Mid-afternoon on a Saturday at CityMD in Williamsburg. I sit on the edge of a cushioned chair that turns into a bed. It always reminds me of Pap smears and the dreaded duck lips no matter what the context. The doctor walks into the room and announces that I have a stomach bug and offers me antacids. ‘Surely it’s not just a stomach bug’, I reply. She shrugs. Is this actual medical advice? My skin is yellow and I can’t keep anything down. Too weak to argue further, and unsure of what to do next, I agree that yes, it must be a stomach bug and thank her for the antacids.
My friends are planning a dinner in Greenpoint that evening and the group text pings every few minutes. By the time I hit the streets it’s pushing 5 pm. I have two hours until dinner and contemplate whether I should nap or power through. I know I shouldn’t go, but I go anyway. I can’t resist a midsummer hang. At least it will keep me from texting the guy who ghosted me rather than breaking up with me after four months of dating, in one of the more extreme cases of ghosting the tristate area has seen in recent history. Blood tests earlier that week had shown that I have elevated liver enzymes. The doctor at One Medical, the bougie concierge service doctor’s office that claims to offer better care, did not take my condition seriously, so neither was I.
I show up to the Italian restaurant not at all ready to forfeit my life to whatever this illness was that had taken over my body. I’m in complete denial: I don’t want anyone to look at my yellowing skin or notice how little I eat. It was a table of ten of us. The table orders multiple bottles of wine and I decide to tempt fate and have one. A friend of mine gets so angry that I’d do this when I know my liver enzymes are elevated that she gets up and moves to sit on the other side of the table. I could barely stomach a few sips, much as I tried.
Later on, we go to a friend’s house around the corner. It’s a long summer night, one where you don’t want it to end: everyone looking for something else to do, some new trouble to get into. I was hanging on to normalcy for dear life, and as much as my body wanted to go home, my will made me stay. It’s one of the last of those carefree summer nights I’ll have for a long while.
We all congregate in the back garden, laughing, smoking, drinking beer. Less than two minutes in, I ask where the toilet is and proceed to spend the next 45 minutes retching and laying on the cold tile, wishing to turn back time. Wishing for whatever this was to go away, never to darken my doorstep again.
A friend taps lightly on the door after 30 minutes, wondering if I’m ok, and do I need anything? I eke out a ‘no’ and ‘I’ll be out soon’. I gather myself up and walk into the garden and whisper goodbye. On the short ride home, my friend at the bathroom door texts me and said ‘Text me in the morning and let me know you’re ok.’
When I get home it gets worse. I lie in bed, this hot July night, and can’t get comfortable. When I sit in front of my air-conditioning unit I get the chills. I turn it off and lie there, my heart beating out of my chest. Is this what a heart attack feels like? Would my friend still be angry at me for having that glass of wine when I call her to help me the following day? Am I dying? I practically crawl to the bathroom to retch up more bile, because that’s all that’s left.
As I sit in front of the toilet I notice how badly our toilet needs a good clean. There are bits of hair and specks of dirt lining the toilet bowl. We really need to get a cleaner. Split between three, it shouldn’t be too bad. I make it back to my bed with a mason jar full of water. I don’t have a bedside table so I put it on the ground next to me, my arm hanging down to lift it up every so often in an attempt to hydrate. Would hydration help anything?
Then I remember the antacids from Urgent Care and shift my body to the bottom of my double bed, where my handbag is strewn on the floor. I manoeuvre the packet out and pop out a couple, without reading the instructions. I chew down on them as if they’ll save my life but the truth is I’ll just vomit them up in about 20 minutes.
Around 2 am my roommate returns home with her friend who was staying with us from Australia. They’re drunk and want to play bangers and make videos in her bedroom. Normally, I’d be all-in on something that fun but I’m starting to have trouble breathing and the pounding in my chest is getting worse. I feel like the walls are coming in on me and I have no idea how I’m going to get out of this situation. I’ve always been able to get out of situations I don’t like. Since the unpleasantness of this particular affliction is all over my body, there is no escape. I hold off until 330 am before passive-aggressively texting my roommate asking her to STFU. Around 430 am, she finally shuts the music down but it didn’t really matter: there’s no way I’m going to sleep.
I feel like I’m on a coke comedown and I start to hallucinate. Is there a spirit in the room coming to kill me? Don’t laugh: I grew up in London which is riddled with ghosts at every turn. Daylight arrives fast and furious, the heat rises off the streets. Shards of light slip into the gaps in my blinds. I sit up in bed, staring at Instagram, trying to take my mind off the darkness crawling up my body. When it finally turns 7, I call my friend, the one who told me to text her. I know she wakes up early.
‘I think I’m having a heart attack.’ I tell her.
‘That’s not ideal.’
‘No. What should I do?’ I knew what I should do, but I needed her to tell me.
‘You should go to the hospital babe, it’s time.’
‘I’m not ready. I don’t want to.’
‘I know. Text me when you get there, let me know what they say.’
Later that day I don’t go to the hospital, I just email my doctor to see if the results have come through. I’m unwilling to let go of the life I know now. I’m unwilling to let go of who I am now. I’ll experience a few more dark nights like this before I’m escorted, by my mother, to the Emergency Room and told I’m in liver failure. That I’m dying. Were the last few days of ignorant bliss worth it? Were the final few days that I could do what I want, go where I pleased, be free of a life-long commitment to blood tests and medication worth it? Not really, but it’s how it all played out. And I wouldn’t change it. That girl is still with me: the irresponsible one who lives a bit dangerously, the one who always finds a way through a situation. I keep her close because she’s a part of me. We’ve been through some long, dark nights together. And I wouldn’t change it, because it made me who I am now.