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What It Was Like Being a High School Student With Chronic Health Issues

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In my purse, there is a small white leather pouch meant for change. Inside that pouch is what looks like a lot of junk. But, what is junk to most people, is treasure to me. Since before I can remember I have been saving random stuff from special days and squirreling it all away in the little white pouch.

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This morning I was running early and I was sitting in my car waiting. I was feeling nostalgic so I took out the little white purse and the first thing I saw were three half gold beads from a broken Mardi Gras necklace. The paint partially chipped and the beads lonely from the rest of the necklace, it looked like a piece of trash, but it filled my heart with happiness.

Four years earlier, I had acquired the necklace from a local restaurant. The restaurant had weekly themes (or something like that) and they were giving out Mardi Gras necklaces at the front entrance. Naturally, I took a handful and put them around my neck. We had gone to the restaurant to celebrate my first day of high school. My mom was beyond emotional about me beginning this journey because just five days earlier she had watched doctors rush me into the Operating Room for emergency brain surgery. The weightier asked us what we were celebrating and my mom explained what the situation had been and how I had made it to school despite it all. It was a very happy day, and a very nice dinner. The manager brought out a free dessert and said, “Congratulations on your first day of high school. Don’t forget to enjoy every second.”

Four years later, here I was. Alone in my car, fidgeting with those lonely beads and I wondered… did I enjoy every second?

Throughout my four years of high school I had 15 surgeries. I missed an unimaginable amount of school. I cried. I screamed. I thought I would die. Doctors told me I would die. I was in casts and braces and had to wear goofy masks. I had anaphylaxis hundreds of times. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I had experimental brain surgery (that did work). I heard the words “there is nothing more we can do.” My life fell apart and when I thought I had it together, something would go wrong again. Surgeries, doctors, sick days, hospital stays, infusions gone horribly wrong, fainting in stairwells and trying to manage over five serious chronic illnesses was all exhausting. Not just physically, but mentally too. Each time some disaster with my health arose, I felt like I was falling. Like someone had pushed me off a cliff into this mess that I wanted nothing to do with, but each and every time, I’d land on my feet again. I fell a lot and I hit what I thought was rock bottom and then hit even lower.

I went through a lot and words cannot describe it, but I always had school to motivate me. Going to school and seeing my friends was so important to me and every time my health crashed, or I needed another surgery school was my motivation to get better. I experienced a lot of medical trauma that no normal high schooler would ever have to go through, but I was still just a high schooler. I still wanted to live, laugh and love, and I did.

Four years later, I think back to the beginning and I am thankful for every single second. I cannot believe that this is the end. All my friends are going to be scattered across this country and I am moving to Spain. I wonder where life will take us and what life will make us, but there is no way of knowing. I have many emotions about leaving high school behind, but sadness is not one. This may be the end, but it is also a beginning. Life isn’t always easy, but the experience is a one and only. I savor every second of my high school years because over the past four years, I have grown into the person I am today.
The beads were rolling around freely in my hand and I thought to myself, “I loved every second.”

Originally published: May 27, 2018
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