When you have worms everything starts looking like worms. A string hanging off of your work blouse, a strangely twirly twig on the trail you’re hiking, your half-assed signature, spaghetti. But even weirder than how the thoughts of your parasites can consume you is the fact that at some point you had them and didn’t know it. That at some point you fell into the routine of life with no awareness of what was really happening inside of you. That’s the danger of comfort and routine I guess, that you can become so numb you don’t even know that something is terribly wrong.
It was a few days after returning from our volunteer/adventuring trip to Uganda Africa when I first noticed something was wrong. Ironically enough, we were sitting in my parent’s living room, visiting and watching go-pro footage of our Nile River rafting trip. My mom was sitting on the edge of her seat as if she were watching live footage and any moment would be the moment she finally loses her eldest and always uncomfortably incautious daughter to chasing another thrill.
“Oh my gosh! Jimmy did you see that?” My mother exclaimed. My father gave an affirming nod, obviously not quite as entrenched in the emotions of the video as my mother.
A stabbing pain in my side caused me inadvertently to hunch over and press both hands into the pain.
My wonderfully over-attuned and always worrying mother noticed before I did.
“Kristina are you okay? What’s wrong?”
I looked down at my hands curiously, as if just noticing I was in some kind of pain.
“I umm, I have no idea…”
After some discussion and the ruling out of an appendicitis, I did what I do best, get the attention off of me. Popcorn was made and video watching resumed. Some things in life are like that I guess. A sharp stab then you learn to ignore it. You go through the motions. You forget.
Forgetting can be dangerous though. The sharp stab wasn’t all I forgot. Once the video watching was complete and trip stories had been told to all interested, life went back to normal. I started back to work. I could shower and forget how awesome it is to have hot water, or even to have water, period. I could throw away leftovers without becoming sick at the thought of all those in the world who would give anything to have them. I complained when my air conditioner broke. I cursed at people in traffic. First world problems slowly started to seem like actual problems again. I could go days without thinking of the smiling faces of the children who have touched my heart in Uganda. Children who had every right to complain, but never did. Children who’s happiness was internal, intrinsically intertwined with their very being.
But weeks later, the ache had found new areas of my abdomen to settle in. The pain came and went and I noticed and forgot, an endless cycling dance. It wasn’t until the pain woke me in the night and I laid awake for hours imagining the Hungry Hungry Caterpillar children’s story playing out in my insides, that I finally broke down and called a doctor.
Moments after I shared my symptoms and recent travel history with the nurse, a bright eyed and bushy tailed physician entered the room. You would’ve thought I had come in with the cure for all diseases or something with how excited everyone was over my parasite-possible case. Northern Kentucky family doctors must not have many interesting patients to meet with. It wasn’t long before residents and students joined the team, and within minutes, I became everyone’s favorite specimen and next research topic.
My physician was bubbling over with excitement as he explained my pain was more than likely egg sacks of thousands of some unpronounceable parasite bursting in my organs. How can you smile and tell someone that? I remember thinking. But, before I knew it, we were both sitting there, awkwardly smiling. Smiling and talking about bursting egg sacks. I am sure I ended up in at least one med student’s dissertation. The Egg Sack Bursting, Nile River Rafting Patient, hell I’d even read it.
After a couple of months, two ER visits, several infectious disease appointments, numerous labs and many awkward photos shared with overly enthralled doctors later, it was determined I “had a few different parasites” and an intestinal infection likely caused from my parasite-filled-and-suppressed immune system.
Through the process I even learned first hand that there are reasons other than pregnancy to go to the hospital with your husband to get an ultrasound. That instead of crying with joy at the sight of a tiny human, there could be silent horror as all parties stare at the glowing screen in the dark imaging room, looking for aliens.
The funny thing was after all of that you would have thought the final prescription would have felt like the holy grail.
The fountain of youth.
The. Cure. Finally.
But it didn’t.
After eagerly picking up the supposed final prescription, racing home to get some fluid to take it with, I instead found myself pouring a glass of water, sitting at the kitchen table, and spinning the unopened prescription bottle around. Around and around. I watched as the text on the labeled side of the bottle became a blur. The past two months had been a blur. A blur of doctors, specialists, pharmacists and awkward conversations (where after having one too many drinks) I admit to near strangers my being pregnant with worms.
But as I sat there spinning, I thought of Uganda. I thought of the red dusty earth the beautiful soul-filled smiles. The simple living. The gratefulness despite any amount suffering. It’s funny how we can be inspired and changed for the better then allow ourselves to fall back into the comfort of first-world-living and that mindless routine that makes you think you somehow have the right to complain.
There would be hundreds, thousands of people in the world with the same parasites and infections as me but no options. No bushy tailed doctors, no ultrasounds, no “final” prescriptions. If my parasites had given me anything, it was perspective. They had reminded me of the true danger of forgetting.
Before I took that first pill though, I did something. I found a photo of smiling faces of some of the Ugandan children I volunteer with. I studied the photo. The early afternoon light splayed out over gleaming smiles, bright eyes, and the almost unnoticeable scars and over-delineated jawlines and cheekbones that marked a life that had been and always would be, harder than mine.
In that moment I thanked the parasites. I vowed to be sure to never lose perspective. I vowed to always remember the gratefulness in those smiles. And I prayed for the ongoing drive and perseverance to serve all people everywhere while allowing myself to be forever changed, for the better, along the way.
And as I sat there, I vowed to never forget.
Thank you for reading! If you feel so compelled to help people with preventable and treatable health conditions across the globe, consider a donation to UNICEF.