I don't like to complain. I grew up with a military man as a father, and I taught myself I should only say something hurts when I feel I can no longer carry it on my own back. That has given me the strength to plough through a number of illnesses and stressful situations, but it also landed me in the emergency room a few times because I was not prepared to speak up for myself.
Which brings me to a few days ago. During a minor and routine medical procedure, I suddenly went into anaphylactic shock. Though I know a lot about such reactions, as I have two people close to me struggling with severe allergies, nothing prepared me for the traumatic experience that followed.
The terrifying part is just how quickly it all happened - within a few minutes of getting the medicine that triggered the reaction, my doctor told the nurse to get the kit, that I was going into shock. I hadn't felt anything, I thought she was wrong or joking! Then I felt my face swelling up and knew it was all real. My body was so violently ill that the first four rounds of cortisone required four IV insertions in different locations on my arms. On the fifth try, I was crying from the severe pain and begging her to stop.
My veins had collapsed because of the swelling and the stress - one of the IVs had popped open, and blood was flowing down my arm. I started feeling violently sick and my ears were ringing. The following shots of cortisone were administered through my muscles and when the final one was given - some five hours after the first incident - I just put my head down, my body feeling like an aching mass of flesh, and I begged God to make it stop. After eight rounds, I was done.
As I lay there, waiting, I got to thinking about a few things. And the usual thoughts popped into my head: "Why are you complaining? It's not so bad, it's not the end of the world. Stop complaining. So many people have it so much worse."
But as I'm writing this today - against everything I believed in for such a long time - I decided to allow myself some time to heal. Not act like Wonder Woman and just allow myself to feel the pain of my arms and legs still hurting from the shots. My diet is restricted, and I'm trying to deal with the fact that what stood between myself and perhaps sure death was that I was allergic to something administered to me in a medical office and not some food or fruit that I was having in some remote location, while on holiday. In the case of anaphylactic shock, death can occur within minutes, and yeah, from that perspective, I was lucky.
But I also realised that I apologised about 50 times during the hours I was being treated for getting sick, for ruining people's plans that day. I became very aware of how embedded it is in my being not to be a handful, not to bother people, not ever to put myself first ever.
So for today, I'm changing that. I will meditate on my life-threatening experience and how it opened my eyes, on how little I still know about myself, my reactions, and my body, how fragile everything is, and how much pain people in the world deal with on a daily basis.
After today, I will think of ways to make a difference for myself and others (for starters, make people more aware of just how dangerous allergies are). But today - just today - is for me. For my fears, for my pain, for my rethinking of what life and the future mean.