Saturday, September 29, 2012


I sat in a sterile room at Detroit Children’s Hospital listening to the doctor take roll call: Cellcept, Plaquenil, 81 mg Aspirin, Levoxyl, Naproxen, Vitamin D supplement, and Prednisone. I consumed these words practicing for the pills to come, but my heart sank as he fell down the list. Each interval bearing the weight of the reality that more pain loomed around the blank walls of sickness. Looking back, stomaching this information seems easy; she didn’t know what was coming.

Wave 1.
Fast breath and wake. Confusion. A rampant dream I can’t control. Its deadly grip forcing me to comprehend that this is real. There is nothing dreamy about this nightmare.

I began a regiment that lasted for the next year. Nearing ten pills a day, none affected me as much as Prednisone (a steroid that is used to subdue the immune system.) This is where my affair with food began, a lust affair. Everything on steroids looks tantalizingly edible, and any snack turned into a meal. We had just gotten our kitchen redone, and I had found a sanctuary within it. Pomegranates, apples, and oranges reflected off the beige granite begging for a taste of my mouth. The fruits on the counter were a mere offering of what the sub-zero refrigerator had in store. Milks, cheeses, lunchmeats, veggies, dressings, and more found their home in this chilled box. I ate all the time because I was always hungry, and it filled the gaps of confusion. The mist surrounding my life needed to be solidified by something, and food was satisfying.

Wave 2.
An epicenter becomes clearer. One knee, two knee. A pain so searing there must be a bomb inside my legs. I stagger to find my mom, but mothers don’t always know what to do.

The constant procession of food that fell into my mouth did not continue without consequence. Soon the weight of the food began to find permanent residence within my body, and the side effects of Prednisone became visible. My cheeks began to swell, and my embarrassed eyes hid beneath them. The structure of my face elicited comments like, “Are you packing nuts for the winter? Your cheeks are huge!” I could tell when kids at school were talking about me. The side glance in my direction and a whisper in a friend’s ear. Distance grew between me and the other kids. I started to personify food. It felt sorry for me and consoled me because I had lost the game.

Wave 3.
“Mom kill me, please just kill me. I can’t take it. Fuckin’ kill me.” She is sweeping my hair back. It sticks to the top of my head, matted by sweat and tears. I’ve never felt this pain before; I couldn’t have even comprehended if I tried.

My favorite food at this time was granola crunch. The sweet nodes of honey and sugar were followed by the deafening sound biting into the mixture. I would listen to the inside of my mouth, and tune out whatever stresses my parents released. The kitchen that year became the hub of all information. Everyone passed through and left an opinion lingering there to be kneaded, mixed, and cooked. As the toll keeper for the kitchen, I tasted everyone’s problems, but none stung as much as my father’s. The constant drain of the economy had made him a tired, jaded man. Financial hardships were his only topic of conversation. He didn’t understand that a house was supposed to be filled with love. He didn’t know I didn’t want that negativity and that the only toll I needed was a hug.

Wave 4.
Scream, bloody murder, SCREAM.

I had given up on academics at this time. The school shortened my schedule to a half-day so I could attend all my doctor’s appointments. Lucky me. In my half-day, I walked through the halls knowing that I was the ugliest thing in the world. People had a hard time looking at me; my friends couldn’t shoot me a straight stare. After a few hours of classes, I headed back home, walking parallel to the troop of students driving off to lunch with their friends. Upon my arrival home, I would sit in the kitchen waiting for my mom. My mother could always give me a straight stare, but I hated her stares because she would get teary eyed. There is nothing more pathetic than having your mother cry while you’re staring at each other, absolutely nothing.

Wave 5.
Two floors down, my brother has heard me cry. Seated on a chair across from my mother’s bed, he catches my eye. I can see him through my tears. My brother has always been overprotective, yet he just sits there. A helpless adult. There is nothing anyone can do for me. My mom and brother watch as my body is tortured, killing itself from within.

I had lost the game a while ago, positive that I had nothing left. I stopped any effort toward school and even tried to facilitate an imminent end. Sometimes, an end means a beginning of something new. Other times, it means that you’ve come to terms with things and you keep living them.

Today, I’m in the kitchen making dinner and writing a memoir. I watch as the steam escapes the rows of kernels on my corn; I am reflecting. What started as a prompt of my dietary restrictions, quickly transformed into a wave of emotion that was my life. I am better now, and sometimes I’m even happy. Sure, I have Lupus, but if I eat right and find control in life, then I can manage. Making sacrifices to preserve my health is a small compromise. I eat more vegetables, cut out most dairy, and relieve myself from stressful situations. Another flare up can always be around the corner, but everyone has pain. And this is my battle to fight. Although many people will try and offer empathy in times of pain, I’ve found the most important virtue is understanding. People want to be understood by everyone, or someone.


  1. Wow. Very powerful. I really like how you split it up into sections and and have food be at the basis of your story, but not the main point. I might suggest adding a bit more specifics about the disease because I was a bit confused even at the end. What exactly does lupus do? I don't think you should add anything if it takes away from the raw emotion though. Great job!

  2. Hey Katherine,
    I agree with Kelsey. This is a very powerful story, I enjoy the waves, because sickness itself definitely comes in waves. That's a great structural thing. I would suggest bring up Lupus earlier as well, I don't really understand the disease and I think this story could really bring powerful insight into that. At the end of the first paragraph you say, "she didn’t know what was coming," did you mean I? I was just a little confused there. Small thing, just a suggestion. I also received really awesome advice once, I can't remember where from, to say the big things in writing quietly. At times if you were less explanatory, and a little more subdued, the sadness in the story may prevail more. Just something to think about. I really love the way food threads through this. Thank you for sharing.

  3. I most definitely agree with Kelsey and Kate. You're story is incredibly moving and powerful. I really appreciate the way you describe food in relation to your disease. I also like the ambiguity that you utilize but I think it could be channeled like Kate said to really let the feelings rise up. I also enjoyed the waves and thought you wrote beautifully about a very challenging event. Inspiring!

  4. Katherine,
    You mix the structure of this piece up so well by describing the progression of lupus in waves. I really enjoyed the pace this structure helped me maintain while I was reading.
    Like Kate, Kelsey, and Taylor, I found your memoir really powerful. The emotion you describe seems so raw and evocative. I understand Kate and Kelsey's sentiment that you could mention lupus earlier, but I actually enjoyed the guessing game before it was revealed. Perhaps you could add a few more symptom hints to explain the disease before you name it at the end?
    Can't wait to discuss this tomorrow!

  5. Hey hey Katherine,

    I agree with what has been said before: some specifics about lupus would clarify a lot, I for one am not particularly familiar with the disease, but don't add anything if it detracts from the emotion.

    You kept my attention throughout your memoir. I enjoyed sentences like "the sweet nodes of honey and sugar were followed by the deafening sound biting into the mixture. I would listen to the inside of my mouth, and tune out whatever stresses my parents released." I have yet to read about sound and food in any reading thus far, and I hear the loud crunches in my head.

    Also, a small thing, you may want to change "empathy" in your last paragraph to "sympathy," as empathy.

    Thanks for sharing.

  6. Katherine,
    I was incredibly moved by this piece. From a technical standpoint, your format and writers voice works incredibly well. From an empathetic standpoint you know how to pull, and just how much to say in just how little words. VERY impressive. I will work more points in class. It's enough of a risk-taking piece that I'd rather talk in person with back and forth. Looking forward to it.

  7. I would just like to say that when I read the first line of your piece I thought "oh my gosh, another person who relies on a slew of medications to make their life bearable!" I might not have lupus, but I too am very familiar with the waiting rooms in hospitals.
    Also, something I forgot to mention in class about the medications: as I have a mother who works in a hospital (she does anesthesia) and a sister well on her way to becoming a doctor, I know what most of the medications you mention do, but I'm betting a lot of people don't. When I give the long list of medications I take, I generalize what they do, like, this pill helps with athsma, or this other pill is what lets me breathe through my nose on a regular basis. If you add a word or two about what the medications do, I think it will give readers a better idea of what you were going through and I think that's important, since the symptoms of lupus are unique to each person who has it.