I wrote this post on my birthday last Wednesday.
Today is my birthday. I’m 26 years old. It’s funny, I’ve been feeling 26 all year, so this birthday feels a bit redundant.
Last April I developed an ear infection in both ears. I suffered for the first few days, working and pretending that it didn’t hurt but it got worse and worse until I was unable to work anymore. I made a doctor’s appointment with the first available doctor at the Alameda kaiser, which was a huge mistake. The doctor I met with basically told me that he didn’t see an infection, that I was fine but how many times a week did I exercise? Asshole. despite the fact that you could see my ears were swollen, he gave me a prescription for some Tylenol for the pain he didn’t believe I really had and sent me on my way.
I woke up the next day in so much pain I began to cry in that uncontrollable, please-gods-just-end-the-pain kind of way where it’s hard to even speak because the tears and the sobbing come out in bursts; you’ve broken the dam that holds you together and everything is falling out all at once and your body can’t decide whether or not your words or your sobs are more important. Not that it matters because they just flow out of you without your permission or control. This was the condition I was in as I went back to the doctor’s office, this time meeting a different doctor who may have thought I was having an emotional breakdown. It was hard to even get to the office– all I could feel was the throbbing in my ears, which felt like it spread to the rest of my head. It was constant pain, even with the Tylenol it had raged on through the night, so I was exhausted and in pain and incredibly frustrated by the time I’d gotten to my second appointment. at this point I was so swollen my ears were sticking out, and there was no way any sane doctor could look at me and think there wasn’t an infection. I could barely handle the examination because it hurt to much to be touched, and obviously the whole time I’m trying to fight back tears and failing.
This doctor agrees that there is indeed an infection, but he’s not going to give me antibiotics. Instead he’s going to give me a vinegar solution (something that I could probably have done at home and could have saved myself a trip) and some extra strength tylenol. I felt defeated. When were these doctors going to take me seriously? Could they not see that I was obviously in pain? Where did they get their degrees? Did Kaiser just find these men on the street and think, yeah they’ll be fine. Just stick them in the office and hopefully no one dies.
I sobbed all the way down to the pharmacy and continued as I waited to see my name pop up on the screen on the wall, you know, the one that lets you know your prescription is ready. I sat there, out in the open, and cried like a baby, unashamed and a little bit unaware of who was around me. I didn’t care that I was a grown ass adult. I was hurt, physically and emotionally. And those doctors made me feel like my pain didn’t matter, that I didn’t matter. I was just another faceless patient to them, and they couldn’t be bothered to provide me with quality medical care.
And then, out of nowhere, this older black lady walks up to me. She doesn’t know me, in fact we’ve never met before. She doesn’t ask me what’s wrong or even ask me my name. She looks me in the eye and tells me that everything is going to be okay. I think I may have mustered up a thank you through the crying.
She asks me if her prayer group can pray for me, and I say yes. Can you imagine that? She asks me if it’s okay if she and her friends pray for me! At the time I was to inward to really care, and I of course said yes because I knew in that moment that I really needed support and I was gonna take whatever I could get. But her small act of kindness…. I’m not sure if she knows how much it meant to me, even a year later. She saw me when I felt invisible. She saw my pain and validated it. That didn’t make the pain go away, but it made it slightly easier to bear. It was a reminder that the pain was only temporary and I wasn’t going to feel this way forever. And I appreciated her asking if it was okay for her to pray for me because it was her recognizing that even if she is connected with the Divine in a certain way, I might not be– I mean, she didn’t know me or my personal beliefs and she didn’t make assumptions. She made me feel like a person.
Today, I turn 26. And I feel invisible. So I’m remembering this woman, this moment when a stranger came up to me and said I see you, and you matter.