You know that old saying about life handing you lemons? This is my lemonade story.
At 29, I woke up one early-February morning with a numb left foot. It had been hanging off the side of the bed while I slept, so I didn’t think much of it. I was sure that within a few minutes I’d get the pins and needles feeling as blood started circulating properly again. I didn’t.
What I did get was twitching in my foot that grew to twitching in my calf. I still didn’t think much of it, and as my husband was supposed to be going out of town for work that day, I drove myself to doctor. Not to the emergency room or urgent care, but to my GP’s office. It was on the way to work, so I could head into the office after the doctor told me it was nothing more than a muscle spasm. A quick, in-and-out appointment to set my husband’s mind at ease and move on with my regularly scheduled day.
On the drive, I cranked the volume on the stereo to keep my mind off the twitching twitching twitching that had increased in both frequency and intensity. And I finally started to think something of it. I was driving on one of the busiest roads in town. During morning rush hour. With a leg I could no longer control.
I made it as far as the parking lot. Then, still strapped into the driver’s seat with the car still running (God knows how I got it into 'park') and the radio still blaring the latest Flyleaf album, the whole left side of my body seized: The twitching turned to violent shaking. My head bashed against the inside of the door again and again because I couldn’t move my arm up to shield it. And my heart joined the frenzy as if it was trying to get in as many final beats as it could before giving up the fight.
Saved by Strangers
By some miracle, the seizure was localized in my left side, leaving me conscious and more than a little terrified. All I could think was that I was going to die less than 50 feet from the people who could save me.
I was going to die. I was going to die. I was going to die.
Like hell I was. I’m stubborn by nature, so there was no way I was going to let that happen. So, I did the only thing I could think of. I flattened my right palm on the steering wheel, pressing the horn in an erratic rhythm that screamed something’s wrong and help me and please don’t let me die, until two strangers in the parking lot ran over to check on me. A woman stayed with me, cradling her hand between my head and the doorframe to keep me from hurting myself, while a man came back a few minutes later with most of the medical staff in tow. I have no clue who turned off my car or put my keys in my purse. I don’t even know the names of the two people who came to my rescue, but I will never stop being grateful to them.
One CT-scan and an MRI later revealed a rogue cluster of blood vessels in my brain that had started leaking for no apparent reason. There was no guarantee the blood vessels — by definition a brain tumor — wouldn’t leak again and cause more seizures. There was no guarantee I would be so lucky again. So that meant letting a neurosurgeon open up my skull, scoop out the offending blood vessels, and hope that when he put me back together, my brain would still work right. (Hint: It does!)
If looming brain surgery wasn’t bad enough, here’s the kicker: I had been working at a boutique marketing and branding company for three and a half years at that point. I was one of only a few employees left who had survived a bad economy and “downsizing.” It was down to the owner, the graphic designer, and me — and I would need to take nearly a month off for after surgery. Less than ideal.
So, I scheduled my surgery for the end of May, when things would be a little calmer at the office and the other two could hopefully handle things without me for a bit. Then, two weeks before my surgery, my boss called me into her office and laid me off too. In retrospect, I maybe should have walked out that day, but I was a good little employee and worked right up to my last day, ensuring I was leaving the business in the best shape possible. Which meant that instead of taking it easy after surgery and concentrating on getting better in a stress-free environment, I now had to look for a job.
Finding the Perfect Job
Job-hunting is miserable under the best of circumstances. It’s right up there with eating glass. But doing it when just walking the twenty feet from bedroom to my favorite rocking chair in the living room took all I physically had, it started to feel like the universe had it in for me. (A little melodramatic I know, but desperate times and all that.) My days were filled with listing after listing of jobs I was underqualified for, jobs I was overqualified for, and jobs I would love to have but never even got a “thanks but no thanks” response to my applications.
Then one day in June, I found it. The perfect job. Not a pie-in-the-sky dream job that didn’t really exist, like getting paid to read books and drink beer/wine/insert-drink-of-choice here all day. But an honest-to-goodness job that checked off everything on my resume: English or similar degree. Check. Previous proposal writing experience. Check. Graphic design experience a plus. And check.
Needless to say, I sent my resume and cover letter off that day, fingers crossed, hoping the universe would take pity on me. I wanted this job. I needed this job. Not just for my sanity, but also because my bank account was hovering near empty. It was do-or-die time, and as I had already survived the dying portion of the year, "do" was all that was left. But by early-July I’d all but given up on hearing back from the dream job. I made myself focus on other things, like getting the staples removed from my scalp, chopping off all my hair so the three-inch shaved patch that had started to grow back wasn’t as noticeable, and hitching a ride to Tennessee with my parents for the birth of my sister’s second kid.
The call for an interview came while my sister was in labor. I missed it, of course. But after a travel fiasco later that week, involving an 8-hour weather-induced airport layover and rerouting my husband to two different airports to pick me up at 4 a.m. so I was home in time for the interview, I got the job.
Flash forward seven and a half years, I’m still there. And I’m still loving it. But this life-changing dream job might never have happened for me if I hadn’t needed brain surgery or gotten laid off from my job at the exact right time.
Clearly the universe knew what it was doing after all.
This essay was written by Susan Bishop Crispell. Crispell earned a BFA in creative writing from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Born and raised in the mountains of Tennessee, she now lives 20 minutes from the beach in North Carolina with her husband and their literary-named cat. She is the author of The Secret Ingredient of Wishes (2016) and Dreaming in Chocolate, coming in February 2018.