I Was A Chronically Ill Bride

by Elizabeth Tsung

The day after Thanksgiving, you start having severe headaches and jaw pain. It’s the worst headache you’ve ever had in your life, and even though you take every headache medicine you can find, none of them help alleviate the pain. It feels like a 400-pound person is sitting on top of your head. Frantically, you plug your ailments into an online symptom checker — and panic like crazy when it tells you there’s a high chance that this headache means that you have leukemia. Or a brain aneurysm.

You almost cancel the dance lessons you scheduled weeks beforehand. They’re important. In fact, they're to help you prepare for one of the most important dances you’ll have in your life— your first dance as a married person. You realize your wedding is only 14 days away from now, and it’s crunch time. Can you believe how many steps you still need to learn? Did you ever know you were so clumsy? Or that your partner would surprisingly enjoy learning to waltz? It’s in three, and you count the beats in your head as you glide over dirty wooden floors in a rundown studio in the middle of nowhere. Your dance instructor happens to be one of your good friends, though, and you all have fun together. You even forget you woke up with a headache.

When you get home, you schedule an appointment with any neurologist that will take your crappy insurance. Two days later, you get picked and prodded like a frog being dissected in a high school biology class. Five needles are inserted into your arm to see if there are any pinched nerves or muscle damage. Hot and cold air is blown alternatively into your ear; you’re then asked to follow the dot on the monitor. The air tickles your ear and you start giggling. The technician smiles patiently, and waits before she proceeds. Later, the doctor comes in and tells you to get an MRI and blood drawn. When you leave his office, you have a nosebleed on the subway and feel like a plague as people slowly move further away from you.

A few days later, you go to the radiologist’s office. You wake up with bruises on your thighs and what seems to be a rash on random parts of your lower body, so you spend $10 on green juice just to feel healthy. When the receptionist finally calls your name and you head into the exam room, you’re instructed to lay down on a tube, close your eyes and remain as still as possible for 15 minutes.

They put on headphones for you, and holiday music blasts into your ear as the machine makes unsettling noises. You start to think about Christmas in Mexico, where you’ll be on your honeymoon in just a few days. Will you have enough energy to go scuba diving or swim with dolphins, as you originally planned to do with your future husband? Will you be too tired to dance at your own wedding? You start to tear, thinking about the worst case scenario, despite having always been an optimist before any of this started. You count to eight and try to remember all pranayama exercises you learned during yoga teacher training. It calms you down, but only slightly.

After you finish with the MRI, you still have a migraine. You finally take the pill prescribed by the neurologist, even though the list of side effects is alarming— rapid weight gain, vomiting, nausea and seizures. Still, you swallow, and surrender to any possible reactions. Moments later, there’s pressure building inside your chest and your headache gets worse. You fall asleep without taking off your makeup or brushing your teeth. Your fiance, who is working late hours, comes home at 3 AM and tells you the next day how adorable you look when you’re sleeping. The doctor calls the next morning and says the MRI results came back. Turns out there’s scar tissue in your frontal lobe that’s contributing to the migraines. He tells you to sit tight as he waits for more test results. Your fiance comforts you, then gently reminds you to send out a check to the officiant. You forget almost instantly.

You go to your primary care doctor the next day for the blood work. Your wedding is in 10 days. You’ve got the dress, had your alterations, confirmed with the DJ, photographer, and pet sitter, and assembled your favors. You find out the photo booth company you hired earlier this year went under. They’re not returning any of your phone calls or emails. You stalk the owners of the company and even try to add them on Facebook. They screw you over, and you never get your deposit back.

When the doctor finally examines you and prescribes you 600 mg of ibuprofen, she tells you your neck is swollen and you have TMJ. You need to eat soft foods for a while, and maybe get a mouth guard. Also, your thyroid looks off. You need to get a sonogram ASAP.

You forget to mention the bruises and marks on your body to the doctor. You seem to be forgetting a lot these days. You take the ibuprofen that night, but your headache is still having its way with you. You cry in front of your fiance when he eats dinner and tell him you think you’re getting worse each day. He gets up mid-bite and gives you a hug, reminding you of all the things you have to look forward to. You feel loved and grateful your partner is so supportive, but you’re secretly afraid of what might happen. When you lay down to sleep, your head starts to spin even when your eyes remain closed. You feel so dizzy you want to throw up, and you end up not sleeping at all.

You return the next day to your primary care’s office for a sonogram. The lights dim and your ultrasound technician glides the device over your neck. You think of the odds of getting thyroid cancer. You wonder if it’s even possible, seeing as how you’re not even 30. You contemplate the existence of God and whether fate is predestined. It becomes increasingly uncomfortable on the bed as she moves the stick up your neck, and you can’t help but peek at the screen. You see red and start to panic. There’s also blue appearing. Yellow. Green. You have no idea what any of these colors mean, and you swallow out of nervousness.

When you get home from the sonogram appointment, knowing all the tests have been completed and you can finally rest, there are two packages waiting for you at the door. When you unwrap the box, you discover unexpected and thoughtful wedding presents sent by family and friends. As you read aloud decorative white cards, you think about the big day and how lucky you are to have found someone you know who will support you no matter what.

Speaking of the big day, you finally remember to send out that check your fiance asked you to mail a while ago, and take a trip to the mailbox. When you come back, you take a look at your apartment, figuring out the best place to put your new Buddha statue. You make yourself comfort food in the form of overcooked vegetable lo mein and listen to a guided meditation on YouTube. You self-massage, remembering you are more than your physical body, and enjoy the rest of your evening.

On your wedding day, you sit down for your makeup and think about the results the doctor gave you three days beforehand. They said you have a heart condition and thyroid disease; you will be on medication for the rest of your life. You took the pills they gave you; fortunately, there weren’t many side effects, just more fatigue.

You reflect on the days leading up to your wedding. You realized there was nothing you could do to change the results. The makeup artist snaps you out of your reverie when she asks you whether you want your eyeliner to be more dramatic. She hands you a small mirror and says you look beautiful. You look at your reflection, feeling better than you felt all week. You think about meeting your fiance at the end of the aisle. Weddings are always stressful, and you know all brides go through hurdles before their big day. No one can prepare you for the stresses you’ll encounter, but you know it’s worth it.

You tell the makeup artist you love what she’s done. She smiles with pride, mists your face to set your makeup, then tells you you’re ready to go. As your bridesmaids help you put button up your dress, you think about your family and friends who came to your wedding. They’re so happy to be here, supporting you and your fiance’s love for each other. Taking a deep breath, you remember you are more than your pain, and walk towards your happily ever after.

Images: Cynthia Chung