Step 1: Find out that even though you feel better, your liver is getting progressively worse.
Step 2: Buy chocolate and cheese doodles. Commence pity eating.
Step 3: Feel depressed. Feel dejected. Feel like you had the rug ripped out from under you. You did. You thought you were moving forward. It’s like you were taking the stairs to the 11th floor, only to find out you’ve been in the wrong building the whole damn time. Feel your forward momentum grind to a halt with one five minute phone call from a nurse. Feel sorry for yourself.
Step 4: Get mad that you can’t drink and thus can’t have that craft beer that’s been making eyes at you from the bottom shelf of your fridge for two weeks now. Get really angry about it, because you’re not sure what to be angry about or who to be angry at it for. Pick this thing. This thing is obvious and simple and the only one whose feelings are hurt is that pretentious little craft beer.
Step 5: Realize Step 4 makes you sound like you have a drinking problem. Decide to grow up a little.
Step 6: Try and maintain some semblance of having a normal life. Keep going to work, keep your meetings, try jogging (all the while wondering is that a stitch in your side or YOUR LIVER IMPLODING [Can it do that? You went to music school; all of your medical knowledge comes from House marathons.]), but at the same time keep dates flexible and your mornings open for doctors appointments. And don’t over book yourself; you’re energy is low from the dejection and probably a bit from being sick, too.
Step 7: Make social commitments with the caveat that they may be broken at any time. You have biopsies to schedule, follow-up tests to take, probably more meetings with doctors.
Step 8: Learn to fear the quiet moments. Keep your mind busy or risk falling into the sucking, deadly spiral of wondering what’s wrong with you. Learn to imagine future events, things that will happen with the certainty of the sunrise, and dreams for months and years down the road, but not the next few weeks. The next few weeks are hidden from you. It’s frightening to suddenly feel you have so little control over your life. Knit yarn and weave stories and spin melodies to keep your mind away from this thought.
Step 9: Lay in bed at night and remember looking down at the IV port in your arm, waiting by yourself in an empty hallway for a CAT scan. Remember with as much cold detachment as you can muster – the understanding coming over you like a revelation as you sat in that metal chair – that there is no order to the universe, to life; there is no “cause and effect.” Things don’t happen for a reason. Remember seeing for a moment the naked chaos of the world. Try and stare into it for as long as you can, as though you’re challenging yourself to hold your palm over a candle flame. Revel in the discomfort. Find some small power in it.
Step 10: Interrogate past lovers about their health. Try and find a reason for what’s happening for you. Fret over one night stands and bad decisions. Wonder if harmless fun will ruin your life. Hope it’s just your inner Ex-Catholic getting the best of you.
Step 11: Get cramps and realize that it is way worse to not be able to take Tylenol than to not have beer. Try and sneak your heating pad into the all-male office. Spend the evening wondering if you’ve succeeded or if they’re all just too polite to comment on it.
Step 12: Realize you may never find out what’s wrong with you. Find out that your up-coming biopsy won’t tell you what’s making you sick; it can only tell you if you have cancer or not – maybe. Realize you will likely be juggled from antibiotic to antibiotic for the next few weeks, maybe the next month or two. You will have countless blood tests to monitor you, probably another scan – or two even. Realize that thinking you would figure out what was going on in the next two weeks was one of your more naive and foolish ideas. Realize this is not going to be over as soon as you want it to be.
Step 13: Try and put things in perspective. You feel pretty good, considering. There are people who are bedridden. Feel a little guilty about being so upset. But remember the body you use to form your perspective – the fingers that feel the world, the tongue that tastes it, the eyes that see it, the ears that exalt in its sounds – that body is struggling and you can’t help but feel your spirit is being crushed a little by it. Your vessel feels more like a cage.
Step 14: Catch a close cousin of Strep Throat in addition to what you already have. Realize your immune system is down for the count. Develop an increased appreciation for hand sanitizer.
Step 15: Pause your life. Minimize it. Litter it with open hours to be filled the day of, in case you need to. Just don’t stop your life. You have wonderful friends. Go out to see them. Enjoy their company. Listen to good music. Make good music. Enjoy good food. Enjoy good people. Let them help you keep busy, knowing one day you will whole-heartedly return the favor.
Step 16: Develop a taste for iced tea and soft drinks, cause that’s the only thing you’ll be ordering from the bar for a while.
Step 17: Hope the people you’ve accidentally slighted or blown off or misidentified or been really weird around in the past few weeks don’t hold it against you. You’ve barely got your shit pulled together, but you’re trying to put on a good face, and sometimes the act is convincing enough that people get jarred when you’re not really all there. Trust they’ll understand. (Hope they read your blog.)
Step 18: This is the most crucial. Learn to laugh at the things that scare you. Learn to step up to the face of terror, look into the eyes of uncertainty, throw your head back, and cackle like a witch under the full moon. Humor is the only thing that will save you. Medicine will help, but it’s going to take a while and it’s only good for your body. Laughter will save your soul.