The short story, Alvina’s Quest for Knowledge, sits incomplete on my hard drive. I know how it will end. What I’m struggling with are the parts in between: the building blocks that will add momentum and suspense keeping readers engaged so that they can complete reading the story.
I’ve spent the last week in a lethargic state. I feel every foot strike of my boots hitting the pavement, while at the same time my feet also work as anchors slowing me down. Each roll of my heel causes my calves to burn, thighs tingle, quads wish for the whole process to end. If there’s a jerk from the end of my dog’s leash, my shoulders ache causing a pulling sensation to ricochet through my arms. The tug of the leash doesn’t need to be very strong. By the conclusion of my slow walk with my best dog in the world, I’m yearning for a nap.
The smallest of tasks are impediments. I thought twice about attempting poached eggs this morning because boiling water seemed strenuous. It’s as if I’ve run a marathon by 9 AM depleting my energy leaving me physically exhausted. As anyone who has a run a marathon knows, by the end of 42 KM your exhaustion levels are high causing the simplest of mental calculations to be nearly impossible. What’s two plus two? Not a clue. Ask me again in a couple of hours, and perhaps, I can answer the question.
T’s are no longer crossed. I’s are no longer dotted. Words evaporate as I attempt to form sentences in conversation. While sitting at my desk in front of my monitor, my fingers slip here and there causing me to incorrectly spell the most mundane words. Worst of all, I lack the mental stamina to put words together to create worlds, people, and events that would form a story.
I’ve made several attempts to complete Alvina’s Quest for Knowledge and barely mustered one page. The irony is not lost upon me that in attempting to write a story about a little girl who only wishes to be smart, I’ve lost my vocabulary skills and find myself unable to complete the tale. Through fog, blurry eyes, and dizziness I struggle to conclude Alvina’s quest.
At times it seems I’ve become Alvina. In truth, I may have always been her. When I was a child and attempted to learn something new and had difficulties, I remember getting visibly upset. My father, who never completed high school, would be able to help me with my homework because he had a natural aptitude for learning and in particular mathematics. This week I’ve become my twelve-year-old self again at multiple times, teary-eyed, and frustrated at not being able to complete one short story. I want nothing more than to finish putting together my Lego blocks and complete the tale of Alvina and Gurdun. My overwhelming concern is this: after years of neglecting sleep, eating poorly, and pushing exercise to the sidelines – will I be able to complete that story? Or more concerning, do I have any more stories to tell?
It sounds like I’m being dramatic, I know. But I’ve never struggled as much as I have in the last week to write anything. Even this blog post took several attempts, starts, and stops. After a couple of days at home, and seeing little improvement in my health, I began to wonder maybe this isn’t a virus? Is this what burnout feels like?
There was another event that I should mention. I meant to write a separate blog post on it, but it didn’t happen. In November 2017 I was taken by ambulance to hospital after I had difficulty standing at a full upright position after cleaning the floors. There was pain in the center of my chest below my breasts causing me to bend forward. It did subside by the time the ambulance arrived, and the paramedics gave me the option whether I wished to go by ambulance, or by car. I decided I would take the ambulance because the pain had lasted nearly twenty minutes.
When I got to the hospital I was checked in, and my husband arrived shortly after. We waited long enough after check-in that I told my husband I felt ridiculous. It was probably indigestion, I told myself. Heartburn plagued me for nearly eight years, and I failed to take my heartburn medication most days. (I’m resistant to taking medications because most of the time I experience side effects.)
But I went to the hospital because I was worried it was my gallbladder, appendix, or some other organ that is completely useless and serves no other purpose except for it to rupture at the most inopportune moment. As we waited, I mumbled to my husband, “I feel ridiculous. I should have just waited it out. It’s probably just heartburn.”
The nurse eventually took me into a room and ran an ECG. I wondered, why? She explained that whenever someone goes to the hospital complaining of pain between their neck and abdomen, an ECG was always run. She reassured me it was routine. I nodded at her as if I understood. But I didn’t. Then she took some blood. Before I headed back to the waiting area a plastic attachment dangled from my arm and the nurse said, “just in case they need to do more bloodwork.”
I remembered I furrowed my eyebrows and thought, that’s weird. That’s never happened before. I shrugged it off as some new procedure the hospital had implemented recently. The nurse also mentioned someone might come and get me in a few minutes, but in the meantime, I should wait in the waiting room.
Me and my husband didn’t even have a chance to sit down before another nurse summoned us to what I now realize was the emergency treatment area. I was ushered into a room, my husband and I separated, and I plopped myself on a bed as two nurses descended on me with one of them kindly, but very quickly, asking me to put a plastic gown on while another nurse mentioned they ran an ECG and it looked I may have had a “cardiac event.” Once I had the gown on, another nurse began attaching ECG electrodes to me so I could be monitored, while the other woman continued providing information as to what the next steps would be.
I stared down at my exposed foot. It promptly started to involuntarily shake. My mind grasped to make sense of my situation flooding my brain with defensive questions hoping this was a mistake: I’m 43? I have low blood pressure? Normal cholesterol? No family history? I exercise? How can this be happening?
Then honesty took hold of me. Possible answers at how I may be suffering a cardiac event at 43 included: years cheating sleep; poor diet concentrated heavily with sugar; and other than my walks with Hershey, little other exercise. My life had taken on an unstoppable pace of commuting two hours a day to my job; working full-time; coming home and doing chores; walking Hershey; squeezing in writing in the morning before work, evenings, and weekends; and maybe watch an hour of television. There was little to no time to relax.
Finally I realized I could be a genetic anomaly. I’ve heard of situations where healthy people dropped on race courses due to unknown heart problems. A possible valve issue that remained dormant for years, until under the right circumstances, it had risen to the surface like a whale breaching for air. There was no explanation for it. It was a completely random event.
I stayed that night in the hospital until 4:30 AM. The nurse had spent some time calming me down, reassuring me that I, “didn’t look like I had a heart attack”. When a doctor came in later she said my ECG was a little wonky, but they would run another at 1 AM and if it was normal, I would be released. My husband stared at me pale-faced. I sent him home to rest, frustrated with myself in putting him through my “cardiac event” experience.
Eagerly, I waited till 1 AM and continued to quiet my fears by explaining to myself that the EGC was probably abnormal because of the pain I felt in my chest (heartburn, I told myself) that had caused the abnormal ECG. At 1 AM, I was not released. At 4:30 AM after more than eight hours of observation, the doctor released me with no sign that I had experienced a heart attack.
In the last few months, I’ve gone through multiple tests. For a short time, I was reassured in thinking maybe it was an ulcer. In February I went for an endoscope, and the test results showed no ulcer. However, my EKG showed that there was a little fluid, and that my left ventricle had been remodelled.
What does that mean? The fluid may have been an infection around the lining of my heart. It happens, and may explain the pain I felt in November, and with rest it will typically clear up on its own. The left ventricle remodelled? NOT A CLUE, what that means. Hopefully, when I see my cardiologist in May he’ll have some answers as to whether that’s a reason for concern, or not.
I’ve been running at a thoroughbred’s pace trying to cross some imaginary finish line that would allow me some time off to rest and recover. Most days it feels like I’m within a whisker of crossing the self-imposed line, and then someone moves it back another ten meters.
This was part of the reason for my tears and hysterics last week in front of my computer. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t think. Just like little Alvina I want to know stuff, I want to learn, I want to be challenged. Not being able to communicate at all due to fatigue, makes the thing I love to do the most (write), impossibly difficult as well as tending to all my other responsibilities. If it’s burnout, I know I’ve done it to myself.
I went to see my doctor last week. She was fairly convinced that the rapid descent of my symptoms meant my body was battling a virus. A few weeks of rest, eating well, and taking care of myself, will most likely result in a speedy recovery.
I’m still frustrated I can’t complete that story. Patience is not one of my strongest traits, and in truth, I hoped my visit to my family physician would mean a prescription for antibiotics and I could return to my thoroughbred pace. Walking Hershey a couple of nights ago, I had an epiphany: I’ve written through grief, loss, financial, and family problems. Why not write about what it’s like to push through debilitating fatigue? Because this is the blog of stories, and whether the struggle is internal or external, I know there’s a story in there – somewhere.