I sat down in my office at the university, breathed in deeply, and sighed. I had visions of this moment. When I was laying in bed at the hospital, or at home, where the hours were endless. I pictured it in my mind. I would say to myself
“Just hang on. You will get back there. You will get to do your work again. You will get to teach again. I know you miss your students. Just hang on.”
I returned to work this past July. Very part time. Like 1 day a week. I was so excited. I thought it would mean that I get to return to my life. I expected that I would feel so good, that I would be welcomed back with great enthusiasm, and I would be able to teach, write, and do my research.
I was welcomed back by my colleagues – most with great enthusiasm. Many expressed their relief. I got a lot of hugs. It was awesome.
For the first couple of weeks I did feel amazing. I was so happy to be back in the world. It was nice, weird even, to see people who weren’t wearing scrubs, a lab coat, or a stethoscope. Although I will admit there was a part of me that was apprehensive and I missed my medical team. I knew in my mind that this ‘missing them’ was not healthy. It had become, for all intents and purposes, a survival instinct. Having them around to give me comfort is not what well people do. (Note that I wrote ‘has become’ and changed it to ‘had become’. Not sure I am over this one).
All was well until our first department meeting. I discovered that the environment I had left, for better and for worse, was the same. The same issues were being discussed and deliberated. There were a few new faces which was nice to see, but mostly the same faces and the same stories. There were many familiar ones with smiles, and the other familiar ones without. It was nothing personal. And that’s what bothered me. In this place, there was nothing personal. It was cold, grey, uninviting, unwilling.
Life, at the university, was the same.
What is different is me.
Because now I was unsure.
Whenever I go to the hospital for followup visits, the walls remain comfortably cracked, the paint is peeling off the wall revealing years of shades underneath, there are racks of linen bags lining the halls, and dark gurneys waiting to be cleaned. Some might think this bleak. I do not. Because I know what happens here. Around the corner you see your favourite nurse. Which one? You ask. Well. They are all my favourites, really. Some you’ve been through some stuff with, others simply brought you a hot cup of tea in the middle of the night because your stomach was upset, or they brought you an extra hot blanket because you were so cold. And still others have heard of you because you were ‘that case that night’ as others nod their heads and marvel that you are able to stand on two feet. It was easy to focus on these beautiful moments, these incredible people, while your body was busy making other plans. It is easy to focus because there are so many moments I have captured in my mind that bring up such terror but are quickly followed by joy and complete gratitude. And these people are relative strangers, but they are my family now.
Staying with this family was never the plan. They are amazing people but they are the kind you don’t want to see all that often because when you do come together to celebrate you usually have a complete blow out party. A party of a different sort. That the hangover you have afterward should be best kept to a once a year, once every couple of years, or even a once a decade event. Kind of like a High School Reunion. You don’t want to have very many of those, but you do think about those people fondly.
In this place, I was constantly in such horror, I felt such terror, I was in so much pain, I was so weak I couldn’t lift my arms, my legs were useless, I couldn’t walk. Yet, my family was there, lifting me up, encouraging me to get out of bed. Celebrating when I walked my first 6 feet to the door of my room. They wept when I wept, they held me sometimes without asking because they just knew that was exactly what I needed. They told me what was normal and were honest with me that when I asked directly, what had happened to me wasn’t normal. And in the next immediate breath they would say, don’t worry we are all here to figure this out together.
I have discovered something in the months since my return to work. Something that has become so very prevalent and that I hadn’t expected to feel so strongly about. I had hoped that I would feel an intense joy at coming back to work, that I would be able to jump back into this world and the research I had begun with such fervour that everything would just click, and music would begin to play.
What I discovered when I returned to work, however, was this.
I am not the same.
Not even remotely.
I don’t know who I am anymore.
Here I am an imposter.
I have become someone different.
I have become someone better.
My two worlds have collided.
So. Now. What’s next?