I Am Spicie Because I Am Unbreakable

I Am Spicie Because I Am Unbreakable

By Carrie Eckles

I was three years old when I first realized that I wasn’t like everyone else. I ached and I was tired all the time. But I ignored it, because I told myself I was the only one and there was nothing that could be done about it. However, my parents noticed the fatigue and the inexplicable bruising. They took me to the doctor who took my white count and was pretty sure I had leukemia. Upon further testing, I did not. So, the next thing he decided to test for was lupus. The problem was: lupus tests aren’t perfect now—they were obviously a lot less so in 1991. Consequently, I went through nearly 20 years of being undiagnosed and having lupus.

My health came and went. Sometimes, I was healthier than the other kids. (Like in first grade, where the only thing that kept me out was the unavoidable chicken pox.) Other times, I was unreasonably sick. I was punished for it by the school who threatened to fail me because I’d had the flu twice and pneumonia three times and each time the doctor demanded I be out of school for a week. In Alabama, at the time, you could only be absent for twenty days per school year. Needless to say, I was absent too much every year. The only thing that saved me was my intelligence. They could not reasonably hold back a child who was not only passing, but doing well, despite missing countless days.

But it wasn’t easy, because, you see, I was dyslexic. However, because I taught myself to read before the age of four, and I could literally define every word they gave me—even words at a high school level—no one noticed. They just thought I read slowly or that I was lazy. In truth, I read slowly. Very slowly. It took me sometimes half a year to finish a book another child could read leisurely in six weeks or less. Reading out loud was torture, and I was made to do it all the time which I’m pretty sure was in an attempt to encourage me to read faster, when all it did was humiliate me. Any adult human being with decency or sense would’ve seen there was a problem and got me help.

But I knew where help got people. My sister, one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever known and an IQ that is off the charts was held back because she was dyslexic. I saw the torture she went through, the literal physical and verbal abuse from the other kids, the derision of adults who were meant to be her teachers. I determined that that would not be me. So, instead of letting on that I thought I had dyslexia like she did, I hid it by pretending to be a careless ditz. But that was just a necessary ploy; if they thought I was lazy they would just chastise me—they wouldn’t put me in special ed or hold me back (like they did to everyone else with the same issues). In the meantime, I was studying secretly outside of school. My mom and I taught me multiplication, because I see numbers backwards and upside down as well as well as letters. I left third grade not knowing how to multiply (everyone else did); I came back to fourth grade knowing it just fine.

Carrie Eckles: Spicie and unbreakable

Carrie Eckles: Spicie and unbreakable

The thing is: I learned in elementary school that I had disabilities that would be punished in school and in life; I had to try harder and be smarter than everyone else to make up for them in the real world. By seventh grade, my literary comprehension was better than most college graduates. My old reading teacher, who was by then my literature teacher once more, told me, with the greatest amount of shock in her eyes, that I was free to read anything in the library. That triumph taught me that my parents and myself—even my little sister, who helped me learn out to overcome my dyslexia—could teach me better than those public school teachers who were only ever nice to me after that time I nearly died.

A dark shadow was cast over my seventh grade triumph. My whole life, I had constantly and stubbornly fought illness until it got so bad I had to go to the doctor. I was sick too often to go to the doctor when something is in its early stages, like a normal person. Unfortunately, when I was twelve, it wouldn’t have mattered if I had.

I came home from a miserable field trip where our driver got so lost down south we were seeing palm trees—I came home and I collapsed. That night I screamed in pain when I came to. And that wasn’t like me. I’d been hiding my pain well, but suddenly it was unbearable.

To make a long story short, no doctor could figure out what was wrong with me. I was hurting over my appendix; that was the only symptom that pointed to what the real culprit was: appendicitis. Most people die of untreated appendicitis after several days: I had it six months. I was sent to a pediatric gynecologist as a last resort to determine what was wrong with me. He did exploratory surgery and when he saw my appendix, it was black and fell off in his hand: I had a dead appendix inside of me for who knows how long? I had the rare condition called “chronic appendicitis”; so rare, in fact, that many doctors still don’t believe it exists. (The ones around here now do.)

But the doctor was a moron. He didn’t know how to take out an appendix. He didn’t give me any sutures on the inside and my surgery area burst giving me the complication of peritonitis. It was called by the doctors and nurses who treated me as the most painful thing a human being can literally ever experience. Think about them. Sweating and panting, I told them surely burning alive or torture was worse. I was wrong; they were right.

My kidneys failed, so they handed me over to a ridiculous renal specialist who let them fail further. He said I was sick because I’d been given too much Tylenol; I hadn’t had Tylenol in years, and I’d only had one Aleve in the past month. I swelled so much that I couldn’t be touched without fluid from my body exploding everywhere. I had to walk to maintain the meager amount of kidney function I had. Because my kidneys failed, I couldn’t have pain medicine. One nurse who treated me actually had peritonitis. She likened childbirth as a walk in the park compared to what I was going through.

I was in septic shock. Over half of all people with septic shock die of it. I was dying. Literally dying. And sometimes I begged to die, at first. But when I felt myself leaving my body—and you can feel it, believe me—I realized I was being given a choice and I realized that I wanted to live. I realized that I was going to live, no matter how low the odds or how hard I had to fight for it—I was going to live and nothing would stop me.

Luckily, a very young surgery fellow came in and saw that I was dying and I had recently had a surgery at another hospital. My mother told him the story and he knew there must be a connection. (She already knew, and so did my dad.) He ordered an ultrasound and went to find the Chief of Surgery. My mom told the ultrasound tech what happened and insisted the tech scan my appendix. Bingo. She was right, and it was good, because it meant that we now knew what was wrong with me and knowing that was the first step to surviving. My mom’s quick-thinking saved my life. And while she was living, I hope I paid her back in the same. I tried.

The Chief of Surgery was brilliant and he fixed me. He told my mom, “Your daughter is very sick, Mrs. Eckles, but that is what we do here: we fix sick children.” Everyone in my family seems to die on the 19th of the month. My mom held her breath as I made it through the 19th and she knew I was going to live. I wish I had had her confidence, because recovery was damned hard.

After my surgery, I had an 8x4xGod-knows-how-deep gash in my abdomen. If I rose up on my elbows, I could see my own guts as they routinely cleaned them with saline and gauze. I watched my parents learn how to do it. I could only be on morphine so long, so I had to quickly learn how to desensitize myself to have my innards being poked on. Easier said than done, but I did it.

I also had to learn how to walk again, because an important nerve leading to the leg was severed in the surgery. I thought I was doing good until the first time I tried to roller skate (which used to be one of my best talents) after my abdomen healed—it was ridiculously horrible. (I learned to ice skate, instead, and that went well for some reason—go figure.)

I had to lay for another half-year with an open wound in my abdomen. My parents, sister, and grandparents—whoever was around, really—had to learn how to do the gauze-and-saline routine. As I got stronger, I even cleaned my own gut-wound. That’s a unique experience, believe me. During that time, I fought off multiple post-operative infections and when my wound finally healed, it was determined that I would indeed survive (which I already knew, despite how crappy I felt). Life got good for a while. I went to the beach; I was able to hang out with my friends. I went from being a dying invalid to being able to do a thousand crunches a day in a year’s time. Kids heal quicker than adults—true, but determination is key. If you decide you are going to live, chances are you just might.

Our happiness was to be short lived. A year after I recovered, my mom got sick. There were long stretches were she was on the hospital and I had to take care of my family. My sister was quickly becoming a teenager and I did the best I could for her, being only a teenager myself. My mom had always been our primary caregiver, as she was a stay-at-home mom. By then, my dad had to juggle both work and taking care of us kids. It was a learning curve, but he got the handle of it and we all put our energy into supporting Mom getting better, just as she supported all of us our whole lives.

There’s a lot I’m still not ready to talk about. There’s a lot I just can’t talk about. Not now. But you should know that my mom died unexpectedly. She was getting better when she died and she died of something that wasn’t even her main health issue. It was simply unexpected. It was a blow, a blow a million times worse than my ordeal with peritonitis. I had never been so sad or so scared in my life.

But I was the decision-maker. Sick with lupus and fibro and battling crippling Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, I did EVERYTHING to fight for my mom’s life, the way she fought for mine. I was emotionally assaulted in ways I just can’t talk about—by people who should’ve been helping. And though my mom did not survive, I did her proud by being strong. And along with my sister, I delivered her eulogy. And I will share with you the one thing about her I want you to know: My mom was the best person I ever knew. She was kind and loved us perfectly. Her love was unconditional, but she still guided us to be better people. And every second she breathed, the world was a better place.

That’s literally what I said. And the reason I’m sharing that with you Spicie readers is become my mom was someone you should’ve known. She was damned Spicie and because her life was cut short, I’m always going to share her goodness with the world. She taught me to be good in turn, and I know that that’s the legacy she wants me to leave. It’s the legacy I want to leave.

Sometimes I disappear when bad things happen to me. It’s not because I am a wimp or a wuss who is broken. It’s because I am gathering strength.

I am Spicie because I am unbreakable.

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