This past February, I call my doctor’s office. “I think I have a gluten allergy.” I say.
A few days later, my doctor sees me. We talk. He doesn’t think I have a gluten allergy. I tell him that my skin has been unusually pimply, but had gotten better, I think, whenever I avoided wheat products.
“Any diarrhea?” He asks, looking up from his laptop screen, his fingers frozen from their otherwise flickering clicking state, suspended above his flat black keyboard. My face warms and I am quiet for a moment. I don’t want to tell lies, but I haven’t really had the trots, squirts or the runs, as they say. Yet I know that, at this crucial juncture, describing my digestive expressions as plain old poop and pee will get me nothing. So I fib.
“Yeah….a little bit, maybe. Yes.”
He types this. Then he types up the blood test form because of my complaint of diarrhea and diarrhea and diarrheadiarrheaanddiarrhea, expelling this private potty word several times as if it is some requirement. Maybe he’s wearing a wire from my insurance company or maybe he’s just waiting for me to cry out, “OK OK! I haven’t reeeeallly had diarrhea.” But I don’t and he sends me off for blood work.
“Don’t avoid wheat products before the blood test or it won’t work.” He tells me.
That weekend, the gluten gods rapture me into a heaven of burnt bagels, cheesy calzones, big bowls of honey glazed cereal and French bread sandwiches. After this glorious two-day wheat orgy, I feel physically fine, a little fat with a bloating doughy belly, but no diarrhea. On Monday, I go to the hospital for blood work.
A few days later, I get a call from my doctor’s office. I have no intolerance to wheat.
It’s something I’m eating that’s causing my skin to do this, I tell my doctor next. Maybe something really small like a spice or something. He sends me to an allergist.
In the allergist’s office, a nurse presses cold rounded needles across my back. After she completes this task, I am instructed not to move for fifteen minutes. I sit in stiffness, my back slowly rounding. After thirty minutes, the doctor knocks, enters, looks at my back, wipes away the wetness and tells me to get dressed as he closes the door behind him. Once dressed, the doctor reenters to tell me that I have no common food allergies. He doesn’t know what’s going on with my skin, but he feels bad for me and gives me a prescription for antibiotics. I thank him and go on my way, planning to never really take the pill for when I took it for acne as a teenager, it caused my face to sunburn all year round.
A few weeks later, I call the dermatologist’s office where I had made an appointment a few weeks before. My appointment isn’t until August. It is March now. “What if I think I have Rosacea?” I ask the receptionist over the phone. “Could you see me sooner then?”
“No. Sorry. But I can put you on our waiting list...”
“I think I have Rosacea.” I say to my doctor. He looks closely at my face. It doesn’t look like Rosacea to him. Looks like acne. “But this is on my cheeks!” I tell him. “I’ve never had acne on my cheeks. Ever. And this doesn’t really feel like acne. This burns.”
“Haven’t you made an appointment with the dermatologist yet?” he asks.
“It’s in August.”
“Well, this isn’t Rosacea.” He says, but he can prescribe me some acne cream. “Which pharmacy would you like me to send this to?”
You can send it to the pharmacy known as your ass because that shit isn’t going to help me.
“The CVS on Main Street is good. Thank you.”
Last week, I call my gynecologist’s office. “I think I have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.” I say. The receptionist schedules me for an appointment for Thursday with Amy, the nurse practitioner.
Thursday morning, Amy the nurse practitioner tells me that it doesn’t look like Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Have I noticed an increase in chest, pubic or facial hair? I show her my naked lap. She shakes her head and I cover myself. She then pulls out a little white card and instructs me to record my periods. Months of marking little Xs. That’s what this little card means. This makes me cry. “So you aren’t going to have me tested?” I ask. This crying of mine embarrasses us both. She leaves the room and brings back a yellow form. She’s going to give me the blood test anyway. I cannot take the test until the third “bleeding” day of my period. I thank the poor nurse, get dressed and walk out of the doctor’s office.
Inside the confines of my car, I finish my sobbing. This is my most preferred place to weep, the driver’s seat. Something about the dramatic clutching of the steering wheel or the several small mirrors or perhaps it’s the immediate privacy in any public parking lot that allures me so.
On Friday, my left eye begins to hurt like a bruise. Sunday morning, I awake with a full blown stye on my bottom left eyelid. Even my cheek is puffy. Sunday afternoon, I leave Brooklyn with my friend Claire and we drive home to Northampton, Massachsuetts, leaving Scott with Claire's fiancé, Jay. Scott departs from JFK Airport the following day for Israel on a free ten-day trip called Birthright. We had driven to Brooklyn Saturday morning to stay with our friends in Clinton Hill.
Extacy pills before a rave of rapists, creepers and undercover cops. After taking the drugs, I lay back down. Still my eye won’t close. I turn on my phone and search for the symptoms of Lyme Disease, for a tick had bit me in April and still I have an unhealed mark on my hip. As I read the common symptoms, I discover that this must be it. I must have Lyme Disease. (Even though my troubles started far before April). As I make my new diagnosis, anxiety begins to rupture from my stomach and heart palpitations swell through the small bone bars of my chest cavity. I’m having heart attack. At 3:30am, I nearly drive myself to the local hospital. Alone, for my first night alone, alone, all by my self in this queen sized bed while Scott sleeps on an air mattress in Brooklyn. The next day he is heading for his homeland with a group of twenty something strangers. I’ve never felt so desperate for companionship. How lucky I am to have him here most of the time to carry me from these bouts of insanity. If I die right now, I’m going to be really angry at myself. I should wake up my roommates, Amy and Mark and tell them that I might be having a heart attack. It’s probably not a heart attack, but what if it is? I don’t want them finding me dead from a drug overdose tomorrow morning. Should I call for an ambulance?
But I don’t go anywhere and I don’t call anyone or knock on anyone’s bedroom door. Instead I toss through twenty minutes of unnerving sleep before my alarm clock honks like a stupid goose at 5am. My left eyelids stick together with a thin layer of yellow-crusted junk. I roll out of bed and stand so that I won’t fall back asleep. My reflection in the bathroom mirror is unrecognizable. I have red sores across my cheeks, patches discolored brown and my left eye looks like a deflated red balloon, piled there atop my eye, beneath my brow.
At work, I call my doctor’s office. “I think I have Lyme Disease.” I tell the receptionist. The doctor can see me at 3:45pm. Despite that I nanny until 5pm, I make the appointment. I send my roommate, Amy, a message. She agrees to help me by watching the boys while I see my doctor. I pick her up before the appointment and while I am inside she sits with the boys in the car, drawing the toddlers sketches of fish and octopuses and making paper airplanes. While I wait in the waiting room, I stand at the window watching the car.
Once inside the doctor’s office, while I wait for the doctor to come in, I send Amy a message. “I’m sorry this is taking so long.” I send to her.
“They’re being good so far.” She says.
“Ok good. I’ll make this up to you.”
“No need. Get better! That’ll make me happy.”
As soon as my doctor walks into the room, I watch myself weep. I apologize and get through my words like a train on an overgrown track. “I feel like I’m falling apart.” I tell him. “My body isn’t healing. My skin isn’t healing like it’s supposed to.” And for the first time he agrees that this doesn’t look like acne. It doesn’t look like Lyme Disease either, but we can do the blood test to be sure. I tell him about the rash on my feet and he inspects my puffy eye. Then I show him this ingrown hair on my bikini line that blew up the night before into a bluish bubble. He tells me he thinks that it was wise to pop it, which surprises me as I remember sopping up the fluid with a handful of tissues. He tells me this all seems very similar to Scott’s abscess from the year before. Where could we have been exposed to such bacteria? Do we shower at a gym? "No. I do yoga." I tell him, but there are no showers there. Honestly, I’m a little angry he doesn’t think it’s Lyme Disease. He puts me on antibiotics and some nose ointment. He says if my eye isn't better or close to better by Thursday he's going to have an eye specialist drain it.
I feel like a fucking alien.
After the appointment, I drive Amy home. Then I drive the boys home.
Then it dawns on me that my yoga mat must be infested with years of bacteria for I never clean that thing. Scott’s cyst last year was on his back and he likes to do sit-ups on the yoga mat.
I call Scott. He’s in a loud airport shop. He steps out to a terminal to talk. I try not to cry, but his gentle voice opens the damn dam I usually keep guarded by a family of prosperous beavers, letting my dead sea to further flood from my eye and a half with such force I can barely breathe. Perhaps the beavers don’t work during illness. Anyway, I had planned to not tell him anything. I didn’t want him to know that I nearly called him in the middle of the night. That in my sleep deprived drugged up delirium, I actually considered driving back to Brooklyn for a hug. But as soon as I hear him say, “Ah Rachey”, my night and day eject out of me like a messy shit, yes diarrhea. As I wipe away my tears, I tell him how much I love him and he tells me the same and that he misses me already. Eventually I realize that saying good bye without a shaky voice isn’t possible at this time in my life so I say it the best I can, with “really don’t worry about mes” wrapping through my good and byes like hundred year old vines in the wind.
There I am, in my favorite weeping place, the driver’s seat. Parked in the center of town outside the pharmacy where I plan to purchase my new prescriptions. I haven’t put money in the meter yet. It’s a little before 6pm and I imagine a meter maid coming to write me a ticket and then I imagine killing the old maid right there on the sidewalk beside that line of multi-colored newspaper boxes. But no one comes along and after Scott and I say our final good bye, I put two nickels into the machine.
As I walk back to the car from the pharmacy, my father calls and again my tears begin falling and my voice begins rattling like a falling top. My father is on the case. He tells me. He’s going to help me figure out what’s wrong with me. I believe him because, luckily for me, I still secretly believe that he is Superman.
I go to the grocery store, the good grocery store, and buy three pieces of almond encrusted tilapia; a bunch of broccoli, a bag of whole wheat pasta and two big bunches of dinosaur kale. I will turn this around. This is the start of my skin recovery.
When I get home, I throw out all of my yoga stuff. It’s like the Velveteen Rabbit story, only I don’t have a bonfire in the woods, just a big green garbage can. Amy grills the fish on tin foil and I make pasta salad and sautéed broccoli. I thank them, my roommates for all their help, for watching Penny while I was in New York and for watching the boys while I was falling apart.
At around 9pm, I take my meds, which is one antibiotic pill, and then I take several alcohol swabs to my face.
“You seem exasperated.” My doctor tells me while I lay on the table and he inspects the black hole on my bikini line.
“It’s been a long year.”
I hold a hot washcloth to my eye for a half an hour or so and go to bed. Then I sleep. Really sleep.
“I think you might have MRSA,” My father tells me. I’m not going to search that. I tell myself. I can’t. And I’m definitely not going to do an image search for it. I’m going to wait and see how this two-week antibiotic trial goes. (This inner dialogue lasts as long as the walk from my kitchen to the computer.) Here I am sitting at the computer. MRSA is what made Michael Jackson lose part of his nose. I’m going to lose part of my nose. Suicide is happening pre-nose crumbling. If I can’t deal with pimples, I certainly can’t live with half a nose. I tell my father that this scares the desire to live out of me. “It isn’t life threatening. Its just uncomfortable. So let’s just wait and see what your dermatologist says.” He says, calming me.
The next morning, I go to my doctor’s office and speak with the front desk receptionist nurse. “My father thinks I have MRSA.” I tell her.
A couple hours later, she calls me back after speaking with my doctor. “He’s already treating you as if you had MRSA.”
At my last appointment, in my physically disfigured and mentally altered state of failure to operate my own body, I couldn't quite comprehend what he was explaining to me about this virus. So after a year of fluctuating levels of attractiveness, from days of heinous discoloration and blistery bumps across the tops of my cheeks and above my eyebrows, it is finally solved. The mystery is solved. Not yet cured, but at least understood.
Scott is still away. In an email, I tell him, “I’m going to look like the blushing bride you married when you get home.”
For two weeks I’ve been living without his body in bed with mine, so many days without even speaking with him. He’s sent me a couple emails entitled “international love”. Short emails I’ve read over and over. Every day, I scan the news headlines for any violence in Israel and Scott’s grandparents and parents call me to say hello. It’s just Penny and I in the quiet apartment tonight. Amy and Mark are away. They'll be back tomorrow. I swept the floors tonight and tossed the moldy leftovers from the back of the fridge. I haven’t cried since last Monday. I’m fine by myself. On my own schedule. Eating what I feel like. Going to bed early if I want, late if I feel the impulse. But it’s lonely here without him, and this fills me with both gratitude and sympathy for anyone who's every found herself sick and alone.