Looking back at 2007, I remember a year fraught with physical and emotional pain. My agenda was replete with doctors’ appointments and visits to acupuncturists and nutritionists. I spent most days immobilized on my sofa, willing the excruciating burning in my gut to subside. On other days, I would be gripped by nausea so intense it would make me shake. My face was gaunt, my belly concave, and I dropped fifteen pounds.
Doctors scratched their heads, confused by the normal results of ultrasounds and endoscopies, alongside abnormalities in my blood tests. The first specialist I saw intellectualized aloud, offering up anything from anxiety to brain disease as possible explanations. But he offered little else. The second specialist took her cues from the torrent of tears that she witnessed and decided that my physical symptoms were due to psychological issues.
“What you need is a piña colada on the beach,” she said, as she ushered me out of her office.
The third doctor took me more seriously and ordered an MRI. The verdict? Possible chronic pancreatitis, an ailment I had never even heard of. And so at his request, back I went to the second specialist, a supposed expert in that particular area, for confirmation of the diagnosis. Her conclusion? A mild acute case of pancreatitis. When she advised that, in future, I have a drink on special occasions only, it took every bit of self-restraint not to leap over her desk and wrestle her to the ground. She either didn’t remember what she had “prescribed” six months earlier or the irony was lost on her.
Yes, 2007 was a difficult year. And I could, if I choose, remember 2007 as the year I quite nearly lost my mind, the year that was laden with unrelenting pain and dismissive doctors. When I replay conversations with some of those doctors, armed with the strength I have now but lacked then, I hold them accountable. I maintain that as long as I am feeling unwell they are obligated to help me and I insist that no one, doctors included, knows or understands my body better than me.
Though this is undeniably part of my recollection, I have, since then, defined and framed 2007 quite differently. There is another side to the story of 2007.
As a woman living on my own, I have become fiercely independent and self-sufficient. I have an ever-present, strong network of friends and family members, but until that year when I hit a major speed bump, I hadn’t needed them quite in the same way. Make no mistake, asking for help wasn’t easy. With every request came a protracted apology. While family members would try to strong-arm the health system and drive me to appointments, my friends would prepare what little food I was able to consume. And they were all there to hold my hand when the frustration and pain became almost too much to bear. I accepted their help because, weak and vulnerable as I was, I had no choice.
When a particularly fierce snowstorm was in the forecast one weekend, I feared being holed up alone in my apartment. I was coaxed by a friend to spend the weekend at her house and acquiesced. I was hardly the perfect houseguest. She and her husband waited on me. They cooked my meals. They cleaned my dishes. They let me usurp the remote control as I lay unmoving in front of their television.
Today, my friend reminds me of that fun weekend we shared and I wonder which weekend she’s talking about. It was anything but fun. But I guess that she too felt the camaraderie, solidarity, and intimacy that develop when you forge together through a crisis.
In the song, “Seasons of Love” from the award-winning Broadway phenomenon Rent, the characters examine the way in which we measure our time and ask: “How do you measure a year?” They go on to suggest: “In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee…” But ultimately, they propose we measure our time in love.
I could measure 2007 by the amount of suffering I experienced, the number of medical tests, doctors’ visits or workdays missed. I could write it off as a blip on an otherwise relatively smooth road. I could define it according to what was lost.
But truth be told, much was gained that year. The pain has long since disappeared but the meaningful and rewarding relationships continue to thrive.
Dana Kobernick lives in Montreal, Canada, and is a writer and communications specialist working at Lower Canada College. She recently had her first piece of fiction, The Sweetness of Pears, published in The Evening Street Review, an American literary magazine. She has also completed her first novel, The Prague Crystal, for which she is currently seeking representation. Dana enjoys musical theatre, Sunday morning yoga and kicking around with her nieces and nephews.