Friday I woke up with a sticky right eye—my first experience of the dreaded and reported “pink-eye” I have heard about for years. The pink-eye arrived in the wake of a lingering throat malady that had arrived in the wake of a hideous flu/cold that took me by storm. Such everyday illnesses, especially series of them, hold a special terrifying place in my heart. This is because, before my cancer was diagnosed, I had a string of such illnesses, that I had difficulty fighting off, often turning antibiotics. Because I traveled so much by plane, between different climates and time zones, it made that I would be run down. Because I had activities in so many public places, it made sense that I would be exposed to bacteria viruses that would take advantage of that fact.
Yet, when asked about my cancer experience, if I had “symptoms,” it is these daisy-chains of illnesses that I cite as being the real first clue. My body was unable to successfully fight these smaller illnesses because it was carrying a larger burden than anyone realized. I say that looking back I can see it clearly, how exhausted I was most of the time, how flat feeling and depressed. Since the surgery that removed the tumor, my everyday illnesses have been only sporadic, and to my memory I have not taken antibiotics. Yet each time, there is a feeling of panic, and the dilemma about treatments. I think it strengthens my body’s resistance to overcome nasty bugs on it’s own…but it’s also just about boosting my confidence, so I can tell myself that it’s not the same as before, say to myself, “Well I got over that, so everything must be okay—there’s nothing lurking in the shadows.” But if it takes too long for my body to resist, the opposite kind of thinking can occur.
The first call I made on Friday morning was the school health center. I had no doubt that they would give me antibiotics. But at 8:15, no one answered the phone, and I thought, before I drive over, I’ll just call Min—who is my acupuncturist. She was there, and told me to come on over. She treated me with needles, gave me homeopathic eye-drops and medicinal tea. On Saturday, the eye looked much better, but late that night, I could feel my throat pain from the previous week had returned, and Sunday I woke up to find the left eye was infected.
So, here on Monday morning what to do? Do I continue down this alternative road, or, out of fear that something deep-seated will actually irritate my system and weaken it, do I go to the health center? Do I hope for the least powerful antibiotic that will do the trick, or worry that it won’t do the trick, allowing the bacteria to evolve, or do I want something that will knock everything—the eyes, the throat, any residual anything—out in one fell swoop, even if that leaves me a bit more susceptible in the future?
And the real question—since the symptoms themselves are not unbearable, are not what I am reacting to most—how to master my fear? It is likely irrational, I rationalize. I have been traveling, by planes and buses and taxis, to places alternately warmer and rainier and colder and snowier. And, “Everyone is sick.” Paul has had my flu, my roommate in New York came down with the same throat malady, another woman in the English department is reported to have had the pinkeye. These are illnesses that are going around, hardly implications of any life threatening disease. On the other hand, it’s easy to believe you’re a hypochondriac until you’re right.
The test that will guide me, I suppose, that seems logical, is whether I get well, completely well, and then have an extended period of wellness. But the truth is, I can’t know anything, and although a period of wellness is an indicator of balance, nothing is proven about my actual wellbeing; it simply provides a filter between myself and my fears, so I don’t have to face them so directly.