When Frustrating Encounters Regarding Your Illness Cause You to Run Out of 'Nice'
I vividly remember growing up with my mother preaching to my brother and me that we don’t have to like everything or everybody, but we always had to be nice. It was the most basic principle of human decency, along with trying your best and washing your hands.
But today I ran out of nice. My chronic illness can do that sometimes. It can steal my joy and make me into a person I hardly recognize: agitated and angry.
It all started yesterday when I began to wonder if I had a UTI. It can sometimes be hard to tell since my illness causes constant UTI-like symptoms, so I usually wait a few hours, sometimes a day, to see if it is the typical misery or something more. If it is something more, like an actual UTI, time is of the essence or I find myself on a new level of unpleasant depravity. What should be a short-lived infection can quickly rage into a long and laborious health crisis. When I call or message my doctor’s office the protocols are simple: urinalysis, prescription and bladder installation, ideally within 24 hours. It is a good system. But, like I said, time is of the essence.
I made my phone call this morning. My urogynecologist called in my order immediately. Since I work not far from one of the hospital labs, I quickly left to give my sample. When I arrived, the lab check-in was unstaffed, meaning I had to go to the adjacent check-in area for the urgent care portion of the facility. The line was three people deep and one of the check-in clerks just announced she was going to go make a fresh pot of coffee. I began to fidget, shifting weight from one foot to the other, wondering if my bladder would hold out long enough to get to the bathroom.
I just need to pee in a cup… I just need to pee in a cup…
The lady in front of me fumbled to find her insurance card. The man leaning over the check-in counter complained he wanted a refund. The clerk who left to go make coffee still hadn’t returned. My anxiety began to heighten. I began to sweat. I started to pick at my nails while audibly taking deep breaths.
It’s OK…you’re OK…just hold out a little longer…breathe.
After an eternity (real time, nine minutes), a check-in station was free. I quickly walked up when the clerk snapped at me, “It’s going to be a few minutes, I have to finish this triage paperwork.” I bit my tongue and took a few steps back.
Be calm…you’re OK…it’s fine. Your bladder won’t explode. You will not get a kidney infection. You’re fine.
I could hear my blood whooshing through my ears. I could feel my bladder heavy in my abdomen. I watched as she click, click, clicked the letters on her keyboard, briefly paused, and click, click, clicked some more. Finally, she stopped, stretched her arms back behind her, released a big sigh and said, “Next.”
It was that moment. The waiting, the standing, the full bladder, her nonchalant apathy…it broke my nice. I walked toward her station and without even waiting for her to speak declared, “I have a lab order for a urinalysis in my chart. I have a UTI and I need to pee now.”
I could feel the people in the waiting room stare at me. I was blunt and irritated and just said the word “pee” loudly in a very public place.
The clerk looked at me, shocked and taken aback. She asked for my name and date of birth. As she click, click, clicked, she mentioned she saw the order. Skeptically, she asked why a doctor other than my listed PCP had ordered the urinalysis.
If the previous situation broke my nice, this moment tipped me into full on rage.
I snapped, “I have a urological condition that requires a specialist and my specialist is the one responsible for things associated with my illness, including UTIs, and I really have to pee!”
I was being obnoxious and I knew it. But I couldn’t wait one more minute. I couldn’t hold out for one more sigh, one more second of click, click, click or one more condescending question.
This isn’t a side of my illness I talk about a lot. I don’t admit to the times when I bubble over, when I stop being responsible and strong, when I am selfish and assertive, when I feel (right or wrong) like the sickest person in the room or when I stop being nice.
I know every employee in the lab and urgent care was just doing his or her job. I know the room was filled with people who, like me, feel like they are the sickest person in the room (that is why they are at urgent care). I know my lack of exterior identifiers cloaks my illness and makes me seem like just another 20-something woman with a run of the mill issue. But the battle is real and the stakes are high. My patience runs out and my ability to be nice is often a casualty. For this I am sincerely sorry.
As I walked out of the lab, bladder empty, my nice came back. I kindly thanked the lab technician. I held the door open and smiled at the lady carrying her toddler to the waiting area. I felt guilty and embarrassed for my behavior as I remembered my mother’s cardinal rules. But I knew I hadn’t completely neglected everything she said. In that moment, anxious and exasperated, advocating for myself (even obnoxiously) was me trying my best. Plus, I had washed my hands. I shrugged my shoulders as I walked to my car. Two out of three isn’t bad.
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Thinkstock photo via SIphotography.