By Jane Vaughan
Content warnings: description of judgmental attitudes about chronic illness
First, it came for my lungs, delicate balloons swelling and emptying purposefully, a whoosh of air spreading throughout my body. It attacked the fine threads of my airways. Lungs rattling, raspy air forcing its way through, trying to extract a full, clean breath. My chest constricts tightly.
Then, it came for my intestines, snaking in among the coils, wrapping around certain loops and squeezing. A narrowing, a hard, tight stone, a stab in the gut. It puffed its breath into me, blowing up my belly like a balloon. I vomit and curl into a comma on the couch.
Then, it came for my skin, my entire outer layer, my largest organ. It spread its shriveled fingers over me, digging in. I am a monster, a creature, my once-smooth skin consumed. It’s an adventure, looking into the mirror each day and seeing what new discoloration will have appeared on my surface. I am made of imperfections, itchy and spotted, cracked and flaking. Deep purple stretch marks snake up my legs and hips like ivy. I cannot look anywhere on my body without seeing something that does not belong.
It continues: my nerves, my kidneys, my blood vessels.
This is my life: doctor’s appointments and carefully following orders and taking medications and more doctor’s appointments and remaining optimistic and nothing ever changing.
Doctors’ jaws drop when they examine me.
They say, “Wow, that’s not typical.”
They say, “We’ll call in a new prescription.”
They say, “I’m so sorry this is happening to you.”
Why, thank you.
I know I am lucky, considering.
But it’s still hard not to hate these diseases that control my life.
Tonight I cried so hard in the shower that I almost threw up.
People see my bloated belly, assume I’m pregnant, and give me small, knowing smiles.
They glance sideways, eyes downcast, at my speckled, bandaged legs, then avert their eyes when I look up.
I can see you staring, wondering what’s wrong with me.
Life is unfair. So it goes.
I am no pity case to feel sorry for, no exhibit to be gawked at, no science experiment to be examined.
People see my skin and cry, “Oh my God! What happened?”
This is who I am.
From April 2018 issue