This story is by Madison Stafford and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
The bridge between illness and health is often trudged across when there is no other option in life besides death. This bridge presents itself, usually at the peak of illness, through a cloud-like mist that has been formed by frustration, lethargy, and in some cases, denial. The bridge between illness and health is often unclear; as you are cautiously making your way across each of its slats, you are barely able to see through the emotional mist to whether or not a slat is about to break or crack. Sometimes, certain slats are far too hidden in the shadows to be seen at all. Often, exiting illness and emerging into health is a lonely path – no matter how large the swarm of doctors and caregivers around you may be, your only defining savior is the hope harbored inside of yourself; the larger-than-life beacon within your heart whose lighthouse flashes signals of, “It’s not my time to die.”
Whether or not your inner ship sails through the murky lightning-filled storm of defeat, towards this brightly glowing light of survival, is up to you and your life contract signed carefully by fate.
How did I make the choice to survive?
I don’t think I did. Sometimes, I think the Universe made the decision for me.
At six years old, I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. As naïve and semi-formed my mind was, my belief was that my life was being sucked away through a straw. At the tender age of six; my young, developing mind thought that it was normal for children my age to sleep like a corpse, normal to feel like their eyes were going to fall from their skull in dryness, normal for my small body to need to drink nearly a gallon of water each day, yet still feel parched; I thought that it was normal for my small mouth and deep-set eyes to turn icicle blue; as if death was creeping its way into my body through my face.
My pregnant mother, who was on bed-rest at the time, and I spent most of our days sleeping, while my clueless stepfather went off to work under the blinding Arizona sun. My illness formed in my system for the next few weeks, as new symptoms that I couldn’t put into words took over my body. My first emergency room visit left me with a misdiagnosis, the wrong medication, and further uncertainty. The day I collapsed with a thunderous slam against my bedroom wall, my mom and I knew my situation was no longer normal, we realized that this was something more serious than any doctor had thought of. Nothing about what I had been going through was normal, and my nightmare of a story was just beginning.
I felt blindfolded when I was rushed to my doctor’s office moments after my collapse; my mind had put an invisible veil, called fear, over my eyes. I wanted to cry out from my voiceless mouth, yet couldn’t find the noise or strength to do so. My doctor’s visit was an emergency appointment for determining what exactly was happening to me. My pediatrician — a small, bossy ethnic woman with gentle hands that had wrinkled with age — handed me a cup to urinate in, and as I went into the children’s bathroom, I could feel that something was entirely wrong. It was as if my life was crumbling around me, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. My mother and doctor’s hushed voices whispered into my ears outside of the door; their words unheard but their meaning clearer than glass. My mother’s gripping terror was vibrating through her skin, my 2-day-old brother in her arms, her thoughts desperately racing through her mind. Something wasn’t right, and I knew she was waging the war between best and worst case scenario. I was numb and disassociated, and I had retreated into a private world that was solely mine. Over the past few weeks, I had unknowingly built this world inside of myself where I was viewing the events of my life like a spectator, but they weren’t apart of me.
Upon the urine testing results, my mother crumbled. She didn’t melt in front of me, she left me with my stepfather and I could sense her fall apart at the seams in the hallway near the examination room. My mind was empty until the question briefly flashed itself in my mind. Am I dying?
Arriving at the children’s hospital immediately as per my doctor’s orders, I realized that I had stepped into a nightmare that I wasn’t quite present in. The overhead fluorescent lights lit up the hospital’s halls like grotesque spotlights. Every time I peered into a patient’s room, I saw unique horrors. One child’s bed was covered with a cage-like fishnet material, which I later learned had to be put there because he refused to take insulin injections. Next to him, a small child sat screaming in discomfort due to some illness that remains a mystery to me today. I was brought into the room that I would be staying in, where a girl named Hannah sat in the bed next to me. She was far older than myself, an age gap of a decade, and she had a strangely comforting face for such an unfamiliar situation. Almost as soon as I arrived to the room and was set up in a hospital bed, the curtain was drawn to set a thin cloth divide between Hannah and I.
A nurse came into the room and handed me a cloud-like cotton ball that smelled of a scent that I can only describe as ‘burning’ – rubbing alcohol. She poked my finger with a small hand-held device that made me gasp when it drew my blood in under a second, and placed my bleeding finger to the device that beeped a few moments later. I, still numb, sat silently through this procedure as my mom held my other hand. She seemed as if she was somewhere in the background, as I had blurred her, my brother, and my stepfather out. I believed that I was a ticking time bomb, my final hours upon me – I was certain now that I was dying.
After hours of testing and configurations, a grim-faced doctor entered the room and stared at me with his robotic eyes. I was not completely sure that he was a human being, as it seemed that I was being assessed by a machine. He turned to my mother and said something that, to me, sounded like Dia-leet-is. I wasn’t dying. As he left, I asked my mom if this was going to be forever, as I realized that death had knocked on my door but I hadn’t been home. My mom sobbed, as if some dam inside of her had broken its walls and was spilling its contents over the room. My stepfather sat, sullen-faced, though I knew he had absolutely no idea what was going on.
My mother knew, because my grandfather had Type 1 Diabetes himself. I realize now that this disease is the one thing that my grandfather has given to me, the sole time he’s ever been in my life. He’s the ghost of a person who sounds familiar yet is not, and Type 1 Diabetes remains his looming shadow. I do have proof that he’s a real person, at least, as his genetic shortcomings are forever stamped into my genetic makeup.
It’s been nearly eleven years since my whole life changed. The past decade of my life has been riddled with medical issues, uncertainty, depression, and a waging darkness within myself that only my mother lightened. I have crossed the bridge of illness to health, facing death multiple times, but I have climbed each mountain, trekked countless heights, while battling each and every obstacle in my path since the diagnosis.
Sometimes, the link between the world of health and the world of illness is blurry; sometimes, I think that there is no such thing as health, and other times, I am blessed enough to say that I cannot recall illness because I am engrossed in the magnificence of life — the light at the end of the tunnel. What’s most important is seizing every day, appreciating who and what we have, seeking the beauty and grace in each experience, in everything – no matter which world we find ourselves in.
I am blessed that the Universe answered to the glittering hope in my heart, while giving me the opportunity to take what I have been given in this lifetime and sail through all of the hurt, to heal.