A few weeks ago, I found myself in the ER one morning after 24 hours with a fever-and-friends (tachycardia, chills, shakes, aches, and a horrid headache). I was pretty certain it was just something viral, but a possible central line infection is not something you mess around with.
Unlike last fall when I was admitted right away and loaded with IV antibiotics only to be discharged 10 days later with a question mark diagnosis, the ER doctor I saw this time was pretty chill. Blood culture results take a few days to come back, but based on my other labs that morning, he agreed that it was probably just viral and he let me go home. Just 24 hours later my labs were a mess and he wouldn’t have let me leave, but at the time it was the right call.
I was appreciative and I thanked him, but I also apologized. I felt bad for raising alarm bells prematurely, for using the ER unnecessarily, and for wasting hospital resources. I felt bad that my mom had to go out of her way to drop me off before work and I felt bad that my aunt had to come drive me home. All this hassle and there wasn’t even anything wrong with me. Everyone assured me that coming in was the right thing to do, better safe than sorry and all that, but self-doubt triumphed to the point that when I got home I actually pulled out my TPN manual and read the pages about what to do if you are showing signs of infection to reassure myself that going to the ER had been the right move.
It had. But still. I felt silly. I felt like a hypochondriac. How could I not know what a virus felt like? Alright, I thought, now that I know what a viral fever-and-friends feels like, next time this happens I can wait it out two or three days before being concerned.
And then the next day the hospital called. My blood cultures were growing yeast. I had to come back in to start treatment. I was probably going to lose my line.
There I was feeling bad about using the ER unnecessarily and apologizing for being worried over nothing when in fact there was actually something to worry about. There I was preparing myself to wait it out several days next time when in fact going in early is what allowed them to catch it early and start treatment before things got worse.
I was apologizing for nothing. Well, actually, I was apologizing for reacting appropriately to my situation, a situation beyond my control…so yeah, I was apologizing for nothing.
And the thing is, I do it all the time.
I say sorry. A lot. Too much, honestly, and most of the time it’s for things that are out of my hands.
By nature and by nurture I am a polite, peace-keeping people-pleaser. Let’s be clear here, I am nowhere near perfect, but I genuinely never want to be a bother. I never want to be an inconvenience, a burden, or an extra stress in someone’s life. And yet, I live with an unpredictable chronic illness that requires me to be a bother and to rely on other people to carry the extra load that my broken body can’t bear.
I hate that part. In fact, that might even be the part of this whole deal that I hate the most. I have this unrealistic idea that my struggles should be confined to my own life and that they shouldn’t affect anyone else. Sometimes I even feel bad even asking my doctors for help despite the fact that helping me is what they get paid for.
And so I say sorry. A lot. But they’re not empty apologies; if I say sorry it’s because I mean it. It’s because I respect your time and I don’t want to waste it. It’s because I know you have enough going on without having to worry about me, too. It’s because I wish you could be carefree even though I can’t. Even when I know it’s not my fault, I still genuinely feel bad when my problem ends up becoming someone else’s problem, too.
Very often I feel like a burden, but the thing is, the only person making me feel that way is me. And I think maybe the reason I feel like a burden all the time is because I’m constantly apologizing for being one. People tell me the same thing over and over again, “don’t be sorry,” and so I think it’s about time that I listen. I think it’s about time that I stop apologizing and start saying what I really mean.
And what I really mean is thank you.
When I apologize for needing a ride to the emergency room, what I really mean is thank you for going out of your way to help me. When I apologize for having to cancel or alter plans because I’m too tired or too sick to follow through, what I really mean is thank you for understanding. And when I apologize to a doctor for presenting with a problem they don’t know how to fix, what I really mean is thank you for listening and validating my concerns anyway.
What I really mean is thank you.
Thank you for your patience. Thank you for your time. Thank you for looking out for me and making sure I’m not left behind. Thank you for caring.
Thank you for making me important to you because you are important to me, too.
I’m an imperfect human in an imperfect body. As much as I would like to be able to handle everything on my own, I can’t, and that’s not something to be sorry for. At the same time, there are so many people in my life who help me carry that load, and that is something to be grateful for.
So I’m going to stop apologizing for my existence, and start thanking other people for theirs. I’m going to stop simply minding my manners and start being mindful of how I mind them.
Less apologizing. More appreciating.
Mind how you mind your manners.
I don’t really know who Miss Manners is, but I’m pretty sure she would approve.