The world spun crimson as if I were wearing red shades and standing on an out-of-control carousel. I shook and rolled on the coarse bedroom carpet with fear and fever. I clamped my eyes shut against the sunlight and tried not to think about how my right wrist was throbbing. The sun was not making me erupt into flames, though. I felt like it was coming from some caustic substance inside my marrow. My 104 fever had been burning since December 22, but only in the early hours of New Year’s Eve had I felt it strongly. The initial symptoms had blown away and left a reddened, swollen arm.
It was winter break, a time when I could play in the snow like a kid instead of acting like a grown-up eighth-grader. I would eat snow when no one was looking, I would make a snow angel, I would write in secret code in the snow and play golf with a stick and a small snowball. When my mom said I felt warm, I thought I felt fine.
A few days later, the incinerator that was my body heating up to burn out any disturbance turned on full-blast and my vision went red. It lasted over a week, and in that point, my right wrist could only be kept in one position or I would cry out. I was dragged to four doctors. The diagnoses were everything from rheumatoid arthritis to severe tendonitis. My mother, who was in the medical field, thought they were all wrong.
She happened to be right. She set up an appointment at the Cleveland Clinic with an arthritis specialist. From 9 a.m. to noon, three doctors passed me around and finally the arthritis doctor was no longer needed - I was in the care of an infectious disease specialist and an orthopedist.
They finally decided I had osteomyelitis, a common illness that is dangerous for bones in its latter stages. The small bone in my right arm had been eaten away, creating a crater. My doctors performed surgery the next day. The orthopedic surgeon scraped out the dead bone and inserted a thin 20-inch rubber line in my vein. I would have to wear a pack with an antibiotic-dispensing IV pump for a month, after which I would take the antibiotic in pill form four times a day for four months. I could not use my right arm because of the surgery or my left because of the IV.
One of the most difficult things to do without functional arms was showering. Then there was not being able to lift anything heavier than a piece of paper. At school I had to have a friend carry my books. I didn’t handle all this very well, I had trouble being helped with everyday tasks like taking milk from the refrigerator. It made me uncomfortable. I thought my helpers had more important things to do than assist poor me. I quickly learned reliance through forced dependence. I depended on doctors to make the right decisions. I depended on friends and family to do what I could not. All this dependence made me realize how much we all rely on each other.
This experience prompted a big change in the way I go about life. Change creates difficulties, but because of my arm, I chose to look at it as a time to learn.
I still remember watching the snow coming down like white rain suspended on strings. I remember wanting to shatter the window and romp in it. But, as I stood in the doctor’s office during my second visit to the Cleveland Clinic, staring 12 stories down at the little ants running to their cars, I realized something quite life-altering. I realized that the snow, the building, the doctors and nurses, the bone in my arm that was growing back, and the gray-white clouds all relied on something bigger. My physical illness showed me, at that moment, its greater purpose: that we all need to learn about dependence.
This reliance on others was beautiful to learn and still is three years later. Through that winter window, I finally opened my eyes to the fact that if we all relied on each other completely, we would still not make up for all our shortcomings. There was a greater lesson of dependence to be learned by leaning with our full weight on the One who has no shortcomings.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.