This I Believe

Sean - Layton, Utah
Entered on August 11, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: illness

I believe in resonance: the deep connective power of communication and trust between the ill and those who care for them. Wellness is as much this deep speaking to deep as is the power of the pill. And I know about that power: like hundreds of thousands of Americans, I take a powerful anti-psychotic drug to help manage the symptoms of bi-polar disorder. These drugs can have dangerous side-effects, like diabetes. When tests discovered diabetes in me, I decided against my provider’s opinion to discontinue my drug. Suddenly, for reasons no one has yet determined, my health began to fail rapidly and drastically. A tumor was discovered in my spine, I lost movement in my left leg, and I could keep nothing down. I spewed blood, sheets full of it. But worst of all, I began to believe that my doctor, and a cabal of his professional peers, extending perhaps even to the morgue, were trying to kill me. I became a scourer the internet, pouring over the Merck manuals online, emailing top doctors and scientists in the field of pathology, and joining chat sessions with lab specialists at major pharmaceutical companies. I was convinced that my body harbored a fungus so subtle that only a spinal tap could confirm it. I went from emergency room to emergency room, telling admitting personnel that I should be masked, that I carried a “subacute” form of fungus-related meningitis. Except that, of course, none of this was real: I had spoken with no one; no one had diagnosed me. I was fully delusional, and rarely slept. My body was full of pain, I was dying at 39, and I didn’t know why, and nobody else did either.

But in the midst of this waking nightmare, something indeed had occurred: my wife talked her way into an appointment with a specialist in infectious diseases. When I arrived, I refused the nurse’s instruction to disrobe. “I’ve been naked in front of enough doctors,” I said. When asked what was wrong with me, I answered, “I wish I knew.” Not a promising start. Then she walked in, the disease specialist, and I began to tell her about a dogbite I suffered in childhood; about tuna-fish sandwiches I had eaten over the summer. A whole load of disconnected facts that seemed important and relevant to me, and essential to her diagnosis. She stopped me, told me to be quiet; quiet, I who had talked and talked and talked. Just be quiet, she said. Are you taking all your medications? Almost, I said. We made two decisions in that consult: first, I would take my medication, and second, I would entrust all my medical affairs to my wife. Oh, and I was not dying: the tumor on my spine was a meaningless growth, easily removed. I took that pill that evening, and was awake all night; not awake emailing or chatting with people who didn’t exist, but coming back, coming home to myself. Muscles that had tensed throughout my body for months began to loosen, to loosen at last and let me free, and I felt myself floating in a warm bath of sanity and self-recognition. The moral, if there is one, is more than “take your medication”; it is to protect that holy shell of trust between doctor and patient that I call resonance.