Monday, April 22, 2013

The Kids are Alright part 4.

My story continues at sea... 

The joy of starting my journey to becoming a woman was beyond any emotion I had ever felt.  After taking my first dose of estrogen I walked to the ocean and stood ankle deep in the cold water.  I could see my bright coral colored toenails clearly through the sun-filled sea.  The water felt refreshing and I decided, despite the cool temperature, to walk out even deeper until I was almost submerged under the waves. But, I was still wearing my wig and worried it might fall off.  I imagined someone coming across a floating pile of hair and being terrified at the site of a middle-aged bald man-like person in a bikini, so I decided not to go under completely. 
After an invigorating moment and feeling anew I began to move back towards the beach and thought about the start my new life when I reached the shore.  As walked on the warm sand to my awaiting towel and chair, the glow of the setting sun on my face made me smile as the confidence of the women in me starting to emerge. It felt like my spirit was stronger than the sea’s embrace.  
I knew it would take weeks or even months to feel the effects of being on hormones, but I felt different right away.  Perhaps it was a placebo affect or losing the burden of living two lives, but unfamiliar emotions grew stronger every day as this ghost began to embrace its shell.  My running continued like it was before, and after completing my first marathon in December, I was hooked. I was already thinking of running a marathon officially as a woman.  During my transition, my roommate has been one of my biggest allies.  I don’t if I would have made it this far without her support and encouragement.  That summer she boldly invited me to work at her new art gallery.  I was touched by her faith in me as a person and sales woman.  I always looked forward to the few shifts I worked; it gave me a chance to gain some needed confidence as Gia, especially interacting with the public. 

My new life was going pretty well, so I thought.  One of my wonderfully supportive aunts and an understanding cousin stopped in to visit as I worked in the gallery.  It was great to see them, but not a surprise.  They’ve always showed me love and respect and it seems like they seamlessly adjusted to me as Gia.  A few weeks later I was even invited to go to a Red Sox game with friends from high school.  It was going to be my first large scale interaction outside my small community and family as Gia.   

As the days grew closer, I became very nervous about the event.  I also had other friends traveling to visit for a few days later that weekend, so I busily prepared the house for them.  In the buildup, my anxiety grew and I thought a short run would release some of mounting tension.  I quickly changed into running clothes and headed out into the warm humid air.  Less than a 100 meters from my driveway, I was brought to a sudden stop, gasping for air like I was drowning, I was having an asthma attack. I didn’t have my medication with me, which I only started using a few months earlier. I barely made the short walk back to my house. Once inside I grabbed my red plastic rescue inhaler that was sitting on the counter and collapsed into a chair. I took two deep puffs and tried to calm myself waiting for relief to arrive.  I had coached many athletes with asthma and thought knew what to do, but after a few minutes I was still gasping and wheezing. 

Not yet in a state of panic, I called my doctor’s office for some advice.  The voice on the other end of the line was calm and she had me describe my symptoms. Try the inhaler again and if that doesn’t work call back in 20 minutes. I took 2 more puffs and waited.  In the meantime I left a voice message with my friend in Boston, saying I might not be able to make the game tonight.  I tried to take a shower, thinking it might help, but it only made my condition worse.  The phone rang and it was my doctor’s office checking in.  My symptoms had persisted and she asked if I could come right into the office. I was there in less than 15 minutes.  As I drove myself to the doctor’s office I called my roommate to let her know my situation.  The air conditioning seemed to help during the short drive into town. Within minutes I was being evaluated by a nurse and soon after the first available doctor saw me.  The evaluation was short and I was sent immediately to the emergency room.  Apparently having a blood/oxygen level in the 80’s wasn’t good news.

In the few steps to my car, I almost collapsed. But I made it to the safety of my air-conditioned vehicle and I thought I could make it on my own to the hospital.  Driving well above the speed limit, I arrived just in time.  The air was dense and I was unable to get a full breath crossing the parking lot.  Inside the hospital, the greeter asked my name and what my problem was, but as I tried to answer they recognized I was in danger and a wheel chair was brought to me.  I was rushed through registration.  Fortunately, the doctor at the office had called ahead to let them know I was on my way. He had also included in his notes to call me Gia. Even though it wasn’t legal yet, it was comforting to hear new name during the entire ordeal.  Lying on an emergency room bed I was given fresh oxygen mixed with other medications, I began to breath a little easier.  The doctor on call arrived as I was being stabilized, and his urgency and personal attention was reassuring.  Gia, how you feeling? 

As the afternoon wore on, my condition slowly improved, but questions about the sudden attack and persistent erratic blood/oxygen levels keep me in the hospital all day.  While a battery of tests ruled out a pulmonary embolism, I was admitted and brought to my room on the 3rd floor of Southern Maine Medical Center to monitor my condition overnight.  It was the first time I staying in a hospital overnight since I was 3 years old at Children’s Hospital Boston. I wondered about my parents and their emotions 42 years earlier, having to leave their scared child behind after visiting hours ended.  My roommate returned from our house with some items to comfort me, including my Hello Kitty pajamas.  That bought a needed smile to my weary face.  The floor wasn’t crowded so I got constant attention from the techs and nurses through the rest of the evening and night.  During the sleepless night I thought about how fragile I really was and also how dependent I was on the kindness of others. 

This past week, nearly 2 years since my first asthma attack and beginning hormone therapy, the Boston Marathon was bombed and my hometown was terrorized.  Even before the horrific events transpired, I had been wrestling to understand my lifelong struggle with life and death.  I had been in Boston this spring for Easter, but also to support my mom, visiting with her as my dad was at Tufts Medical Center for heart surgery.  During my visits I spent a few night at my parents’ house and usually went for long walks around my old neighborhood.  On one bright sunny morning I decided to walk by a park where 28 years earlier I first tried to end my life.  I had been visiting the area for years since that event, but I guess I had buried those dark memories in a life full of confusion and fear. As I walked on the sidewalk alongside the fields and woods, I looked over the moss covered stone wall toward the hill and the grove of trees where I put a belt around my neck. Looking into the past for answers and feeling like a ghost of myself,  I felt a sudden coldness on this warm morning. I couldn’t dwell very long, so I kept walking and within minutes my goose bumps had vanished. 

A few days later I found myself home in Maine.  I left Boston and my mom and dad on Sunday, the day before the Marathon. Fortunately he was recovering and was discharged from the hospital that evening, sent to rehab outside the city.  In the aftermath of the disaster I was haunted by the horrific events.  Like many, I took the attack very personally and was deeply affected.  All week my nights were restless, fighting off demons and a darkness I couldn’t seem to escape from.  My asthma and a persistent cough were keeping me from my daily runs as well as keeping up at night.  After finally falling asleep I had another in a series of jarring dreams. This one stayed with me for days.  In it I agreed to be put to sleep.  A friend from my distant past appeared holding a gun.  I calmly lied down on a carpeted floor and felt the barrel against the back of my neck.  I waited for my life to be over and all my memories to be erased like they never existed.  Before he could pull the trigger, I reached out and pinched my friend’s ankle as he stood straddling my back, I guess I was signaling him not to go through with it. Suddenly I awoke in a dizzy and sweaty haze, unsure if I really was alive, awake, or still dreaming. 

My room was glowing red from lights I’ve left up since Christmas. I breathed in and coughed, then took a sip of water.  I lied awake for hours terrified of falling back to sleep and into a dream that would take me away forever.  As the days passed, I felt weak.  Was it a lingering cold and lack of sleep that left me tired or had a few of the stitches I used to hold my soul together been pulled out.  Either way, I couldn’t make sense of it all and maybe I shouldn’t have been trying.  But I couldn’t resist the temptation and the thoughts of nevermore lingered closer than I’ve felt for years. As I struggled for clarity and reason, decided to a share some of my pain with a few close friends.  As I opened up, some of the anguish escaped.  I had forgotten how fragile I am still, but also that I’m not alone.  There are 7 billion people on this little blue planet, why do I continue to hide from them.  For too long, I've kept pain and secrets locked inside, allowing them to feed on my soul like a tapeworms. 

As I was trying to cope with these traumatic events I recalled summer days as a child playing in the waves along the shores of Maine.  I had learned to ignore the numbing cold ocean as the freedom and the excitement of being weightless in the water brought me joy.  But I also remember being blindsided by a large wave, knocking me off my feet and turning me upside down. I lost my sense of direction in the heaving silent ocean and gasped for air, breathing in cold salt water instead.  It felt like I was drowning, but it wasn’t a watering end for me that day.  After what seemed like an eternity, my young feet found the sandy bottom and I stood up. Coughing and shaken by the frightening experience, I stumbled ashore and ran towards the afternoon sun straight into my mother’s waiting arms.  As perilous as it seems at times, my voyage continues to an unknown land with just a dream as my guide.