It was close to midnight. The possibility of me dying on the ER bed got me thinking, "Was I ready to go?"
Have I done what I needed to do on earth?
Will my life end with one daughter beside me, another at home, and my husband thousands of miles away?
"How bad is your pain?" the young doctor had asked earlier.
"Ten." The only time I scaled that high was during the birthing of my firstborn, like a pole had pierced my innards (imagine a roasting pig).
But this lacerating pain under my diaphragm, burning all the way to the back was unlike the heartburn that had me crawling on the floor years ago.
“I retched, but no food came out,” I said.
"Any alcohol intake?"
The doctor must be suspecting the same thing—acute pancreatitis. I wouldn’t have rushed to the hospital had I not thought of dying in my sleep.
"No. Would kombucha count?"
My kitchen had turned into a mini-lab from all my experimentations, hoping food and gut health would tame an autoimmune disease I still couldn’t put a finger on.
He smiled and shook his head.
My lips quivered. He gave me a tissue to wipe the tears off my eyes. "Would you want morphine?"
Why did it sound like he took me for one of those patients who’d rush to the ER for a quick script fix?
"No, please. No opioids. I'd rather endure the pain than throw up all night."
"What about Tylenol? Toradol? You want an NSAID?"
“No, nothing by mouth.” I curled on my stomach and gagged.
“Oh yeah, right.”
“Maybe Toradol,” I whispered. That was strong enough for this kind of pain. “No allergies,” I said.
Another gut-tearing episode made me grip the side rails of the bed. I gritted my teeth while the tears flowed down my cheeks.
The nurse straightened my right arm, inserted the needle, and ran an IV. “Zofran and Toradol in.”
In a matter of minutes, the pain subsided. I heaved out a sigh.
The respite made me ponder over my fragile existence.
I wasn't ready to go. Despite all the things I had done to live a good life, I had failed to do one thing.
How was it that I worried less about the people I’d be leaving than the thought of confronting my Maker on the other side of this realm?
Once again, that sense of foreboding that drove me to quit a job I loved in 2015 was back.
That nagging voice producing the nagging writer’s itch is tearing my gut apart.
“Tell your story.” It was a command I heeded. I wrote and finished the novel in three months but it had languished in the never-world, bruised and battered.
And the command wouldn’t let out. “Tell your story.”
Another attempt at telling fizzed out at Chapter 10 in 2018. Was it just last year?
And now a memoir? My success at finishing the half-marathon last February despite my bodily aches and joint pains should have made it into the pages, but I sputtered at Chapter 1.
What was there to tell, when all I hear is “Show don’t tell?”
And I have nothing to show.
I hadn't accomplished anything significant like Mother Teresa or any of the great saints. I hadn't changed the world like Martin Luther King or Bill Gates. I hadn't done anything extraordinary like Malala.
What was so special about being born in a place where sirens sounded at 9:00 pm to herald the curfew, while armed men would shout, "Go home, kids or you'll get shot?”
People in some areas of this universe suffer the same fate, even worse.
Or to grow up in a house where petromax lit the night, and later on, generators would shut down as the curfew ensued. Some people still live in that condition.
Or how I converted as a Catholic after seeing a man walk and hearing God talk? I'm sure people will merely scoff.
Would anyone be interested in learning how I moved from that remote town in Asia to North America? Maybe not. That's nothing original.
Or how my family traveled to Germany, France, Italy, coursed through Switzerland in a train and rode a car running more than a hundred miles per hour on the Autobahn to Austria with a toddler in tow, two weeks before the move? That's something you read a lot in Travel magazines.
Maybe people may find it amusing if I told them how our family of four landed in this foreign land and how a white girl got scolded by her mom for pointing at the seven brown boxes we loaded on a trolley. Or was she looking at our brown skin? Children don't usually notice skin colors. But brown boxes are not that rare in the LA airport either.
Even my recently diagnosed disease, though rare-sounding, isn't as rare and fatal as the other diseases out there. What's the buzz about Sjogren's Syndrome anyway? I can't even pronounce it correctly. It rolls off like dry sawdust on my tongue. The other autoimmune and inflammatory symptoms I feel are so common nowadays. It’s rarer to find a person who has not had any. My trivial accomplishments in the land of the USA surely wouldn't spark any interest. Who would want to hear:
How I learned how to drive a manual transmission car in three days?
How I passed the driver's test in one take with my eyes closed as I backed up the SUV between four poles?
How I switched roles from being the sole breadwinner of the family to being a full-time housewife in six years?
How I lost pounds and weigh even less than my pre-marriage weight without going through some fancy diet?
How I was able to get back to running after hurting my back and suffering from chronic low back pain for seven years?
How I coped when my first-born moved to college and adopted pets that I fed and fed me?
How I earned as a writer by going back to my roots and blogged for websites?
How I realized that although the writer's life looked fun, it entailed a lot of hard work, and therefore, not something I wanted to do 24/7?
How I'm marrying my passion for cooking with my medical training through Culinary Medicine?
How I passed the Certification for Professionals in Healthcare Quality after four years of being a stay-at-home mom?
It may sound like big feats for me, but was it worth telling a story?
My accomplishments in a developing country in Asia perhaps is more interesting.
How I won a beauty pageant judged by two Miss Universe title holders, Gloria Diaz and Margie Moran when I was 18?
And how I burned the best in swimsuit photo, much to Mama's chagrin when I entered the Carmelite Monastery?
How I first ran the 10-K when I hated running?
How I learned how to windsurf even when I didn't know how to swim?
How I climbed the mountains of the last frontier of the Philippines wearing rubber slippers alongside tribal minority men for three days?
How I covered the plight of the Vietnamese refugees in the Union Catholic Asian News without pitching the story?
How I finished medical school paying 25 cents per semester?
How I passed the National Council Licensure Exam of the US state board of nursing while training to become an anesthesiologist?
Wouldn’t it all amount to bragging?
Paul’s words brushed my misgivings. “Whoever boasts should boast in the Lord.”
Should I then tell about...
How I saw a vision of my husband and daughters even before they came to be?
How I discerned that the married life was right for me, and the loud boy, whom I initially avoided was the one for me?
Or how I first started hearing a Voice that guided me through it all?
I had one job. And I had yet to deliver.
The parable of the talent served as a reminder. He who feared and buried his coin got dinged forever.
If I die now, I‘m doomed.
Please, Lord, give me one more chance.
The doctor came back with all my test results. “Everything’s negative.”
“That’s so weird,” was all I could say. He turned and left.
My 19-year-old daughter held my hand and from the mouth of babes came the strangest words. “Momma, maybe the pain was mystical.”
Was it God’s way of shocking my dreams with an ER paddle and jolting it back to life?
Okay, Lord, I will use this incident as my story prompt and abandon all previous efforts.
Surely piecing the Shimmering Images together according to Lisa Dale Norton would be easy.
But then again, I said that before. I hope this time, it's for real.
So here goes The Story of an Alien: A Memoir. Nothing extra-terrestial or illegal. It's all legit.
It all started in Manila, Philippines back in 1992, when I first heard the summon.