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Monday, April 22, 2013

A Terrible Burden

Those of you who have been reading these ravings for a while already know that when I was 29, I got very, very sick. I had a terrible bout with pneumonia in both lungs and then had an awful sinus infection. Then I started to notice swelling all over my body. When I had a night with pain in my chest that was so bad I couldn't even sleep, I ended up taking a trip to out local hospital's emergency department. This was very stressful for me, as I had spent most of my life in really great health, just having the usual bouts with whatever bug was traveling around at the time. Within a week I was diagnosed with systemic lupus, and it was determined that my body and my lungs were full of fluid because my immune system was attacking my kidneys. To this day, I believe that my complete ignorance of how dangerously ill I was enabled me to get better faster. I was too stupid to worry.

I was also surprised and perhaps a bit overwhelmed by the outpouring of loving concern from my family, friends, and coworkers. My dear Gram was trying so hard to take care of me, and I wanted to do everything I could possibly handle by myself. I wasn't going to let some stupid disease rule or ruin my life. No way was this woman going to just lay down and let it overtake her. I told Gram that I was sort of like a baby learning how to do things, who wants to do everything without assistance. "Let's have a code," I said to Gram one day, "and if I think you're trying to do too much for me, I'll say self, just like a baby who is trying to be independent." This system worked well for us, and turned potentially tense moments into moments of laughter.

The people I worked with also wanted to protect me. One day, one of my managers told me that I was being "too strong." Everyone wanted to try and help me but I wouldn't accept their help. I think part of this arose from the trials and tribulations I experienced growing up. I didn't want to ask for or even accept any help, because that was being weak and crying out for undeserved attention. I was also too inexperienced to know that accepting help from others doesn't just ease your burdens, it eases theirs, as well. I know now that in my effort to not cause them any inconvenience, I made them feel worse. They saw my struggles and wanted to help me, but I wouldn't allow them to do so. I made their pain on my behalf worse. If I could, I would apologize to them for that. I would also tell them of the times that, as a drive-through bank teller, I would try to carry my cash drawer to the unit where I worked, stopping every few steps to lean against the wall to try and regain some strength to get where I had to go. I should have let them help me. It would have been a benefit to all of us.

A few months after I was diagnosed, after I had been released from the hospital and begun my weekly visits to the doctors, and went through a dose of chemotherapy to induce immune suppression, my friend and I went to see the movie Beaches. If you haven't seen it, it is the story of two friends, one of whom becomes terminally ill. We watched the movie together, both of us sobbing, and both for similar reasons. While my friend Kris was watching the character getting sick and dying, all she could think was, "Oh! That's what Katrina looked like. She was so sick, and I was afraid she might die." And as I was watching it, I was thinking, "Oh, no, that's what I looked like. And that is the torture I put my friends through." It devastated both of us. It was just too personal and too close to home. I don't know about Kris, whom I haven't seen in quite a few years, but I have never been able to watch that movie again. I don't think I could handle it.

Several months later, I came to fully understand why Gram had wanted so desperately to take care of me when my illness was at its worst. Our neighbor's daughter, who was house-sitting for her parents, came over for a chat. I told her, briefly, about my current bout with illness. Suddenly Gram said something that stunned me. She told Lisa, "She really had me worried. I was sure I was going to lose her. I could see death in her face." I was speechless. Gram had seen so many people pass in her time; if she said that she could see death in my face, I had been in far worse condition than I had ever realized or could have possibly imagined. She was terrified that her not-really granddaughter, whom she loved as much as one of her own children, was going to die. I was devastated to find out so many months later that my disease had caused her so much sorrow and pain.

After quite a bit of time had gone by, some other things came to light about people's reactions to my illness, and their fear of my possible death. They were such a terrible burden to me that all of these years later, I can't face writing them down. When I got sick, I didn't want to be a bother to anyone, and did my best not to cause anyone extra work or any other inconvenience. Little did I know, at that time, that the burdens of disease are many. No matter what you try to do to prevent them, others will be weighted down by your suffering. That is my most terrible burden.