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Inside Out

The pain is back, and much, much worse. I cannot move. I am collapsing

Motzaei Shabbos, February 6th 2021

My stomach is killing. Maybe it’s something I ate? Something is jabbing at my insides like the blunt edge of a knife. Nothing I try makes it feel any better. I guess for now I’ll try to sleep on it?

Sunday, February 7th 2021

I fell asleep in the end last night, though my dreams were short and creepy. Now my parents are out and I’m alone in the house. The pain is back, and much, much worse. I cannot move. I am collapsing. The knife is no longer blunted — it’s sharp and stabbing and beyond anything I have ever experienced. I call my parents and they race home, push me into the car, and take me to the Emergency Department.

The fluorescent lights make me blink as I stagger into the waiting area. It smells. There are all types and stripes here. Drunkards with bruises the size of footballs, anxious-looking pregnant women with their husbands. Screaming babies, children on iPads. Moans of pain, heated arguments between nurses and uncooperative patients. Everything hurts.

“We aren’t sure what’s wrong,” the sympathetic nurse says, six hours later, after we finally get to be seen. She looks apologetic as she hands a sheaf of papers to my strained mother. “We’re giving you transfer papers to go to another hospital to run some more scans. Get her there today.” So off we go.

By the time I get to the second hospital, I am screaming in agony. Pain meds are administered, then more, and suddenly I find myself hooked up to an IV. I am poked and prodded for constant blood tests. Scanned multiple times. And the questions, so many questions, which my mother dutifully answers, while I float in and out of a painkiller-induced haze.

I stay overnight, then I’m sent home with a kit of meds to help the pain, and a potential prognosis — surgery in two and a half months’ time. Apparently I’m supposed to be happy about this.

Sunday, February 21st 2021

It’s been two weeks of craziness. Two weeks of sleepless nights, of wrenching pain and unspeakable agony. They say this is worse than appendicitis. I wouldn’t know — I’ve never had it. But this is a nightmare. I cannot eat, or go to school. I cannot take a shower, only a bath. I can barely get out of bed.

My world is inside out and my stomach feels like it is, too.

Tuesday, March 2nd 2021

The pain is so bad that I’m seeing stars. Somehow, my parents manage to drag me to the hospital again. The doctors find an infection; the pain meds are not working anymore. Do people survive this?

Friday, March 12th 2021

Ten days have passed, here in this sterile hospital, where everything, everything is blue. Baruch Hashem my infection is under control, thanks to a hefty dose of medication. The pain is there, but the pills are managing it. They’re discharging me because coronavirus means they only keep you if you can’t be cared for at home. My operation is still two months away. I don’t want to talk to anyone.

My friends keep calling and texting as if I’m some sort of celebrity. I ghost them because I just don’t know what to say. Some of the questions are intrusive, and I wonder what rumors are circulating; if the world has a story of their own about what’s happening to me.

One friend I let in, I share. She asks, but doesn’t prod for details. She respects my privacy and gives me my space, but sends small gifts and cards to show she cares. I realize that support means just being there, and I am so grateful for those who are.

My family is amazing. I am hostile and angry; they are caring and compassionate. I rage at Hashem in these pain-filled days: What are You doing to me? Why? How should I react to all this? I should probably buy shares in Kleenex at the rate I’m going. People care, but this hurts in a visceral way, and I have no idea how I’m going to survive till the op.

Still, corona means virtual social life is more normal. I Zoom my friends when I do feel okay, which helps the isolation. I thank Hashem that some of my classes are on the phone, so I can join even while stuck in bed.

Tuesday, May 18th 2021

My surgery has just been pushed off. They say Covid has slowed the whole medical system down. I don’t know what to think.

It’s not all dismal, though. Meanwhile, baruch Hashem, I’m moving around a little more. The pain meds are a miracle, and my parents want me to try school for just a few hours a day.

The school routine, when I try it, is shocking. Even three classes a day feels like a lot. So much noise, so many humans, and people ask too many questions. All I want is to go home and bury myself under the safety of my warm blanket.

Yet something in me wants to find the good in all this, despite the pain — physical and emotional. I cling to the phrase I heard once — “gam zeh yaavor — this too shall pass.” The mantra echoes in my mind when the pain rears its ugly head and the question marks start to dissolve in my brain. This too shall pass.

I am determined to make this belief tangible, real, and put my siblings to work too. We take pictures of my medical equipment, medical forms, hospital gowns, print them and start to create our masterpiece. I want the pictures to spell out these words — gam zeh yaavor. The more I invest, the more I believe it: This too shall pass. Between the support of people around me, and this motto beating in my brain, I start to find me again — first from the outside, and then from the inside, too.

Wednesday, July 7th 2021

It’s 6 a.m., the day is here. My surgery. It’s happening. Maybe I’ll finally see an end to all this pain. Maybe this too shall pass. I barely slept at all last night, terror seizing my dreams and escorting my nightmares. It doesn’t help that only my Mom is allowed to chaperone me to hospital — coronavirus, sigh. I give my Dad a long hug that leaves me with butterflies prancing around in my stomach and salt water dripping out of my eyes.

I arrive at the hospital and promptly have a meltdown. I don’t even know why I’m crying, I just am, and as I change into one of those ghastly blue hospital gowns, my uncle offers reassuring divrei Torah through the phone, and I try to breathe.

The surgery is two hours long, but from the moment I receive anesthesia, I am in a world where all is black. When I awake, my eyelids fight to close as I try to will them to open.

“Where’s my mother?” are the first words I utter, as two friendly nurses stare down at me. They reassure me that she will come soon, but I persist in making them call her and tell her I’m alive right then.

I’m alive! I’m alive! And I am so grateful.

I am feeling so drowsy, but life is painless right now. Maybe this indeed has passed…

Monday, July 12th 2021

Recovery is weird. Recovery is a miracle.

Wednesday found me leaving the hospital, a mere six hours after my surgery. Baruch Hashem it was a success, and I am finally, finally starting to taste what it means to be normal again. My appetite — lost over the last six months — is starting to return. I can move! I can walk! And I’m going shopping!

And now that my scary saga has hopefully come to a close, here’s a note to self, to others, and anyone who wants to listen:

Gam zeh yaavor. I know it’s easy to say now that things are better for me, but I promise it wasn’t easy back then. Yet I know this is what kept me going. Even when I felt so angry that I wanted to throw in the towel. Even when everyone around me was getting on with normal life while I dealt with this. The knowledge that this would pass, helped me through. Thank You, Hashem!

I am not a fish. I therefore do not want to be ogled at as if I am one in a fish tank. I’m a normal girl who went through some trauma, and baruch Hashem lived to tell the tale. Don’t stare, ask questions, or tread on eggshells around me. I just want to be normal.

Your support means everything. Okay, I know. I wasn’t always nice to you when you did stuff for me. I was frustrated and angry and in pain. But my family, my friends, you got me through. And it was the people who were there for me unconditionally who I appreciated the most. Thank you, everyone


(Originally featured in Teen Pages, Issue 878)

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