I’ve put myself in a bit of a bind with this prompt. So, I decided to take a brainstorming tact suggested in a TEDxSomerville talk I saw on stage just this morning. Basically, you ask questions until you can’t think of another and then go back over them. It was an interesting concept and I’ll post a link to the video when it goes up. (I’m also going to talk a lot more about some of the other talks I saw today, later, when their videos are up.)
But for now, how do you write about something this…pervasive, this well-done in literature? It’s been done in anger, in resignation, in determination. What can be unique about writing about illness and injury? Dealing with the actual instigating event and its oddities like Bullet in the Brain by Tobias Wolff? Or approach a longer lasting event? But the long suffering patient has been done. Particularly those sickly sweet ones like in A Walk To Remember. So just how was I supposed to go about creating a unique illness experience? And what do you know…I just had an idea…
Janine shuffled her notecards one more time at her podium before she looked up, the lights making the audience into uncertain shadows at their dinner tables. Small kindnesses she thought, before launching into her speech.
“It began when I was in 8th grade. I was stupid at a scouting camporee and ended up throwing myself into shock. But from that day forward, nothing seemed to work right in my body. I became hypoglycemic, started having some serious anxiety issues which developed into what we thought were panic attacks, I developed an allergy to dairy, and then my heart started to do funny things–racing, fluttering, doing a fancy gig at unexpected moments.”
She felt like it might do it again now, though she knew it wouldn’t. It never would again. It had been carefully neutered, tamed. It behaved marvelously, even keeping itself at a steady 120 beats per minute on her run that morning. It was just the nerves of being in front of all these people that made her feel like her body might start misbehaving again.
“Misbehavior, that’s what I called it. And it was getting in the way. I was in med school now, getting my MD in cardiology. I had no time for anything beyond class and had driven my body to it’s outermost limits of stress and poor health habits. They don’t tell you when you start an MD that you have to destroy your body to finish it, which is a bit ironic. The day after I turned in my final papers, I ended up in the hospital.”
Her heart twinged, but it was simply echoing the pain and spasms of that time, 10 years ago. Janine suppressed an urge to take her own pulse, the old habit of rudimentary biofeedback as a coping technique brought back by the tension she felt addressing such a distinguished audience.
“They told me that my heart was going to need to be replaced, that it had somehow gotten damaged and that half the nodes were dead already. They wanted to put in a pacemaker and put me on a doner list in the meantime. I said yes to the pacemaker but I knew I was going to be at the very bottom of the transplant list, but that was okay with me. I was going to fix this before the ever got anywhere near me on that list.”
At this point, Janine looked to her left, at her partner in crime sitting at the head table. She remembered approaching the stem cell researcher with an absurd idea that had come to her as she read his research 15 years ago. It had taken her five years to screw up her courage to talk to him, but this was the last straw. Sometimes it just took being more afraid of something else. He had at first laughed, but sobered quickly, then started asking questions and taking notes.
“I approached Dr. Mathias about a possible solution. I was not a stem cell researcher, so I didn’t know if it would be at all feasible. All I knew is I wanted to be fixed, and fixed now. And we did it. Together we created a cure for ailing organs, a way to regenerate them as good as new within their own body. Five injections into the organ, that’s all it takes.” She thumped herself on the chest for emphasis. “And it’s as though there never was a problem. It’s been five years since Dr. Mathias injected my heart with our special concoction. And, frankly, finally being able to live healthy means a little more than this nice medallion, though I must say, the thought is quite appreciated.”
The room laughed, Janine thanked them once again for the honor, and then sat down beside Dr. Mathias. “Next time we win the Nobel Prize, you’re doing the talking.”