The Worst Year of My Life
Let me tell you the story of the worst year of my life. It might surprise you which year of my life it was. It wasn’t my eighth-grade year when I was so sick that I missed thirty-two days of school and was told I wouldn’t live to drive a car. It wasn’t my first year after college when I was living alone in a big city and had a job that made me miserable. It was my first year of marriage.
Now you’re probably thinking that I wasn’t happily married, or that I got married too young to someone I didn’t really know. Well, maybe twenty-four was young to get married, and maybe even nine years after first meeting my husband I didn’t really know him. But those aren’t the reasons why it was the worst year of my life.
I married my husband on April 17, 2009. It was a very private ceremony with just our parents in attendance held at a small wedding chapel just outside Raleigh, NC. It was a beautiful day, I looked stunning if I do say so myself, and I couldn’t have been happier – I finally married my soul mate.
Eighteen days later, I kissed my husband goodbye, and he got on a plane to Afghanistan for a year long deployment.
But even that isn’t the reason why it was the worst year of my life.
On my two month wedding anniversary, I awoke with stomach pain so intense I couldn’t stand up straight. I had no idea what was wrong, but I knew something was. So I managed to get myself dressed and drove myself the half hour to the hospital at Fort Bragg. I spent twelve hours in the ER that day – ten of them in the waiting room – to find out I had gallstones and needed my gallbladder removed. I was given an appointment with a general surgeon for the following day and sent home, terrified of facing surgery alone.
I met with my surgeon the next day. He scheduled me for surgery the following Monday. I went home to try to figure out how to tell my husband I was having major surgery in four days. Since I had no way of calling him, I was going to have to write a very difficult email. His deployment was not going well, and I was almost more worried about causing him stress than I was about facing my surgery. I should have trusted my great writing skills. Apparently I was so nonchalant about it that my husband didn’t believe it was anything serious.
I was alone and far from family. My mother was unable to make the trip to care for me as she was busy caring for my aging grandparents. Thankfully, my mother-in-law came so I didn’t have to face surgery without anyone there for me.
The day of my surgery came. I was sure I was going to die. Obviously, I didn’t, but I did have an adverse reaction to the anesthesia and had to spend the night in the hospital. I went home the next day. My mother-in-law stayed the rest of the week, and then I was on my own again.
I recovered from surgery but still dealt with severe stomach pain from time to time. I went on with life, having found a job teaching freshman English at a local high school. My husband came home for his two weeks of R&R. I sent him back to Afghanistan. Life went on.
Four and a half months after my gallbladder surgery, I was having severe pain in the right side of my back. I was worried I had a kidney stone, given my mother’s history of them. I went to urgent care. They told me I didn’t have a stone, gave me some medicine for the pain, and sent me home.
A day and a half later, I woke up in the middle of the night in so much pain I could not go back to sleep. Resigned, I got dressed and drove myself once again to the emergency room at Fort Bragg.
This time I only had to sit in the waiting room for three hours, but the service was still exceeding slow. After some tests and several hours of being in pain without sufficient medication, I was told I had appendicitis and needed emergency surgery. I asked the hospital to send a Red Cross message to my husband since I was not going to be able to tell him of my surgery myself. The hospital refused, stating that since an appendix wasn’t serious enough for the Army to send him home that I could wait and send him a message myself once I was out of surgery. I was furious, but there was nothing I could do except hope my mother or mother-in-law could get a message to him. I met my surgeon and told her of my previous complication with anesthesia. She told me not to worry about it.
I survived surgery again, only to be told when I woke that my appendix was normal after all – I hadn’t needed the surgery. And to top it off, I once again had bladder complications from the anesthesia. I spent the entire night in the hospital trying to tell the nurses of my complication. I was told they would tell my surgeon. The next morning she came in and told me I was being discharged. I exploded with rage, telling her that there was no way she was sending my home in my current condition and that she should have listened to me when I told her that I had issues with my bladder function after anesthesia. Needless to say, I got to stay in the hospital a little longer to recover from complications from a surgery I hadn’t needed.
So I hadn’t had appendicitis, but my surgeon thought she had seen a varicose vein on my right ovary that could be causing my pain. She referred me to the vascular surgeon. I met with him about a week after my unnecessary surgery. Scared, alone, and in pain, I sat in an examination room listening to that man insult me on the phone to another medical professional at the hospital. He said that I was “a walking pain syndrome” and insinuated that I was overweight – I was a size six at the time. Thankfully, I didn’t have a varicose vein and would not need his services. I left the hospital in tears.
Next, I got sent to urology. My urologist called me sweetheart. I was unimpressed. After dealing with him for a couple weeks, going through horrific testing only to receive no answers and no relief from my pain, I was tired of being called “sweetheart.” I told him that my name is Michelle, but that he could call me Mrs. Moskauski. I guess he didn’t like me after that because he sent me off to see my Primary Care Manager, claiming there was nothing he could do to help me.
So off I went to my PCM. Despite having seen her three or four times before, she introduced herself to me again. Great start. She ran tests, but when I went for my follow up appointment to get my results, I had to see a different provider and start my story over again. None of my tests had come back positive, so this new provider ordered new tests, one of which was an ANA or antinuclear antibody test. This test is one of the first indicators of an autoimmune issue.
Again I went home to wait for my test results. I was supposed to receive a call. I didn’t. I had to call them, multiple times, to get my results. And eventually I learned that my ANA test was positive. They were referring me off post to a rheumatologist. Now I had to wait for the referral to go through. But it was denied. Again, I lost my temper. I had been suffering for over a month, having test after test come back negative, and when one finally came back positive, Tricare didn’t want to let me see the specialist who could get me answers. I was told they would “look into it.” No one called me or would return my calls. Eventually one day, I received a letter in the mail that my referral was approved. My appendix had been removed in early November. It was now January.
I met my rheumatologist in early February. He was by far the nicest, most caring medical professional I had dealt with in months. He ran more specific tests. Again, I waited for results, but for the first time had hope that I would finally have answers. This time, I did receive a phone call, and this time I did receive an answer…a life-altering answer – I had the early stages of lupus.
Lupus is an autoimmune disease in which your white blood cells get confused and attack your normal, healthy tissue. It could be your heart or lungs or kidneys. For me, it was, and still is, my connective tissue – my cartilage and tendons and ligaments.
I tried to explain this to my husband, but he was so frustrated with his own life that he didn’t really seem to understand the gravity of my situation. So I waited until he came home in April, just before our one year anniversary, to offer him a divorce. He hadn’t married a sick woman, and I understood if he didn’t want to be married to one. But he told me he’d promised to love me for better or worse, in sickness or in health, and he meant it.
The past nine years haven’t been easy. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs. I struggled with anger and depression. I felt betrayed by my body. I let myself go and ate my feelings. At times, I didn’t want to live. It just didn’t seem worth it. Eventually, I found my way back to myself. I found joy in life again, through my friends and family, through my cats, through activities I enjoy like tennis. And now I’ve found a way to give back, to help others who are experiencing some of the same feelings I’ve had to find their joy again.
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