mom and my boyfriend swapped weekends from San Diego to Los Angeles to help me function. For months my loved ones took my tearful phone calls, standing strong for me when I couldn’t take it anymore. Teachers, nurses, my speech therapist, physical therapists, doctors and OSAS case managers helped carry me. Despite all the love, I feel guilty to say that I still had days, weeks, months of feeling hopeless and alone.
Now, on the other side of all this suffering, I learned that all the rest of life can wait for your health. Your value doesn’t depend on your productivity, it depends on the type of person you are. Your thoughts are not your reality. Take an incomplete, or three, like me. Your friends, family, doctors and school will understand. If they don’t, I always will. You do enough. You are enough. Just like you are today, the next day, and so on.
As for why I didn’t give up? It was because the doctors assured me that I would bounce back quickly on my antibiotics, and around every corner I honestly believed the finish line was in sight. We have all done it.
But my semester with sepsis was also like living in a slow-motion car accident, and asking why I didn’t quit would be like asking someone who’s been in a car accident, “Why did you get in the car ? because that’s the thing with chronic disease, you’re constantly at the mercy of your body, it comes with the gig. When the inevitable happens, you are forced to move on. Yet despite the trauma of my spring semester, I never gave up. I refused. Even in my darkest days, I chose to fight – a phrase I clung to without irony during this time.
I tell this story to highlight the unnoticed experience of students with disabilities on campus. I owe my spring semester to my support system. I am so proud of myself. And with that, BITCH THIS IS MY SENIOR YEAR, I DID IT!! YOU ARE NOT BREAK MY SOUL!!!
Catherine Ames is an elderly person who writes about the life of a young person coexisting with a chronic illness in her column “Chronically Catherine”.