Dolores* was a nurse at the big hospital in town. She worked the night shift in the ER for many years, thriving on the high-octane pace. Numerous patients claiming to have Fibromyalgia graced her care during this time. The common attitude about the hospital was that Fibromyalgia was a big fat joke. Bunch of fakers wanting to lay around all day and bilk the system, high on drugs and complaining about nothing. Dolores would humor them but never liked giving the narcotic injections they were obviously desperately seeking.
As she aged she started slowing down and her job eventually became overwhelming. Transferring to the maternity ward she found new mothers and fathers with the occasional hysterectomy a much more agreeable place to spend her evenings. It was to her absolute horror when one day physical pain hit so bad she could not get out of bed. Every inch of her body throbbed with her pulse, fire zipping through her like an electric conductor. The blanket hurt her skin, her hair hurt her head. This pain had been mounting over the last few years, but certainly never this bad.
She went to see her doctor who ran every test, scan and procedure available, yet there was no explanation for her suffering. Outrageously frustrated, the pain became so bad she started missing work. Dolores could no longer complete four 12-hour shifts a week and was forced to switch to part-time. As her doctor continued to rule out any and every illness which shared her symptoms her pain and fatigue grew nearly unbearable. She made it to the assisted-living care facility where her mother lived less and less. This brought more and more guilt laden phone calls that only compounded her stress.
Her solid reputation took terrible hits as she failed to complete her work duties. Holding patients up and changing their beds became damn near impossible. Some days even the newborns were just too heavy to hold. Dolores refused to accept this Fibromyalgia diagnosis that was the best thing her doctor would come up with, and sought out second and third opinions. She knew everyone was snickering behind her back. But this is not Fibromyalgia! she wanted to scream. Panicking, she refused to believe anything so horrible, a pain this grand, was caused by that wastebasket diagnosis. There was no way all those patients she scoffed at behind their backs for all those years were feeling this. This was living hell.
Slowly but surely her world crumbled all around her. She lost her job, then her health insurance. Her daughter got pissed at her when she refused to watch her grandson. Dolores could hardly keep her eyes open and knew she was not capable of looking after an energetic two year-old safely. Work friends ceased to be friends. Her boyfriend decided he was not up for this, eight years her junior and unimpressed with her rapidly shrinking capacity. Her condo was paid off but she was sucking her retirement dry, having long since exhausted her savings account.
She hit her own personal bottom the third time she was denied for permanent disability from Social Security. Seeing no hope, no possibility for the future, she swallowed half a bottle of Vicodin. But she was lucky. Her nosy neighbor walked past her kitchen window and spotted Dolores passed out on the dinette table, the empty bottle of pills resting upright on the floor. Dolores woke up in the ER, lying on her left side with that thick tube down her throat, gasping for breath as her stomach fluids pumped out her mouth. Her former colleagues stood around and clucked their tongues. She wanted to die from embarrassment.
It has been eight years since that horrible afternoon. Dolores was offered a hand up by a lady she barely knew. A woman she saw a few times a day and nodded a terse head in greeting towards, her next door neighbor. Gloria* was a hippie, earth mother incarnate. She had wild carrot orange hair and smelled of lavender. And was young to walk with a walker. Gloria sat by Dolores’ bedside and they just talked and talked for hours.
Gloria had Lupus. She gave Dolores a crash course in the world of chronic illness. Gloria taught her that accepting her diagnosis, deconstructing her life, and building it up again in a way that supported her limitations was possible. Her new friend showed her there was life after Fibromyalgia. Gloria introduced Dolores to the world of alternative medicine. Holistic philosophies became Dolores’s saving grace. She hired a disability attorney and with better documentation was approved on a new claim. Medicaid was a few years to follow. She found a doctor, not affiliated with the hospital, who has helped her find a specific mix of medications to keep her depression, pain and insomnia at bay.
The shame and embarrassment of having Fibromyalgia fades as the years pass. Most of the people in her former life are not included in her current one. Her mother has made friends at the facility she lives in and is not nearly as much of a nag. But her daughter has not accepted Dolores’ new lifestyle and resents her mother for making such a big deal out of nothing. One of the hardest parts of this whole process has been learning how to allow her daughter to not believe her, and be okay with it. Some days are bad and some days are better. Yoga keeps her muscles from coursing with too much pain. She carefully budgets as much acupuncture and massage as she can afford. It was quite a journey to get to this place and Dolores is still trying to forgive herself for all those poor patients suffering with unbearable pain she snickered at and treated like drug addicts.
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*All character names are fictional to protect the anonymity of the contributor.