That Time The Internet Didn’t Let Me Down.
For most of my life I’ve planned on people letting me down.
It seemed like the safest course of action.
Lots of people have shitty tales of grief and woe in their lives: my own form of ick is nothing extraordinary.
My personal coping mechanisms have pushed away friends and opportunities repeatedly over the years.
For the most part, I kept the world at arms’ length, cultivating an image on social media that my own reality has never quite lived up to.
Sure, there’s people I talk to online — but long ago I somehow fixed on the idea I’m most likely just an internet amusement for people to interact with, an odd diversion and entertainment to be cast aside when no longer convenient.
At some point amongst a number of various historical personal betrayals, I decided internet friendships weren’t real, and weren’t to be trusted [I’m sorry.]
Recently I got sick. Really sick. It happened slowly at first, small symptoms I ignored for months and months — and then it all got bad, fast.
Occasionally I made attempts to seek help. A few visits to the GP. Some inconclusive follow-up tests. A couple of haphazardly planned late-night trips to the emergency room, on weekends when baby-sitting was available for my son. Nothing really ever got figured out — and my health continued to deteriorate.
Eventually I gave up on doctors and hospitals: an extension of my decision to give up on trusting people. And because I’d decided I couldn’t rely on anyone, I just pushed on through intense pain for a number of months. Months turned into years. The symptoms got worse.
Some days the pain was just a muted ache, while at other times it was a stabbing sharp knife between every joint and a pitch-fork in my right side. During the days I told myself I was simply being weak, and whispered to myself to buck the fuck up. And at night I told myself I wasn’t allow to think I was seriously ill: that I had to stop the self-indulgent pity party.
Days were a grind to get to the end, and then an effort to fall asleep so I could have the energy to meet the responsibility of the next day and the next and the next.
I committed wholeheartedly to distractions. Work. Parenting. Campaigns. Twitter.
Towards the end of last week the pain got so bad I started posting openly online about it, in bald-faced desperation. Eventually I was forced to seek help at a hospital emergency room. I was suffering the same symptoms as always yet again — and after a perfunctory examination by a young doctor, some pain meds, and no diagnosis, was told I was free to go home if I wanted to.
I didn’t want to go home. I was in pain. I needed a diagnosis so I could figure out a treatment plan to get well. But I’d been told answers weren’t likely forthcoming anytime soon.
“The doctor is fine for you to leave if you want to.” I tried to ask about exit papers, follow-up on results, and pain management — but in the hallway a man was spasming on a trolley, and nurses and doctors rushed by in a panic.
I waited on the edge of my cubicle bed, hoping someone would hand me discharge papers, and advice on what to do next – but no one would give me any answers. So after half an hour more of waiting, I left.
Once back at home things didn’t get any better. The stabbing pain in my side got considerably worse, and I started chucking up constantly.
So I organised a babysitter for my son yet again, and made the decision to go back to hospital. It was the last place I wanted to revisit, but I was out of options.
I made a half-assed attempt to hail a taxi from the side of the road. The edges of fences and buildings rippled dully, a greenish-grey. Everything felt flat. I felt cold and tired. The fight had dropped out of me.
While I tried to catch a cab, a Sydney-based friend I knew mostly through Twitter — and a very few brief face-to-face catchups over the years — messaged me worriedly, over and over again.
Sometimes I responded to the messages my friend from the internet from Sydney kept sending – and sometimes I ignored him. I checked my phone occasionally between attempts to catch my breath and battle down the nausea. It all felt a bit hopeless. I was in Melbourne. My friend from Sydney from the internet had family and a partner hundreds of kilometres away from me in Sydney. So he cared, so what? It was all just words on the internet.
After vomiting for the fifth time, I found an alleyway tucked away from the noise of the traffic, somewhere sheltered to hide the shame of sickness like a hurt animal. And I sat down.
I remember watching the clouds, watching the ants crawling near my hand, the bluestone cobble-stone lane and thinking how nice the cold ground would feel against my head.
The next thing I remember is a pair of men’s leather shoes right up near to my face, and a very worried middle-aged man’s voice telling me he’d called an ambulance and everything was going to be fine. Goddamit.
And my phone ringing, and the stranger taking the phone from my hand, and my friend from the internet from Sydney on loudspeaker, saying he was getting on a plane and would meet me at the hospital. I remember laughing to myself silently at the ridiculous outlandishness of the suggestion someone — anyone — would fly across the country to help me.
I only remember snippets of time from then on. The ambulance trolley clunking me along the ground. The tattoos on the arm of a paramedic. A young nurse who called me a name I won’t repeat when I tried to query where my patient wrist-band was. The point where I decided to quit talking. A concerned female doctor who told me she thought “the therapeutic relationship may have broken down as a result of decisions made the night before,” while I stared at the cotton knit of the hospital blanket.
And then my friend from the internet from Sydney walked into my hospital cubicle in Melbourne.
He’d gotten on a plane, flown 713 kilometres and made good on one of the oldest internet trolls ever, the best rick-roll yet: “never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down, never gonna run around and desert you.”
He followed through on all the internet bluster of friendship, and turned up when it counted.
I didn’t have to argue through pain that I was ill or needed help. My friend from the internet from Sydney sat beside me for an entire week, looking after me every step of the way.
He spoke for me when I couldn’t speak. Guarded over me like a watchdog to keep me safe. Advocated for me. Intervened when necessary. Reminded nurses and doctors which tests were needed. Organised my medications. Helped doctors decide which meds to use to keep my inflammation levels down, which meds to use to stop the nausea. And reminded everyone about contraindications and allergies. Drove me to appointments. Let me fall asleep everywhere, all the time. Kept track of my medical documents. Helped me get the medical advice necessary to reassess medication levels. Booked the future medical tests I still need. Found me an excellent GP. Bought me a hot water bottle to keep me warm. Drove me back to hospital to have me hooked up again to an intravenous drip when I got dehydrated. Laughed with me at the terrible parts of the medical system, our families and the world at large. Reminded me regularly not to post on social media while under the influence of pain medication. Coddled me through the worst parts of dealing with the health system. Prodded me to start eating again. Reminded me of all the reasons I want to get well. Helped me manage to complete another chink in a project I want to continue working on, something that gives me an ongoing sense of purpose in existence.
And before he left, he organised someone else to act as my next-of-kin, in case I need another person to step-in and advocate for me again in the medical system. Someone nearby.
For the most part, the inane routine discomforts of a medical of medical emergencies have blended into a vague splodge of hospital beds, drips, needles, CT scans, blood tests and GP visits.
Yet some sharp memories of the last week are hard to erase: a rude medical specialist who prodded my side until I screamed, and that moment my friend from the internet from Sydney told him in a very clipped tone to “…please. stop.” And the asshole medical specialist bloody-well stopped.
And when the overworked hospital nurses were unable to find a cold pack, and the hospital ice machine ran out of ice? My friend from the internet from Sydney went to the supermarket and brought me a packet of frozen peas, to make-do. And it helped. He helped. I couldn’t have gotten through this week without him.
My friend from the internet from Sydney has filled in a lot of gaps since I left hospital. There’s stuff I don’t remember. How I told a nurse it was 1960 when asked the date, and then passed out. How I jerked from pain in my sleep repeatedly and woke myself up. How much more swollen my fingers were the day before today and every other day before that as well.
I’m still not well and don’t have a diagnosis. I don’t know what the future holds. Pain is a constant, but mostly manageable with medication for the moment. I’m on liquids and pureéd food for now.
Lots of things have changed. I have a good GP. A bunch of potential conditions have been ruled out. There’s a number of possible hypothesises, all awaiting further tests. The pain has been confirmed as real and we know there’s something really wrong.
But I now have one spectacular, brilliant, life-altering thing I didn’t have before: I have hope people will be there for me when I need them, and won’t let me down. My friend from the internet from Sydney gave me that.
I smiled a lot this week, more than I’ve smiled in a long time. Smiled despite jolting pain, smiled despite incapacitation and unavoidable humiliations. This has been a better week for me than any other in a long time, because it wasn’t alone.
“You’re getting better, you’re smiling,” my friend from the internet from Sydney said to me. And I am.