My near-death experience
By William Bowman
Breakfast: an egg sandwich, bowl of oatmeal, yogurt, granola, peanut butter, two pieces of toast, various fruit, an apple. A giant, red pippin. Some 1500 calories; and this is just one meal of the day.
Louis Cimit, the Pilipino CNA with a shaved head, rotted teeth like Stonehenge and a Rolex around his wrist, sits as I eat and tells me of his impoverished family: eight people, one fish, some veggies and rice to share. They eat everything: fish eyes, skin, even the marrow, breaking bones and sucking them like straws.
As he talks, every bite feels like I’m betraying him, not to mention my principles of austerity, simplicity and moderation. But I eat it all. 100 percent, as the doctor’s order goes. Why?
On April 11, 2014, I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa. When diagnosed, my heart beat was 33 bpm resting, about 40 active. Looking back, I now know the cold flushes, difficulty focusing, sensitivity to cold and a lack of hunger were all signs of my body slowly shutting down.
I nearly killed myself. Like pills and alcohol, uninformed austerity and hyper-disciplined exercise are a deadly cocktail.
To heal, I have to eat. A lot. I try to be thankful, but I’m constantly full, bloated, crapulent, gaseous and feel I’m betraying my principles.
As another part of my treatment, a hospital staff member sat at each meal. I conversed and connected with many of them, some on a very intimate level.
Jennifer, the middle-aged soccer mom with a ponytail and a husband addicted to video games. This hurts her, a lot.
Luisa, the wiggly ex-realtor who smiles and said “That’s good!” or “That’s wonderful!” at everything I say. She quit her job to learn to nurse in order to care for her stage-3 husband at home.
Rachael, the closed off pre-med with librarian glasses and a chip on her shoulder, burned out on nursing, ready for a break. During one conversation, she said, “Life is suffering; those who learn to get through it are those who do the best in this world.”
Life is full of suffering. I know this first-hand. Buddha affirms it, and the apostle Paul writes in Philippians 1 of his longing to be free of the work and suffering of this world and be with Christ.
Truth is, nurses and CNAs have their share of suffering. Way worse than mine. Some days, Rachael says, they get up and wonder why they do it. But each of them comes to work every day and tries to palliate the suffering of others. There’s great humanity in this.
These individuals broke bread with me (lots and lots of bread), laughed with me and cried with me. I grew to love them, and they me. I hope to pay them back. This story is part of that. And my thanking Being for the food and people in my life, no matter how much pain they cause me.
Thank you nurses and CNAs. I’ll eat a plate of curly fries for you.