Medical Emergencies and FI

(Warning: this has some bathroom TMI, so if you’re not down to hear about nausea or other stomach and health issues, maybe you should skip this one.) 

For the past week or so, I’ve felt a strange pressure in my lower left abdomen. Not quite a pain, not quite an injury, it’s more of a tenderness that is causing an awareness of that area. I brushed it off when it started; I’ve been doing more ab exercises at the gym recently and assumed that maybe it was a strained muscle. 

What the hell is going on???? Image from pexels.com.

That all changed early Tuesday morning. 

I still felt the tenderness, but it didn’t seem any different when I went to bed. However, I woke up around 2:30 in the morning and ran to the bathroom. I sank to the floor in front of the toilet, seat up, trying to breathe deeply to control the nausea that had hit me like a wave. But the breathing just seemed to push the uneasiness elsewhere, and I transitioned to sitting on the toilet, to see if whatever ailed me would come out that way. I was covered in a cold, clammy sweat. It got even worse when I started to feel light headed. I stood up and walked over to the mirror. My vision was going in and out, and black spots were appearing in front of my eyes. I couldn’t see straight.

Something was terribly wrong. 

This is it, I thought. One of my greatest fears was coming true: I was going to die alone on the floor of my apartment, with no one to find me until I didn’t show up for work for the rest of the week, in my very oldest and most ragged pair of underpants

Even just thinking about it now makes my heart beat faster, and I feel a little sick. (Yay, anxiety!)

I sat back down on the floor and tried to get my breathing and pulse under control. The intense nausea I felt when I woke up subsided a bit. I found my phone and dialed the 24/7 nurse line for my insurance and was quickly connected with an advice nurse. 

How long had I been exhibiting symptoms? Did I still feel like I needed to vomit? Did I still feel dizzy and lightheaded? Was I bleeding from any orifice? Did my eyes have a yellow tinge? Was I experiencing any sharp, stabbing pains? 

Since I didn’t have any sharp pains, wasn’t shooting blood out from anywhere, and was starting to feel better, the nurse on the phone assured me that I probably wasn’t going to die in the night. She did, however, schedule me for an appointment with my GP for later that day, since I had been having those weird abdominal feelings for a few days. Slightly reassured, I hung up the phone. At first I intended to camp out on the floor of the bathroom just in case, but no matter how many pillows and cushions I gathered around me, the hard floor and side of the tub still made my ass go numb and my spine feel sore. So, I trudged back to bed, and tried to go back to sleep sitting up, legs stretched out straight in front of me, trying to position myself so zero pressure was exerted on my guts. 

After a restless rest of the night, I went to the hospital, where my GP listened to me describe my symptoms again and then felt around in my guts to see if she could figure out what was wrong. Hernia? Nope. Enlarged spleen? Nope, that seemed normal too. From this external exam, she concluded that none of my internal organs seemed enlarged or out of place. I left her office with the reassurance that my organs did not appear to be in imminent danger of exploding inside of me. However, we did schedule a pelvic ultrasound to see if there might be something like an ovarian cyst hanging out and causing trouble. 

I still don’t know exactly what happened that night. There’s been another huge heatwave where I live, and I don’t have air conditioning, so it’s possible that I was experiencing symptoms of extreme dehydration. However, the symptoms I exhibited were also symptoms of shock–but from what? 

So what the hell does this have to do with financial independence? 

Financial independence buys time–but it also buys freedom. The freedom to live where we want to with the people we love. The freedom to slow down and take care of ourselves if we need it. 

Financial independence would mean that, after I had received my external exam from my GP, I could have stayed at the hospital and gotten my ultrasound on the same day without having to fret about returning to work. Instead, it is scheduled for Monday–and I have been spending the last three days wondering if there is something inside of me. 

My partner is currently finishing his master’s degree in Germany. If I was financially independent, I could stay for a while over there with him. Financial independence would mean being able to stay with the person I love, as opposed to living alone. It would mean having someone be able to drive me to the hospital in the middle of the night if I desperately needed it. It would mean not dying on my floor alone because I have some fucked up idea that I am taking an ambulance away from someone who truly needs it. It would mean having someone there to reassure me that all would be okay–and what I can’t seem to communicate through this post is how terribly alone I felt in that moment

Financial independence would also give me the freedom to enjoy the things I like most in life–my family, my partner, spending time in the outdoors, cooking, creating–without having to spend half of my waking life at a job where I don’t even know if I have a meaningful impact. A job where everyone comes in for a certain amount of time each day, regardless of what actually does or does not need to be done. 

Reading this back, the Tuesday morning episode doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. People experience medical issues all the time (my bowels and I are no exception). But in that moment, when I couldn’t even see my face in the mirror, all I felt was a primordial panic. This can’t be it. 

This can’t be it. 

And that’s why I am pursuing FI–so that at the moment when the earth decides to shuck me off of its surface and send me spinning into the great unknown, I will know that I have led a fulfilling life.
And I won’t be left thinking this can’t be it.

Learning to Love You (and me) More

Do you remember the art project Learning to Love You More?

Learning to Love You More was a crowdsourced art project/experiment created by artists Miranda July and Harrell Fletcher. July and Fletcher would post art assignments to the website, and people all over the world would do the assignments and send back a report with information about the work they created. The project was active for 2002 to 2009. I still think about it sometimes, even though it finished ten years ago and I never did any of the assignments. But the website has been acquired and archived by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and all the assignments are still up. I know the best time to start a project is yesterday, but better late than never, am I right? 

I used to do a lot of art–drawing, painting, embroidering, weaving, etc. etc. etc. However, over the last few  years, my time has been eaten up by other commitments–full time job, part time job(s), grad school, gym, trying to be a good partner (first world problems, I know). I miss creating; I miss playing with shit and taking a bunch of disparate objects and turning them into something new and, if not exactly beautiful, maybe interesting. I also miss using art as a way to figure things out about myself; for me, it’s a way of slowing circling toward a sense of truth. I thought using some of the assignments in Learning to Love You More would be a great place to start. 

A few of the assignments feel a bit overwhelming to me right now–for example, #3 is to make a documentary video about a small child. Well, at the moment I don’t know any small children, and it seems weird to just ask the students whom I barely know in my grad program if I can film their children (also, I don’t really ‘get’ kids, anyway–but maybe that’s the point? I’m supposed to ‘grow’?). As such, I chose something that seemed a bit more do-able. You know, to dip my toes in the water, build up my confidence and all that shit. So, for my first project, I chose Assignment #51: Describe what to do with your body when you die, because why not begin with the end? 

This isn’t the first time I’ve thought about this. I remember being much younger and reading an article about a company that will put your cremated remains into a firework. This appeals to the part of me that has always loved to be loud and obnoxious. There are also several companies that will put your remains into a tree, and since I love the great outdoors (and would like to attempt to make-up for my enormous carbon footprint), I thought about this for a while too. Donating my body to medical science was at the top of my list for awhile, but then I found out that cadavers that have donated organs aren’t eligible for donation. 

Finally, I decided I want to be an organ donor and have whatever’s left just get cremated. I’m not a religious person. I don’t believe that my body is inextricably linked with my soul, or that what makes me ‘me’ is at all linked to a physical body other than that this meat container is currently facilitating the chemical reactions that act as the vehicle for my soul. As such, I don’t feel like I have a good reason not to allow my body to be used for a good purpose after I die. 

I want to be a generous person. I want to be kinder. I often feel like I fall short of that goal. I lose my patience with people, or I act out of a place of fear instead of a place of empathy or abundance. Maybe this last act–giving bits of myself up so that others can live better lives–can help make up for the many ways in which I feel like I’m not giving enough. 

Depending on the state, you can register at the state or federal level. In my current state, I have to register through the state’s website–which requires a driver’s license of the state I live in (and since I currently moved, I should get one). You can also decide limitations on what tissues you do or do not want to donate (in case you have anything you don’t want coming out of you). Additionally, organ and tissue donation does not affect what you look like (so if you want to have an open-casket for the rest of your bits, your family can arrange one without you looking totally disfigured). 

It seems a little morbid to think about these sorts of things, but I like having a plan. I also think having a plan takes the pressure off my family–if I’ve already laid out what I want, they don’t have to worry about trying to imagine what I would want, or asking themselves why they didn’t know, and then going into some weird shame spiral about how they should have known, etc. etc. etc. (Or maybe it’s just me who’s worried about that.) My partner recently shared that he’d like to be buried in a mushroom suit.  I’m glad I know, so that (god forbid) anything happens, I’ll know what he wants.

Have you decided what to do with your body when you die? Feel free to share in the comments.