The pain in your left side is back.

It’s not as sharp as it used to be. But is that because you’re better, or because you’re used to it?

You’re not sure when it started. Doctors look annoyed when you tell them this. You annoy yourself too, like a crappy Internet ad–“Doctors HATE her!” But all of a sudden, your appetite just . . . dried up. Your husband rolls his eyes at you when he asks what you want for dinner. “Let me guess–you’re not hungry again.” Your stomach feels raw and dusty, like a seasoned chicken breast, like that summer you spent in the desert where you would watch the salt from your sweat form a film on your arm rather than beads.

When you do eat, it makes you nauseated. You’re petrified at the idea of eating in front of people. You’re already so skinny. They’ll judge you if they don’t see you eat. It’s your birthday meal and you’re out with your office and you have to ball your fists up to keep them from shaking. It’s difficult to look like you’re enjoying your birthday when your nails are digging into the heartline on your palm.

You eat a “normal” amount, get a to-go box for the rest, and politely excuse yourself after the meal to go throw up what you just ate. Not because you hate yourself–well, you do, but not this way, not anymore, you’re no longer the teenage girl who used to skip a meal for every B on a test and throw up for every C and D. You don’t really care what your body looks like anymore. You just want it to work.

People who don’t know anything about anything tell you you look great because you’ve lost weight. You tell them to fuck off ah, you know, just your new FitBit and all.

So you go to the doctor. “Are you pregnant?” “No.” “Are you sure?” “Yes.” “Pee in this anyway.” Pregnancy tests are $30 when performed at a doctor’s office. It’s negative and you’re out 30 bucks.

The doctor discovers that your lymph nodes are enlarged and your spleen is swollen. She’s worried, you’re weirdly relieved. The confirmation that you really are fighting something is affirming.

The tests begin. Blood sample one. Drink this sour liquid and breathe into this bag. Blood sample two, ultrasound one, of your upper belly. You look on the screen along with the technician. You watch your lungs rise and fall.

At a doctor’s follow-up between tests, your general practitioner warmly but sorrowfully tells you that they are looking for a tumor. You buy and read a bunch of cancer books to prepare yourself. You open up your copy of The Fault in Our Stars and see well-wishes from family members on the inside cover. You read Thor comics. You buy When Breath Becomes Air. The kind bookseller who sells it to you says, “Are you ready for something heavy?” He means the book. You think. You never gather the courage to read it.

Blood sample three. CAT scan and MRI. The CAT scan technician asks if your Star Wars sneakers come in a size 13 for her fiance. You talk about the pain in your side to an Emory doctor and he says to stop doing ab exercises. Didn’t y’all treat Ebola?

Endoscopy. You binge-watch “Stranger Things” as you come off the drugs because you’re full of good ideas. Ultrasound two, of your neck, because your doctor felt a lump. The ultrasound found nothing but sometimes, watching TV at home or at red lights, you, too, aimlessly feel for that lump.

The bill comes in the mail for the endoscopy. You and your husband are not destitute but it’s a lot to pay at one time. And if you two did “everything right” by American standards–got good grades, went to college, got good jobs with health insurance–and could have your apple cart upset by this, imagine the people who look both ways before crossing the street and were hit by fruit trucks.

Later, you are in a strange city and you are feeling the worst pain you have ever felt in your life. You are curled up in a fetal position in a hotel bed, pressing into your left side with your palm. You wonder if you should go to the emergency room. But then you think of that endoscopy bill. You make some bargains. If you wake up alive the next morning, you will be a better person. You will actually make that donation you said you would make during the Ice Bucket Challenge. You will tip servers way more than 20%. You will volunteer more.





You wake up alive the next morning, not with a new lease on life but pissed off because you got no sleep. You arrive to work five minutes late. Your coworkers side-eye you. You grouchily drink your Starbucks.

You have a doctor’s appointment after you get home, with Dr. Emory Abs-Hurt. You tell him about the Incident. He brushes it off and diagnoses you with gastroparesis. You follow up with your GP. You don’t mention the Incident. Maybe it was just gas and you’re overly dramatic.

She says IBS, and then anecdotally tells you about a different patient in the practice whom they diagnosed with IBS who actually had pancreatic cancer. She sees the look on your face. “But he was a lot older than you.” Well, Patrick Swayze was a lot more fit than you, and it didn’t save him from pancreatic cancer.

They recommend more tests. You ask them about the cost of tests, perhaps too angrily. They look like wounded puppies. “Your insurance company determines that,” they tell you. You don’t schedule the tests.

You follow the diets they put you on and you feel a little better. You still have some Incidents but you can eat small meals again. The good with the bad. The good with the bad.

All of this goes down during an election year. Healthcare used to not be your cause, but you find yourself telling this story over and over and over again to people who Do Not Seem to Get It.

In “On the Radio,” Regina Spektor sang “This is how it works/You’re young until you’re not/You love until you don’t/You try until you can’t/You laugh until you cry/You cry until you laugh.” And you’re healthy until you’re sick. A vote against healthcare is a wager that says you’re never going to get cancer or in a car wreck, or that you’re going to have easy pregnancies with healthy children.

And the House always wins.

And the pain in your left side returns.


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