OW! OW! You need to count, Michelle. I know it hurts! I know you want it to stop. But you need to count how long the pain is lasting. Come on, girl! COUNT!
Okay. One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. No, wait. Isn’t it supposed to be animals? I count antelopes . . . no . . . elephants. That’s right. I count elephants. Just like when there is a thunderstorm outside. You get a more accurate count to the time if you say "elephant." You know how long it is between the lightning and the boom. All right. One elephant . . . oh God that sounds so silly . . . I want to laugh but it will only make the pain worse . . . two elephant . . . three elephant . . . must be a water hole somewhere to have so many at one place . . . four elephant . . . the fifth one is little and afraid of the water . . . there might be crocodiles under the still surface . . . six elephant . . . seven . . . here comes a herd of them . . . I’m almost up to fifteen.
The pain is gone. Weird. I normally only count elephants up to the five mark. This is a new record. I don’t know whether to celebrate or weep. I do know it will be awhile before the next pain comes along, maybe in a few days. Chances are better in a few months.
The first time it happened I was twelve years old. I was in my room laying on my bed reading a book when the author’s overabundant description of a desert scene had made me thirsty. So I got off the bed and headed toward the kitchen to get something to drink. Halfway through the bedroom my body dropped to the ground as I wiggled on the rug clutching my stomach. I debated whether it was a rusty harpoon or a barbarian’s spear in my gut. I had a healthy imagination and a good sense of humor back then. I still have it now in case you haven’t noticed.
Three seconds later the stabbing pain was gone. I stood up, confused. Should I tell my mother about the mystery pain? Would she care enough to investigate, or be angry that I woke her from her nap? I shook my head. No point to risk the chance. It had only happened once, and already the memory was fading. I had gotten up to get a glass of orange juice from the fridge. That was where I went. Then I was back to the book to continue in the caravan across the desert.
Several more times the pain came during my early teens. It was migratory. Usually in the stomach but it had a bad habit of moving up into my chest. Scary. I told my mother then. She told me not to worry whenever I pointed at the spot. "Your heart isn’t there, so there’s nothing to worry about." This is never a comforting statement to make to a kid. She finally took me to the family doctor when she got tired of my whining.
Viral infection. This was the doctor’s first claim without him even laying a finger on me. So knowledgeable he was in his white suit. It was a viral infection moving from my stomach to my chest to my stomach again. He never really explained why it was only the one stabbing pain. Never considered the time frame of how short it happened. Then he went into his back room and took out pills. I didn’t even need a prescription for them. He told my mom to keep an eye on me and report if I had any side effects. If anything bad should happen, like convulsions, then she was supposed to take me to the ER. For the next three visits he handed my mother different pills with the same sort of warning. If she’s blue in the face . . . if she has problems urinating . . . if she has sudden chills and fever . . . take her to the hospital. I was smart enough then to realize he was using me as his guinea pig. One of those statistics you hear in the medicine ads on television as the announcer runs through the risks quickly and slurs the words . . . makes you fear the pills less. He was using me as his laboratory rat while still getting paid for the doctor’s visit. My mom never complained. So long as she didn’t have to pay for a pharmacist prescription then everything was a-okay for her.
In time even the family doctor got tired of my whining. He took blood tests. I was in my senior year at high school. Chances were that it was sickle-cell anemia. It can happen to people like me. It’s a blood disorder caused by inheriting a recessive gene that distorts red blood cells into a rigid sickle shape. The cells become clogged in capillaries, damaging or destroying various tissues. Symptoms include severe pain in the abdomen, bones, or muscles. Another scary moment for me when the nurse drew the blood so they could send it to a testing center. I spent the next week wondering what was wrong with me. Then the telephone call came.
They lost the blood samples and needed to take another set.
So I went back to the doctor’s office, and a different nurse stabbed me several times in the right arm missing my vein. Tired of her fumbling, I told her the first nurse took the samples from my other arm. She glanced sheepishly at me and drew the blood in one try from the left appendage. Then she sent me home and I had to wait another two weeks for the results. Secretly, I think they had purposely lied about losing the first blood samples. They wanted to do other tests to see what the ‘free’ medication had done to my body. Then the telephone call came.
Negative results for sickle-cell anemia. No other words on what the illness was.
In the following years I went to other doctors and hospitals. I had to pee in cups. I had ultrasounds done. At this point the pain was lasting longer and localized. It was at my left side where my kidney dwelled. Diagnosis? Who knows? They never figured it out, but this never stopped them from giving their opinion. Urinary tract infections. Stomach infections. Chest infections. Kidney infections. Always an infection because my white cell count was high, so my body had to be fighting off something. They just couldn’t figure out what. Only one doctor sat down, looked me straight in the eye, and told me that he had no clue what was wrong. Then he laughed.
Yes, you heard right. He laughed . . . at my pain. Then he gave me another look as if I was found out but he would keep my secret safe. It took me awhile to decipher his look. He thought I had unprotected sex. He thought I was making up the excuse to get into the hospital to have the ultrasound done to see if I was pregnant. Figured I was hiding the truth from my mother. He never believed me when I told him I was having the pain for the past six years.
I stopped going to the doctors after that. I didn’t want people laughing over the pain anymore. I didn’t want to hear what they believed I had but never gone through the motions to take me seriously. Never considered it might be a weight problem.
I was rail thin growing up although I ate enormously. Put any type of food down in front of me and I ate it. You could have fed me green beans smothered in ketchup. I loved food, and eating it without gaining a pound was easy for me. If I skipped a meal, I would lose weight. My metabolism was extremely high. But this was during the time when people believed a teen should be this thin. I hit the 100pound mark when I left college for my first job interview.
So the problem had something to do with my weight?
I don’t know. I’m not a doctor. I do know that when my metabolism finally slowed and I started gaining weight, the pain lessened. Yet I didn’t like the Plump Me, so I started to work out to get back down to the weight I once was . . . and the pain came back with a vengeance. So I read up on what my ideal weight should be for my height and gained/lost to reach that goal. The pain still visits, but there’s a longer time frame between each instance. I can’t get too fat or I’ll develop health problems. I can’t get too thin or I’ll have health problems.
All I can do is count the elephants.