Monday, July 15, 2013

The Balancing Act

In the three or four months right before Annabel was born, I was the least healthy I have ever been, and that includes having cancer (kidding, sort of). I was a third year associate at Ropes & Gray, and I was working more than was humane. I was big and swollen and unable to walk up a flight of stairs without panting. In the fall, I developed a hacking cough. I coughed for weeks, so much so that I developed a terrible pain in my chest. Still, I kept working.

Most nights, I’d run (OK, waddle) home to catch Teddy for a short time before he went to bed. I'd give him a bath and try to clean the dishes while he had his snack. We would read a book and as Brian finished up the bedtime routine, I’d log in again.

At about two or three in the morning, I'd make a list of the tasks I hadn't completed that I should have, and I'd go to bed. A few hours later, I was up and at it all over again. 

About once a week, when I got so desperate for sleep that I’d even sacrifice missing Teddy, I’d stay late at my office. I'd talk to Teddy before Brian put him to bed. He'd cry and beg me to come home. I'd tell him that I would see him in the morning and that I loved him so much. 

After I hung up, I'd turn my chair away from the glass that separated me from the hallway and I'd cry too. Then I'd clean myself up and travel up to the 49th floor for my “free” dinner. My ankles would balloon just a few minutes later thanks to the overabundance of salt in the cafeteria food. 

On those late nights at my office, I felt trapped and claustrophobic and empty. Around midnight, I would crawl out of the eerily quiet hallways of the Prudential Center, overtip on my cab voucher when I reached my car at the deserted train station, and wait for the nauseous feeling from the ride home to fade. There was only one thing that could make me smile on those lonely nights -- kicks from the baby inside me -- and whenever that happened, life was good again.

I remember walking to my car at the train station one late Friday night a few weeks before Thanksgiving. I had absolutely no excitement for the upcoming holiday, mainly because I figured I’d have to work (I did). Then I just got sad. How had I let this happen? How had I pushed myself to the point that holidays, even my most favorite holiday, felt like a burden?

I was still coughing and since I couldn’t find the time to visit the doctor during the work week, I decided to make an urgent care appointment the next day.

At that appointment, the doctor did a blood test to be sure that a pulmonary embolism was not at the root of the chest pain. When the test came back positive, I was told to head straight for the emergency room.

I remember lying in the ER feeling the baby inside of me and begging some higher being to keep him or her safe. I remember the CT scan and I remember the doctor telling me, Brian, and my Mom that they did not see a blood clot, but rather, a fractured rib. Thank goodness. I had never been so relieved. 

I worked the next day, from home, and traveled into the office the day after, with a rolling briefcase that Brian bought me from Marshall's. 

Almost exactly two years later, my neutropenia landed me as an inpatient at Brigham & Women's Hospital for almost a week. I remember lying in my bed, feeling the bump on my sternum that my PCP had assured me was only torn cartilage, a lasting reminder of my terrible cough from a few years prior. 

I hadn't yet pointed out that bump to Dr. Bunnell but all of the sudden, I felt like it was a total emergency. In a few short minutes, I had convinced myself that this was a tumor that my PCP had misdiagnosed...a tumor on my bone...a tumor that would kill me. 

It wasn't. Dr. Bunnell agreed it was torn cartilage. I was so relieved, and a bit embarrassed. I kicked myself for ever letting that cough go so long and so far before I stopped and took care of myself. And I thanked God that I had left Ropes & Gray before I'd ever have to say the same thing about my cancer. 

*  *  *

This is not a blog about how being a lawyer at a big law firm is miserable and unfulfilling. Yes, for me, life at a big law firm was sometimes miserable and and sometimes unfulfilling. But that was me, that was sometimes, and I always knew how lucky I was. I wasn't fighting in a war abroad. I wasn't battling a terminal illness (that I knew of). And I was very aware that millions of people across the planet would give anything for the opportunities I had; that others worked just as hard as I did but for so much less money; that I chose all of it. 

To be continued...

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