This story is by Jennifer Juniper and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
His tie was a fish. The coffee cup on his desk was a fish–tail flipped up, forming a handle. I’m guessing the man liked to fish on his days off from cutting into people. There was a joke swimming around in there somewhere–scalpels. . . scaling. But Bitchisone (my nickname for my frenemy Prednisone) had stolen my sense of humor, along with all my normal sized clothes, and I didn’t feel much like chit chatting. I was here for one, sole, serious purpose.
“You’re not a candidate for surgery.” He slams the door shut on my file, clasps his hands on top of it for emphasis–satisfied that all he needs to know about my insides is inside.
I smile back. There’s a picture of his wife on his desk. She seems nice. Pretty. She probably bought him that mug and tie for. . . my eyes scan the other framed photos. . . Father’s Day.
But I was getting tired of being polite, compliant with every test and prescription only to end up sick again. I drank the “milkshakes”– no one who actually had to choke down that thick barium clay would ever call them that. Poked and pierced, watching my blood being withdrawn into color coded tubes or waiting for a hanging bag to deposit into my veins. Veins that seemed to curl up every time a needle got near.
Warm wetness fills my eyes as his rejection hits. And sits. “I don’t know what else to do. I’ve tried everything.”
I begin casting around, detailing the impossible cycle of steroids that I was on: the flare-ups I’d have whenever I weaned off of them and the trips to the emergency room in the middle of the night to get pumped full of more. I cited case studies where this had worked, hoping to lure him. I had all my hope riding on this. I didn’t have another option.
He seems to soften as he tips his head to one side; nodding along with my soliloquy. “Look, you have this disease everywhere. I can’t take all of it out, or you’ll have worse problems.”
I hadn’t just read the book that the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation had sent me—I’d mined it. Picking past the layers of treatment I’d already tried and digging through all that failed, until I struck gold: a chapter buried in the back called Surgery. The last chapter and my last resort. Cutting out the bad and sewing the good parts back together sounded like my ticket off this crazy ride.
He may know about Crohn’s Disease, but he doesn’t know about me. He doesn’t know how I read every healing story I can get my hands on. How I do mini-meditations at stoplights.
But the most important thing he doesn’t know is that I chose the second group.
Waking up to the fuzzy image of a young guy coming into focus, then going fuzzy again, Hmmm, he’s cute. My brain slowly climbs out of the anesthesia and points to his white coat and the dashes he’s drawing throughout the outline of the digestive system on a piece of paper.
“What are those?” My voice sputters and squeaks, dry from the tube and camera that was stuck down my throat.
“Ulcers.” He keeps slashing, each one pierces through the dense fog surrounding me. “The good news is we know what you have. The bad news is, there’s no cure.”
I fade back into the lingering ether. His words follow me. It’s real. It has a name.
“We’ll treat it the best we can. We’ll get it to go into remission and then you’ll relapse, it’s a cycle that’ll keep repeating. That’s the best we can do.”
He gets up and walks towards the door of my room, leaving me to reckon with my sentencing. But then something makes him stop mid-stride. He turns back to me, “Here’s the thing. There seems to be two groups of people with this disease. One group believes everything I say, and they stay sick and suffer. The other group seems to dismiss it and they get better.” He shoots a long look out the window, like he’s listening to his words along with me. He shrugs. “The only difference that I can see between them is a decision.” He turns again, and is gone.
“Sooo,” his nurse steps into my stare, “Have you decided which group you’d like to be in?”
“Uhhhmm . . . I kinda like the sound of that second one,” I dare to say. Still not sure if it’s mine to claim or what it entails.
“Good,” scribbling on a piece of paper. “This is where you start.”
I don’t know what I was expecting, but Fit for Life wasn’t it. Sounded like a diet book.
It was so much more than a diet book.
I hadn’t felt in charge of my body for awhile now. Reading that book put me back in the driver’s seat. It gave me something to do besides swallow a bunch of pills and hope for the best. How to eat was just the beginning. And I wanted more.
I was watching this connection between my body and my mind and wanted to harness it. But there weren’t many resources out there at the time. Bernie Siegel’s Love, Medicine & Miracles told of patients beating back cancer death sentences. What I have isn’t as bad as cancer, I consoled myself. I ordered the cassette offered at the end of You Can Heal Your Life. I picked up a set of tapes from this motivational speaker at a conference. My one-hour, one-way commute to college became an undeclared minor in the power of my mind.
* * *
He smooths his fish tie. Now this doctor’s confrontation on the direness of my condition triggers tears. The dashing of my dream to overcome it pushes them over the edge.
“I’m so sorry, but these people that you read about, they don’t have it like you do.”
The weight of his words sinks me back into my chair. They’re a velvety mauve–more suited to a living room than a doctor’s office. I want the second group, dammit! I claimed it. And these people with stethoscope necklaces sure aren’t getting me there.
Maybe I felt empowered by those tapes. Maybe I was standing on the shoulders of all those who had beaten the odds. I couldn’t just keep shuffling the deck and hoping for a better hand. I needed a game changer.
Maybe I was desperate.
Maybe if he had on a different tie and wasn’t gripping a porcelain tail.
I brush off my tears and hear the words, “I’m not leaving until you agree to operate,” pour from my mouth and puddle around our feet.
“Look, even if I took out the worst part you’d only get about six months remission. Then it would come back, probably right where I sewed you back together.”
“SIX MONTHS!!” The very idea of it propels me to the edge of my seat. “I’ll take it!” Six months?! It sounded like an eternity. “I can’t even get one month! At least I’ll get a chance at a fresh start, instead of being stuck behind the eightball all the time!”
His very justification for rejection flipped back to help make my case, he sighs. Takes a sip from his fish mug.
He gives me a this-isn’t-how-this-usually-goes kind of look. “You know, I’m usually the one trying to convince people to have surgery.” He opens his calendar, “Looks like my next opening would be in two weeks.”
I spend the time honing my mind-body connection, aligning myself with this newfound miracle-mindedness. I could feel myself starting to recalibrate from “Why me?!” to “Where is this taking me?” Then I found a guided meditation tape for people undergoing surgery.
Surgery I was preparation: cognitive stretching exercises by day and while I slept, music to marinade my subconscious in them.
“Play this while I’m out,” I hand the puzzled anesthesiologist Surgery II.
As he leaves to go locate a boombox, I turn to my surgeon. “You’re going to have direct access to my unconscious in there. So say only good things. How healthy I look, how strong my body is. If you must say something negative, you’ll need to leave the room first.”
The mask comes down and I count back from ten. I just want to feel good again. I just want to feel good again.
* * *
A year later I sent the fish doc an anniversary card to say that I was still in remission. And to thank him. I sent another one the next year. And the year after that. And the year after that . . .
I just wanted him to know that it’s okay to go into uncharted waters, in case he still wasn’t sure. I wanted to let him know that although medicine may have limitations, the mind doesn’t have any.