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My Body Is a Dud, But...

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When, after more than five years with a chronic, debilitating disease, I was finally able to see a specialist, it was everything I’d dreamt it could be. My new physician spent more than two hours dissecting my illness, from onset to present. She looked at my life as a whole, explored possible genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors, gave me answers regarding some of my more disturbing symptoms, and explained to me what is known about the disease. She gave me a listening ear, answers — hope.

Bolstered with all this, I returned home — and it wasn’t 12 hours later that I woke in the night with a feeling of dread, and a message flashing in my mind: “My body is a dud.”

The wording of the message was telling. When I was a child, we’d set off fireworks every Fourth of July. Sometimes we’d light one, scurry back and wait… and wait and wait, until someone shouted, “It’s a dud!” Something had gone wrong somewhere. There would be no flash, no bang, no sensory reward. We would abandon the faulty explosive and move on to another…

My body is a dud.

I’ve been sick for many years, but not one of my doctors — the number topped a dozen a while back — has ever understood much about my condition. I’ve received blank stares, empathetic nods, but very little interest or curiosity, and no information. I’ve learned to live a reduced life. I’ve learned to expect less fun and more suffering. I’ve gritted my teeth. I’ve sobbed, bargained, raged — I’ve grown emotionally limp…

But until I visited that specialist, I’d never once listened to someone tell me that I had a real, actual disease.

The specialist performed a test on me. First, she had me lie down for several minutes, then she took my pulse and blood pressure. Afterward, she had me stand and lean on the wall, while she continued to record my pulse and blood pressure. And there it was, in the wildly fluctuating results — the reason I can no longer stand in a line without discomfort, why I have to tilt my seat back when I drive, or lean on a table when I sit down. It’s not just in my head. That’s wonderful…

Except that it’s not. My body isn’t working right. My body is a dud.

My new specialist was easy to talk to, and I shared with her how I’d never known there were illnesses like this — that I’d known to fear some diseases, but I’d never heard of one that took so much without killing. And I hadn’t understood that my wildly busy life might be undermining my health. I was raised in a society that says that pushing oneself is good, that there can be no bad results from working too hard…

…and my specialist interrupted me to say, “Lots of people overdo it. Not all of them end up like you.”

My body is a dud.

The other night, with those words ringing in my mind, I thought about all the others who’ve felt the way I did, who’ve been told that they have cancer, diabetes, MS, ALS… And the many others with congenital defects, epilepsy, spina bifida, autism, cystic fibrosis… So many diseases. So many of us.

I love my body. I always have. It’s small, compact, muscular — not exactly beautiful, but good enough for me and for my loved ones. When I was young, I reveled in its ability to run fast, play hard, learn musical instruments, do pull-ups. When I was older, I enjoyed its capacity for toiling diligently, hiking hills, walking miles, dancing wildly. My body nurtured and gave birth to three more bodies. My body helped to feed and clothe those little bodies. It cared for them when they were ill, and even put them through college.

My body is a dud?

My body isn’t perfect. My body had a time bomb hiding in its midst. The bomb has gone off, alas.

I love my body.

Getty image by Arata.

Originally published: December 9, 2020
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