If there hadn’t been complications in my life I would not be the person I am today and I rather like who I am. When I was 12 I had a particularly bad reaction to the chickenpox. The doctors said my immune system had overreacted and caused a temporary problem with my brain, specifically the cerebellum. I lost balance and could not stand or walk without assistance. I’m fine now and even at that time I blindly believed the doctors that I would be fine. I couldn’t really eat because I couldn’t keep anything down so I got popsicles and gummy bears to eat along with a sugar IV. I think everyone around me was far more worried than I was.
The most complicated part was going to the bathroom because I could not walk myself and I was still contagious with chickenpox. The nurses would have to gear up just to come in the room which I had all to myself because of the illness. Then I would hold the IV pole with one hand and be lead to the restroom by holding on to the nurse. This was actually an advance, before I learned about the IV pole it required two nurses.
The illness was rare and only one of the more senior doctors had even heard of it. Trying to explain it to a 12 year old they said it was like hitting a fly with a hammer, the overreaction of my immune system. I immediately imagined the fly landing on my head with the hammer following because it was my brain being affected. The image still sticks with me.
Luckily this all happened over a summer so it had no impact on school. Given the age I was it was natural to begin thinking of what I might do with my life but I always thought it was unfair that anyone suffer from infectious disease. It defined me…I became a microbiologist. I wanted to stop the very disease that had stopped me. As it turns out someone beat me to it and we have a chickenpox vaccine today. In theory no one should have to go through what I did, but still it changed who I am.
I know it seems odd but I actually wanted to struggle, it made me stronger. I always wonder though about people who are more permanently affected. Do you get tired of the struggle and welcome assistance or would you just rather do things on your own even if it’s harder? For me the struggle got me walking again. They sent me back home once I no longer needed an IV but I still couldn’t walk. It wasn’t until one day the phone rang…a cord mounted wall phone. It was only a few feet away and everyone wasn’t outside so I propped up on the couch and grabbed it. It was for my mom or dad and they were outside. I hadn’t considered that but this guy was on the phone so I picked my way carefully though the kitchen and dining room holding on to counter and table for support and I made it to the back door. Never was I happier than in that moment when I learned to walk again, yelling out phone to my parents.