Category Archives: chronic illness

A serving of self-loathing, with a dollop of death wish—the rise of autoimmunity? (Part 10)

Before I knew I was the proud owner of an immune system that couldn’t tell self from invader, doctors pushed sedatives on me.

They hypothesized that my buffet of bodily dysfunctions — stabbing pain around my lungs, clawed hands, ruddy and hot joints — were provoked by overwork and exams, stress or anxiety. Something of my doing, or my response to something of my doing.

Then I found out I had an autoimmune disease. And if we’re going to get all psychological about it, it’s like having the mutant spawn of Hannibal Lecter, the self-cannibal of all illnesses. We sufferers allegedly have an acute case of self-loathing with a side order of death wish.

That’s a metaphoric sledgehammer with which to clobber the ever-increasing number of sufferers.

Why do I need this illness?

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The skirt, for a win (Part 8)

After jumping out of the Poison Dwarf’s car to escape his lust-dressed-up-as-apology — which I paraphrase here as “I behaved badly, it’s your fault, and I will make you pay” — I realized I better apply for jobs at other newspapers. Continue reading

Dressing like a lady and other lessons for a cub reporter (Part 7)

In journalism school, we learned how to shape a story into an inverted pyramid, ask open-ended questions and be fair-minded. What if we wanted to get a big important man to talk and we were female?

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Sweet Young Thing Seeks Star Job (Part 6)

Does it matter more who we were then or what we went on to do?

Graduates from my summer reporting program at the Toronto Star became Editor-in-Chief of the Globe and Mail; a best-selling author of crime fiction; a prominent columnist; foreign correspondents; a journalism professor; a rock critic; and a Pulitzer Prize winner.

But almost three decades ago, we sized each other up around a long table in the Print Room, the bar on the ground floor of the Toronto Star building at One Yonge Street. Continue reading

Who’s afraid of the wolf? (Part 3)

If home is where the heart is, what about the hurt?

Would it follow me there, too?

Upon my return from university, I sat in my straight jacket of pain watching my parents take action.

My dad pulled out the plaid sofa bed in the basement so I could sleep upright by leaning on the back of the couch. He moved the TV close, pushed the shuffleboard out of the way.

My mom brought me warm towels to pack around my chest. When that didn’t ease the hurt, she wrapped her arms around me, trying to minimize the ripping pain that came with each breath.

They’d booked me an appointment for the following day with our family doctor, but I was without hope. After five doctors and 18 months, I already viewed the medical profession with doubt and disappointment.

But as I unspooled my story to our GP, he didn’t take his eyes off of me, or scrawl a prescription for sleeping pills. He put a stethoscope to my chest, probed by tender joints and then leaned close.

“I think you have systemic lupus,” he said.

I remember thinking, ‘Lupus, like a wolf? What an awful name for a disease.’ Continue reading

While pills spelling out the word sick

Emergency pit stop: the search for a cause continues (Part 2)

The guerrilla attacks of pseudo paralysis continued, random and stealth.

Like when my left arm — I’m left handed — went completely limp while playing pick-up, and I couldn’t dribble a basketball or take a shot. That lasted for a few days. Or when I was door-knocking for a candidate in the federal election and I had to use crutches because my legs felt like they’d run a marathon. I worried my friends thought I was crazy. I worried, too.
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Before the pain. Fighting for a basketball at Carleton University.

Mystery Illness: In search of an oil can (Part 1)

On Easter Sunday, when I was 19, I awoke from panicky dreams of missed j-school deadlines and failed foul shots to find that I was encased in a body bag of pain.

Before I consciously understood that I couldn’t move, my first thoughts were of a feature story due the next day, an air ball I doinked in the last basketball game of an inauspicious season for Carleton University, and a gnawing hunger for carbs.

I imagined crumpets, discounted and day-old, from the thrift bakery around the corner. My roommates and I survived on its discards.

It was like having a beer store on the block if we were a house of 18-year-old guys with new fake  ID, instead we were… Continue reading