Today someone asked me how I came to be living in California. I asked her if she wanted the long answer or the short answer.
The short answer: I didn’t die.
The long answer:
On 14 February 1998, a pulmonologist named Scott Lerner told me that my body had finally worn out and that I couldn’t breathe because my lungs had just reached the breaking point. Looming over my frail body with his achingly handsome blondness, Dr. Lerner smiled. He told me to make provisions for my son and get my affairs in order, and reckoned that I had maybe six months.
Maybe less. Maybe more. But around six months, before my lungs simply ceased working.
The neurologist stood at his elbow nodding sagely. That one — our kids went to the same preschool at one point; yet when he came into my room, I felt invisible. He never greeted me at parent events; and he didn’t mention the connection as he left the room while I lay sobbing, in shock. They took their white coats and their medical students, and the attending nurse, and abandoned me to my misery. Happy Valentine’s Day.
I suffered under that prognosis for the better part of 1998, until the St. Luke’s ID guru, Joseph Brewer, resumed control of my destiny. Dr. Brewer started me on Heparin for hypercoagulability, a diagnosis at which the other two specialists scoffed. I let Joe Brewer start that first drip. I figured I had nothing to lose. Meanwhile, Dr. Lerner suffered a fatal heart attack and I lived. In fact, my lungs had not worn out; I was not dying; at least, not in six months and not from the ailment which had been inhibiting my oxygen use but could be treated.
So, twenty years later, 19-1/2 years beyond my predicted life span, the Universe has taken me here. I can’t complain. Instead of dying before my son finished elementary school, I’ve seen him graduate from high school and college; and I lived to touch the drying ink on his MA in Writing for Screen and Stage from Northwestern University.
Four years ago, my treating physicians in Kansas City began to feel that I needed more sophisticated help. I got on the internet and researched. My efforts led me to Stanford University. That first plane ride, in December 2014, opened a new world of possibilities. I stepped onto the plane completely unaware that nothing would ever be the same. At that point, my first year of trying to live complaint-free had nearly ended. I had not succeeded, but I persisted, keeping my journey public to hold myself accountable.
On my March 2015 trip to California, I rented a car and drove to the coast because Catherine Kenyon recommended that I see Pigeon Point. I talked myself into taking the pig trail to the coast, over the mountains so I could eat lunch at Alice’s Restaurant. The drive proved grim; I passed an accident in which it appeared that a person had not survived. The sight sobered me. I sat over my sandwich thinking for the first time in years about the frailty of life.
After lunch, I got back in my rental car and journeyed on, slowly, carefully. Finally, I neared the junction of 84 and Route 1. I crested a little hill, and for the first time beheld the unbroken expanse of the Pacific.
I’ve been trying to get here ever since.
The sun sets; the sun rises. Each day brings me a little closer to going a full year without complaining. Occasionally, of course, I have to begin at day one again. I don’t mind.
Dear Universe: Thank you. Very Truly Yours.
It’s the thirtieth day of the forty-ninth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.