This I Believe

Tikvah - Ambridge, Pennsylvania
Entered on January 3, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: illness, purpose

This I believe

I believe my life has a purpose.

I had been sick for months, coughing, short of breath, sweats soaking through my clothes, exhaustion, when I fell into bed one night, and in what seemed like stark reality, but like a dream, I found myself on a journey with a male companion, completely content, when a tall, dignified woman told me the next stop was mine. I had to get off. I said, “There’s really nothing there for me, I will go wherever he is going.” She said, I had to get off; there was something I had to do for the people there. That’s all she told me. I awoke from that “dream,” alone, in my fifties, perilously ill.

A former reporter, I run a non-profit writing group as volunteer publisher of Taproot Literary Review, an international journal. I became ill in April. I had received a letter at the post office box addressed to myself as editor one Saturday, saying “Death to the infidel,” and “We Have Anthrax.” I opened it in my car. I stopped breathing, opened the car door to let the air sweep through, drove to my mother’s, threw it in the trash outside, washed my hands, washed them again. And prayed. If it had been a weekday, I’d have opened it at lunch in the elementary school where I worked. My cat became ill, died, my elderly mother and I became ill as death, coughing spasms. I was treated with antibiotics with little improvement. I called my doctor in desperation, wasn’t getting better. I woke up struggling for breath, I went back to that doctor, was ordered more antibiotics. Finally, on July 30, I went to the emergency room.

In critical care I was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, lost 15 pounds of water overnight, my heart pumping at critically low projective capacity. Doctors said my illness was a “mystery”. Something had attacked my heart. They found no reason for my heart to have failed. I could die.

Days later, television broadcast the horror of the World Trade Center. Not until other journalists told of threatening letters did I begin to see details of their letters had similarities to mine. I asked my doctors for a test to determine if I had been exposed to Anthrax. My primary physician, although dubious, ordered an Anthrax antibodies test, which I took to the lab, where I was directed to the government’s CDC, and an official said I had to inform the FBI. The test would have to be approved through that branch. Following a visit by two young men from the Terrorist Task Force in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I was told they believe I got a letter, but are not convinced there was anthrax in the letter. Still, I was not permitted to take the test, which would determine for certain.

I am being treated for cardiomyopathy. I do know for certain that I survived, because I am convinced my life has a purpose.