The pain was excruciating.
It started as a sharp pain on my right side in the wee hours of the morning. In my half-asleep haze, I tried to convince myself I was simply sleeping wrong, but my mind quickly realized this was not an ordinary ache. It punctured my side like a knife, stabbing relentlessly.
It reminded me of labor pains from ten, sixteen, and twenty-one years ago. I got out of bed only to realize the pain was increasing with each step I took. I slowly walked to find some Advil for relief and in the process was so overwhelmed with nausea that I almost didn’t make it to the bathroom in time.
I was weak with pain, immobilized by confusion.
What on earth was happening to me?
August 3, 2020 was my first day back to work, starting my 24th year in education. While the ever-present threat of COVID-19 floated around, I was doing the best I could to keep myself safe.
I wore a mask in the school building.
I washed my hands often.
I followed all the rules.
At the end of that first day, I went directly to the doctor. Something wasn’t right. The weekend prior I felt my jaw tense up and pain in my neck and shoulder. I assumed it was my TMJ flaring up, but then I discovered bumps behind my ear. I started to panic, thinking that perhaps it was from a spider bite. (My mother had once been bitten by a brown recluse which resulted in an extended hospital stay, so this is my default fear for things I can’t explain.)
It wasn’t a spider bite.
It wasn’t COVID-19.
It was shingles.
I was told that I was too young for the vaccine. The doctor gave me several handouts describing the condition and a week-long prescription of medicine to consume. I was commended for coming in so quickly, then admonished by what “could” have happened had I waited longer to be seen (permanent nerve damage.)
A week and a half later, I was curled up in a ball on my bathroom floor, writhing in pain, no relief in sight.
What on earth was happening to me?
Five hours, three injections, and one CAT scan later, the doctor in the emergency room informed me that in addition to shingles, I was the proud new owner of a 4mm kidney stone wrecking havoc in my body. Thankfully, I did not need immediate surgery, but was told that the extreme pain would continue until the stone passed. I was given more prescriptions to see me through the journey and sent home to recover on my own.
I spent most of the afternoon asleep, curled up in my favorite fuzzy blanket, the pain meds masking the agony I had experienced that morning. I hadn’t told my family anything that had happened – only my supervisor and husband were “in the know.” As far as the world was concerned, it was an ordinary Friday with life moving forward as it always does.
But it wasn’t an ordinary Friday for me.
I felt like I was literally being ripped apart from the inside. (Kidney stones are NO JOKE! The pain is off the charts!) Unbeknownst to me, my supervisor had informed my tech team of what had happened and within hours they had delivered a GrubHub gift card to my house so my family wouldn’t have to worry about meals. (They know I’m the one who cooks for my family each night.)
Why am I sharing all this with you today?
First, I want to spotlight this act of kindness as a first-hand example of putting good in the world. My team didn’t wait for me to ask for help. They heard I was sick, then joined together to uplift me and my family in our time of need. They showed how to be the hands and feet of generosity through their empathy and compassion. They sent me text messages to check in. They made me laugh with silly GIFs. They reminded me that I was a valued part of their world.
Second, I want to keep this post as a reminder of the importance in showing grace to others and ourselves. We are living in a time of extreme uncertainty. Whether it’s the fear of catching COVID-19, the realization that our bodies aren’t as young as we think, or the everyday stresses of life, we need to be gentle with other another.
Throughout this summer, I have seen grown adults acting like children using social media platforms as a megaphone for their discontent. While I have no issues with people sharing their views with the world, the personal attacks on others has been discouraging and disheartening. It’s made it quite challenging to maintain a positive perspective at times.
We accomplish nothing traveling down a highway of hatefulness.
It’s easy to make assumptions about others. We see one side of the spectrum without realizing the multitude of colors that combine together to create the entire picture. We judge from our perceptions and biases, sometimes forgetting that people all around us are living complex lives, just like us.
We have many in our midst suffering from life’s challenges. Loss of jobs. Dying parents. Divorce.
Even shingles and stones.
Unless someone chooses to share their vulnerabilities, we haven’t a clue what’s happening behind closed doors. We are content with the “How are you doing?” greetings and “Hanging in there” responses, never once realizing the person we are speaking to may be falling apart on the inside.
Please remember to be kind.
We are all fighting battles no one knows about.