Someone asked me why I bother putting on makeup in the morning when I work from home. Who will see you? They wondered. Well. I will. It’s far more important than people might think.
I wasn’t always like this. Less than a decade ago, I was an inspired chef bustling with energy and enthusiasm. I was half the size I am now. Fate had a different life prepared for me.
It began with the headaches. Rather, it was one long headache that lasted two years. Constant crushing discomfort enveloping the whole right side of my head. After so long, it started to feel normal. Did people have days where pain didn’t exist? I endured several trial runs with different medications. They often left me exhausted or in a zombie trance. In time, the headache diminished and we put our confidence in the latest drug. It was an anti-seizure medication, which also ended the grand mal seizures caused by my epilepsy. An MRI revealed a brain hemorrhage. Things made little sense.
Within six months, I found myself admitted to the hospital. At the age of thirty-six, I had a stroke. Doctors scrambled to find a reason for it. As each one stopped by my bedside, they all asked the same questions—are you a smoker? No. I’ve never been. History of stroke? Ah yes—both my grandfathers and my mother had suffered it. I guess that would do.
With some physical therapy and a mobility aid, they sent me home to continue the healing process. I dragged my left leg behind me. I couldn’t work. My life was falling apart around me and I tumbled into a depression. I seldom got off the couch, sometimes going days without showering or even brushing my hair. When I did get up, I struggled to walk. After a year, I could manage short walks to the bathroom but stumbled often on the way. If I had to leave the house, my cane accompanied me. Due to my inactivity, I gained a good deal of weight.
My neurologist said I might never walk properly again. The problem wasn’t muscle tone—my brain had to re-wire itself. I decided things had to change that day. I taught myself to walk once—I could do it again.
And I did.
Almost two years later, I stepped out my door without a cane and walked around the block. I stumbled only once or twice.
Determined to lose the weight I gained, I started low-impact workouts at home. The first few days were difficult, and I didn’t complete the sessions, but it was a start. On day three, I lasted ten minutes.
I recognized indigestion when it happened, and the familiar irritation rested on my stomach like stones. I sat down and took some deep breaths while reaching for an antacid. It got worse. Before long it got so bad I started to vomit. That’s when I realized my distress and an ambulance whisked me away to the hospital. Two handsome pilots met me there and flew me to Sudbury. I felt like royalty. A bed awaited me in the cardiac care unit. The conclusion? I suffered a minor heart attack.
A nurse rolled my bed into the surgery. As I waited my turn to have an angiogram, I noticed the others there. All people at least fifty years old. I know I wasn’t the youngest person to have been in that position, but I was the youngest that day. They judged me with their eyes. I heard the thoughts in their heads. She wouldn’t be in this situation if she wasn’t so fat. They had to be thinking that, because it’s what I was thinking, myself.
I asked the cardiologist for the truth. Did my obesity cause my heart attack? Not exactly, he told me. He did recommend I lose weight. I wanted to yell at him; to make him understand I was trying to do that before I ended up in the hospital. He said it wasn’t the main factor for my heart attack. They didn’t know what caused it. My arteries were clear.
My depression compounded itself when I returned home. My body betrayed me. Afraid to do anything at the risk of bringing on another heart attack, I sat on the couch and more weight piled on. My doctor refused to accept the unknown cause. He ran a few unusual tests of his own. The diagnosis? Fibro-muscular Dysplasia. Usually a condition found in the kidneys, mine presented in the carotid artery—a rare incident. It causes the arteries to bead and become inflamed, cutting off blood flow. We had reason to believe it caused both my heart attack and my earlier stroke.
A year later, to the very month that I had my heart attack, I decided I was safe to try losing weight again. My cardiologist gave me the ‘all clear’, emphasizing that I can work my heart but I shouldn’t stress it. Easy enough. I started taking walks, and I soon ended up in the hospital again. This time it was a pulmonary embolism. According to my tests, I had large clots in both lungs. They told me I was lucky to be alive. For weeks, I slept sitting up. Lying down would cause me to gasp for breath, my lungs burning as I felt like I was drowning. Most of the time, when a pulmonary embolism is present, it traveled from the legs. That wasn’t my case. In fact, doctors were once again puzzled. I saw a hematologist who ran a series of costly medical tests. The results were inconclusive. In a nutshell, he had no idea what the problem was.
By this time I had a new doctor. She resigned my condition to being an anomaly. We would just treat the symptoms. What she was trying not to say is that I’m a walking time bomb. I’m on several medications, but we don’t know if they will be effective for all possibilities. The next heart attack might be my last. When would it happen? In ten years? Ten months? Tomorrow? There’s no way of knowing.
I could regress into depression and wait for death to take me, but instead, I try to enjoy every day like it’s my last. One of these days, it will be. That’s not some bleak outlook on my circumstances—it’s true for us all.
So, every morning, I get up and put some glitter on my cheeks. Because life is uncertain, and every new day is an occasion to sparkle.