The fevers and stabbing pain in my head, neck and shoulder nagged at me all weekend, keeping me in bed despite my ritual of swallowing medication every four hours. At some point, I was ingesting more pills than I was food.
By Monday morning, I was grateful a dull ache now existed instead of the ice pick like pricks that preceded it. The discomfort had been come so routine, I could tell the time of day by how strong or weak it had become.
I should’ve just tied the thermometer to my hand because I used so often to monitor the flashes of heat then chills that tortured me it rarely left my palm. I didn’t mind being cold. I threw on the blanket handmade by my grandma and felt comforted. Being hot was the problem. I could only take off so many items of clothing. As I lay on top of the sheets, naked except my underwear, I watched the sweat beds gather on my skin. There’s was nothing left to remove so there was nothing to ease the warmth percolating underneath my skin would wake me from my sleep and cause my flat ironed hair o curl up again.
I could feel the cashew size lymph nodes swelling underneath my chin and down the side of neck. I tried to resist feeling them repeatedly but I couldn’t help it. This was the only tangible sign that my autoimmune disease was behind my spontaneous illness.
At 5 a.m. on Tuesday morning, a sharp pain near my left temple caused my eyes to spring open and my hands to grasp the side of my head. Oddly, I wasn’t concerned about having an aneurysm or a stroke, my first thought was how inconvenient it was that was awake at that hour, especially since my time to head to work was just a few hours away. As soon as I could bare the agony I was in, I set an alarm and tried to get a bit more rest.
7:10 on the dot, I opened my eyes and head into the shower. Getting in and getting out was just the start to my day. Then, there was the one hour and thirty minute trek, in a good day, to my job in Manhattan with my fiancé’ behind the wheel. Luckily, it was a light traffic day; that is until we reached the west side highway. We slowed to a crawl watching as our good fortune turned back.
We pulled up outside of my job thirty minutes late but not enough that my hefty workload would become impossible for me to complete. So, I kissed my fiancé goodbye and headed inside to write for the noon to 1 p.m. newscast.
I’ve mastered the art of crafting stories about death, destruction and mayhem and today was no exception. Well, something was different; I was not the same. Six days into the new year, after facing a year of difficult medical challenges in 2014, I no longer wanted to ignore the warning signs from my body to exploit the suffering of others. So, I cranked out, what I believe to be mediocre copy, and got down to real work; I began booking appointments with my head, neck and throat surgeon, my gastroenterologist and rheumatologist.
Dialing the phone, it hit me. I didn’t want to die. I choose life. I’m fighting to survive whatever this illness is that seems to enjoy making my life difficult. More importantly, I choose my health above everything else in my world.
I could say the recent deaths of two acquaintances gave me a new perspective. However, that’s not true. The passing of these men, seemingly in their prime, did remind me how quickly it could all be over. Yet, I knew that; I thought about it every time I was knocked out for surgery. What I hadn’t considered as much was how or if I’d I be remembered.
I sat on my lunch break re-reading tributes to both of the men I’d knowing vaguely in my youth and learned how many lives they’d touched. I could feel the pain of all those who would miss them and the memories they’d left behind. I knew immediately that I didn’t want to be remembered from the copy I generated at my desk; I had so much more to say but when and how would I share “me” with the world. And, I questioned if I didn’t get to do, what’s my legacy.
Of course, duty called so I went back to toiling away, burying those irritating questions in the back of my mind. The thoughts didn’t re-emerge until I got to my mailbox at home. I dreaded getting my mail so I made a point of only getting it once a week. Yet, today I made an exception.
The little steel door swung open and there was an envelope inside. It was addressed to me from a former reporter from my station and my friend, Lauren. She’d sent me an instant message on Facebook last week telling me to expect something. I guess I thought it would be a card. But, there was a package.
I carried the envelope inside and opened it. There was a custom, bright red t-shirt with the word “life” on it. I stripped off my sweater, t shirt and tank top right in my living room and slipped it on. Then, I snapped a string of selfies with me in a t-shirt that embodied my thought of the day.
How did she know? I thought. Perhaps she was just trying to encourage me to live because she was fully aware of my medical struggles. Well, mission accomplished. I will wear that shirt proudly, living as fully and happily as I can, knowing at least one somebody will remember me when my time is up.
About the author:
Nika C. Beamon attended Boston College in Massachusetts. She is currently a TV News Writer/Producer in New York.
She released her highly praised memoir, Misdiagnosed: The Search for Dr. House in 2014. In 2009, Chicago review press published her first non-fiction book, I Didn’t Work This Hard Just to Get Married: Successful Single Black Women Speak Out. She’s also the author of two mystery novels, Dark Recesses (2000) and Eyewitness (2002)