Two days before Thanksgiving 2012, I was just four weeks into my job at Studio Movie Grill when my boss and I went through one of the most insane bonding circumstances you could possibly ever appreciate but wish on no one.
Trying to prove myself as a new employee I had stayed in Dallas to work while my family had packed up the car and driven off to Chicago to have Thanksgiving with my sister and my friends had all scattered off to wherever their families were. I had the most terrible migraine of my life, and I suffered through, taking Tylenol every few hours until 6pm when my workday was over and it was finally time to go home.
But I never made it home that night. A feverish, nauseated, floaty feeling took over my body and I steered my car directly into the parking lot of the closest urgent care provider on my path. I made my way to their front desk to check in, but before I could say anything, I broke into a cold sweat and collapsed. They determined that the amount Tylenol I had consumed throughout the day while toughing things out was enough that I had accidentally poisoned myself. How embarrassing!
The urgent care would not let me leave their office unless it was in an ambulance or the care of an adult with a car who would sign a release promising that he or she was taking me directly to the ER. The only person I knew in town with a car that might even consider taking me to the ER was . . . my new boss.
Kind soul that she was, she came and signed me out, and patiently pulled over on the side of the road and waited as I got out of her car to vomit in the grass at least twice. Once we made it to the Emergency Room, she didn’t just drop me off, but stayed by my side to see me through my predicament.
Luckily, I was able to vomit out most of what was poisoning me before the ER doctors got involved, but the question still remained about the cause of my immense and persistent pain as well as what to do about it. To make me more comfortable, they administered IV morphine, which was not strong enough so they administered something even stronger.
Once the pain was quelled enough that I could concentrate to answer their questions, the diagnostic process began, and the doctor decided to do a spinal tap to determine if I was a victim of a recent spinal meningitis outbreak. This was a procedure my boss and I had only seen on TV and in movies, and I was terrified because the needle was every bit as long and menacing as I had seen in old episodes of ER.
To her credit, my boss was a stalwart and comforting companion, who never left the room, even for a moment, until the tests were complete and my parents had answered their cell phones to learn what was going on with me while they were out of town.
The fear and anxiety we shared in that room as well as the relief at my recovery has bonded us in a way that we were like instant family, the kind of relationship that I had never had with any boss, and the kind of bond formed out of a moment I hope I never have to share with anyone else ever again.
In the ten months that followed this crazy night, I had a series of other strange and painful or temporarily debilitating symptoms that led my rheumatologist, as part of a fleet of specialists under the keen orchestration of my primary care physician, to diagnose me with Systemic Lupus Erythematosis (also known as SLE or Lupus).
Once diagnosed, I began the journey of learning to live with this chronic ailment, which meant lifestyle changes and adjustment to the idea that I was not just allergic to lots of things or prone to getting the flu. I had to learn to accept that there are days when things that were easy one day could become impossibly difficult on another. My antibodies were not recognizing cells in parts of my body as normal healthy parts of me and they would attack different parts of my body at different times, so I had to prepare myself for anything.
When we discovered that my SLE was photosensitive to UVA rays from the sun and even fluorescent lighting, my boss supported me by getting UV filters put over the bulbs in my office and hers. When I started getting medication infusions as part of my treatment, she got me a laptop so that I could work from the infusion clinic while I was hooked up to an IV. But this is not the end of the support that I have gotten from my boss and my SMG family.
Apart from family and from work, another great resource I found to help me cope with my diagnosis and the activity of my lupus was the Lupus Foundation of North Texas (LFANT), where I found a support group that allowed me to listen to other patients’ stories and learn from how they dealt with the struggles their lupus caused for them so that I could find hope and strategies for dealing with an illness that it seems almost no one understands unless they have it or care for someone who has it.
It was a place where stories were shared and ideas were brainstormed for solving problems or information could be found. I met people who understood what I was going through and people who offered hope, advice and solutions for this incurable disease that was wreaking havoc on my body and my life. These people inspired me to believe that I am not defined as a person with lupus, but rather, my lupus was just something I deal with. The foundation and the friends I met there have empowered me to get the help I needed and to take back ownership of my life.
And now, that organization that has done so much for me is preparing to launch one of it’s annual fundraisers – The Walk to End Lupus Now, from which funds will be donated to research that will help us find better treatments and possibly one day a cure. I cannot express how much it means to me that my Studio Movie Grill family is choosing to support my LFANT family by offering a year of free movies as the prize to the walker who collects the most donated funds.
The Walk to End Lupus Now will take place in Grand Prairie, TX on April 6, 2014.
For more information on the Walk to End Lupus Now, or to join the Walk, please visit http://www.lupus.org/lonestar/events/entry/dallas-walk-to-end-lupus-now.