Adult Adolescent in Limbo
By Dom Dawes
Discussed: Chronic illness
Shortly after their admittance to the NYU Langone hospital for what began as unexplained dizziness, Dom turns 18, and they are confronted by reality cloaked in black fur.
A knock woke me from sleep. Sitting up in bed, I let out a tired, “Come in.”
In walked a lady wearing purple scrubs, the uniform for NYU Langone nurses. From the sound of the wailing baby down the hall, this was the pediatric floor. As much as I loved to tell people I’d be 18 in a few days, it didn’t change the fact that I was still in an adolescent body.
“Hello,” she said. “I’m here to take your blood.” She felt familiar, but paired with the stress of classes and graduation, I couldn’t differentiate faces and voices with masks. This hospital stay would either make me miss graduation in two weeks or massively mess up my incomplete salutatorian speech.
Rather than focus on hypotheticals, I asked a ‘reasonable’ question: “How many times a day will you all be drawing my blood?” At the previous hospital, they drew blood before sending me here under the assumption I was having a stroke. At this hospital, they did the same this morning, and now they wanted more.
Though recent doctors’ visits had erased my fear of needles, they had not erased my iron deficiency. I didn’t want fainting from it to extend my visit. “We’ll be drawing it twice a day to track your blood count, iron levels, and your reaction to steroids.” I nodded as my thoughts drifted.
Did I mention on Saturday, they placed me on steroids? No? Well, steroids are a part of my treatment for the chronic disease attacking my nerve cells called multiple sclerosis. I’ve had it since freshman year, and it went undiagnosed.
What I needed to ask was the crucial question I’d been dying to have answered since entering the ambulance four days before, yet I kept forgetting. “Can my cat be brought here?”
Her cheeks plumped under her mask in a smile as she closed a vial of my dark red blood. I knew it was silly, but my fluffy friend was probably starving at home. He usually ate three times a day. Papas kept me from being lonely with his cute snores and adorable ears. I got him following a psychiatric visit for what I now know is depression because Covid prevented in-person interactions with human friends.
“No, there are patients with allergies, and there’s the issue of your cat using the bathroom.” I… hadn’t thought that far ahead.
I hummed in understanding. I raised my head as a lightbulb illuminated. “So, he can’t stay in here with pee pads? I’ll change them twice a day. He’s also too scared of others to leave the room, so you don’t have to worry about him roaming the halls.” She laughed as she shook her head. “The morning nurse assigned to you is allergic—” How allergic? “Severely allergic,” she added.
“Sorry, that was a silly question.” She shook her head as she removed the needle from my forearm. “No. You’ve been to a few hospitals this week, so I understand missing him.” Her empathy alleviated my anxiety, so my usual humor returned. “It would’ve been funny to see him spooked by the doctors and nurses walking in. He’d hide.” She chuckled.
We began discussing my diagnosis, because I was confused after having gone down a rabbit hole of articles related to my symptoms, ultimately leading to my hypothesis: I have relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis— possibly.
My first flare-up lasted for weeks and went untreated, then eventually, three years later, it flared up again. However, the main difference was this more recent flare-up was visible to doctors, so they couldn’t pin my physical illness on mental illness. My hypothesis was valid, considering I fit a few of the symptoms criteria. So far, the symptoms I noticed were numbness, problems with balance and coordination, and vision problems.
The issue with my hypothesis was it usually started in those 20 or older, but my first flare-up happened when I was 15. “Do I have relapsing-remitting MS?”
“You do. Dr. Krupp told you yesterday. You must’ve forgotten.” Oh. Memory loss was another symptom.
She left, and I fell asleep.
I awoke to the sound of munching. My mother caved and returned to the hospital after I pleaded to stay alone once diagnosed because I’m almost an adult.
“I brought you food. It’s on the table beside you.” I nodded as I reached over and grabbed the paper bag. Inside was a salad and a pastry, perfect for a vegetarian.
Almost—adults need help too.
Aside from the piece being real-world events, I was inspired by a friend poking fun at what she refers to as an ‘obsession’ with my cat. The four-legged explorer was not always as open as he is now, so I enjoy introducing him to new spaces. Using videos I recorded and sent to friends during my hospital stay, I was able to document my experience as close to the actual events as possible. With the help of my dear mentor, Forsyth, I discovered that exact accuracy in real-world accounts is not necessary, as long as it does not alter the overall plot of the story or its key details.
Dominique Dawes is a 17-year-old high school senior who was born in Florida but raised in the Grand Cayman Islands. After immigrating to New York at 10, her teachers immediately recognized her for her writing potential and her strong leadership skills. After years of writing stories and poems while taking honors courses and advanced placement courses, she eventually recognized her love for writing. Now Dominique hopes to further pursue her dream of writing and owning a publishing firm after she finishes college, which she begins this fall.