Personal Encounters with Illness

She was shaking, all curled up, with her eyes closed. I called her, and she managed to open her eyes just a little bit, but she wasn’t able to get up by herself anymore. I knew she was weak, as she was barely eating anything at all for the last couple of days. Her breathing was very shallow. She didn’t cry, the suffering was done in silence. Looking at her, I knew that if nothing would be done immediately, she would not be for long with us.

We rushed with her to the doctor. We stopped some cars on our way, when we crossed the street illegally caring her on a stretcher. I could barely hold my tears in. I just wanted to know what was wrong, to find the solution, and to make her feel better. It had to be this kind of equation. So I was just repeating these stages in my mind, almost like a mantra.

The diagnosis of the doctor was quick

The diagnosis of the doctor was quick. She had a severe infection of the uterus, so she had to be operated on right away, in order to have even a very slim chance of living. There was no warranty. Only some hope sustained by a great deal of love. I kept talking to her while she had painkillers, fluids, antibiotics and anesthetic. To reassure her that we are there with her, to reassure myself that I am there doing everything I can for her, only to annoy my brother and possibly the doctor with my gibberish.

While she was operated on, my family prepared her place. I was just hoping she will make it. After two and a half hours we got a call from the doctor. The operation went well, meaning she was still alive. We were warned that the next hours would be critical. I acknowledge that and at the same time I wanted to forget that. I was thinking that the time left should not be tainted in this way.

We took her quietly back home. She was barely breathing, not having the strength to open her eyes when we called her. We took turns watching her. There was nothing else to do than to lay by her side, while gently stroking her. I felt helpless. I hated it. I wished I could have eased her pain without the help of others.

The next day we called the doctor. He was away. He was able to come only a couple of hours later to check on her. When he finally arrived and eased her pain and gave her some fluids intravenously, I felt relieved as well.

I was checking up on her every couple of hours

The first 3 days I was checking up on her every couple of hours, giving her water slowly with a 10 ml syringe; around 3-4 syringes at a time – no more, as that was making her very tired. She was sleeping most of the time. Just resting. Barely moving her frame, hiding the only sign she was still alive. The doctor visited her daily and administered her antibiotics, fluids and painkillers, while I, on the other side, I kept my part of the deal, giving her water with the syringe and caressing her, hoping that she will get better, but trying not to allow myself to think that we’re safe. I was on alert. I was barely eating myself and had pain in my body. And somehow time seemed to go much slower than usual while I had to be away from her at work.

After three days she had some soup. She gained her appetite and was hungry, but still exhausted. We had to feed her small portions, every couple of hours, giving her time to recover. But this was a big step forward. Next day she had some yoghurt. Later on the same day, when the doctors came to check on her, she was so scared that she used all her force to get up, for the first time after surgery, and try to hide.

She was heavy to lift, although she lost much of her weight, I discovered that as I changed her position and massaged her every couple of hours, in order to prevent her legs going numb. I realized I had to manage my energy. I changed her daily and kept her clean. I’d never talked to her as much as I did the last week. I guess I was trying to make up for not having always time for her. She looked so different from the one I knew. Her eyes were so sad. I was missing the old her every day.

After 4 days she was able to hold her head up

After 4 days she was able to hold her head up for a little bit and on the fifth day she got up for a couple of steps. It was such a big effort for her, as she was shaking and breathing heavily afterwards. Slowly, hope began to feel at home and not a stranger anymore.

Today, one week after the surgery she started eating and we are tricking her daily into walking more and more by giving her treats along the way. If hope will stay with us, she will have at least one more week until she will recover. She is still not herself, although now, when you stop caressing her, she gently touches you in order to make you pay back attention to her.

She is one of the three dogs that I have at home. She is called Zizi. She had Pyometra, an infection of the uterus and she underwent surgery last week. She has been with us for eight years and she is part of the family.

I rethink my research on illness narratives

Last week life happened and it made me rethink about my research on illness narratives. Before Zizi got sick, I guess I felt in a strange way reassured that illness can’t be part of my life. I was studying illness narratives, so in my unconscious logic, illness was not allowed to enter my personal life as I was giving it the attention and the space in my research. Studying illness was supposed to give me a sort of immunity in real life to this or at least an advantage over it. I just realized this now, when I felt overwhelmed by this episode. My unconscious logic had nothing to do with cockiness over life or simply naivety. I know it had to do with trust, hope and belief. But I also know that if I would have to define illness, for me it would be about losing control, and that includes trust, hope, and belief – all together. I guess this is something that life decided I needed to be remind of.

I always get the question what is the relation between my personal biography and my research. I did start researching illness narratives a couple of years ago when my grandmother was very sick. I was trying to understand illness and make myself useful somehow in relation to my academic background. I wanted to put to good use that »Doctor« of Letters title. And from that moment, I knew it will not only be about searching, but about curing as well – first of all of myself. When my grandmother was sick a couple of years ago, I dreamed of her feeding Zizi on a snowy day. I remembered that dream the other days, when Zizi was sick and realized there were already at the moment four years since my grandmother was gone. She loved Zizi very much and I had a very special connection with my grandmother. This is why, when Zizi was on the verge of leaving us the other days, my only consoling taught was that maybe my grandmother needed her more than we do.