Caring for the Needy: On Ailments and Adulthood

(Those with queasy tummies: turn back now. You’ve been warned.)

I have the stomach of a Victorian lady.

Assuredly, the rest of me resembles nothing of that sexually repressed, hoop-skirt bonanza, but when it comes to ailments i’m downright dainty. At least once a week i’m pumping the vending machine for a ginger ale or, better yet, sending J down to the Walgreens for more advil. I don’t get colds. I get pneumonia. For two months.

And i don’t do sick pretty, even though i do it damn often.

Which is why, last Thursday night, i was strapped onto a stretcher and loaded into an ambulance, blue puke bag in hand.

Even for me, this was a first.

The illness had begun innocuously enough. But by the end of hour one of tummy cramps and heaving i was laying belly-up on the floor of the second floor bathroom wishing for a swift death, my mom on speaker pleading with me to call the EMTs.

“Nooooo,” i groaned, a flush in the stall next to me. “I’ll be fiiiiinnneeee.” It was the needles. I knew they’d hook me into an IV and i’d be better within hours (at least, not puking anymore) but … the needles. I’d take my arduous death on yellowing, tiled floors in a public bathroom before needles.

“Hey – uh, are you okay?” a chipping pedicure in blue flipflops asked outside my stall fortress of woe. “You know what, i’ll go get you a glass of water,” she asserted before i could protest.

Two minutes later i fumbled with the latch and a tremendously sweet hall mate prodded a mug my way. “Thanks,” i whispered, taking a sip out of courtesy. I knew it wouldn’t be in me more than five minutes, but i was feeling horribly lonely and disgusting and here was someone unafraid to offer help. The least i could do was take it.

That’s what sucks the most about adulthood, i’ve found: being sick and alone. I never want my mom there more than when i have to go buy medicine myself or i’m trying to arrange my pillows so that i can watch Netflix without neck cramps. Mom was on the phone with me, of course, but all i could do was curl up in a ball in the handicap stall and pretend she was stroking my hair.

Wouldn’t dream of asking anyone else to do that. Seriously, gross.

Kind Hallmate left, assuring me i could knock if i needed anything. Instead i’d dragged myself along the wall of the corridor back to my room, pulling of pajamas covered in sick. I just need a shower, I thought. That’ll make me feel better.

“A shower?! No, honey, you need to call the police and have them take you to the ER.” Mom’s tone was getting thinner. She was on speaker now, because i didn’t have the strength to hold the phone to my ear. “And call a friend. You don’t have to do this alone.”

So i caved and called the emergency line, voice crackling with a swollen trachea pleading for help.

I managed to change clothes and then was limp-running back to the bathroom. Too late. I’d lost all strength in my legs and was sprawled on the floor, heaving and heaving.

The door to the stairs opened, EMT in sight.

“Oh,” she said. “Must be you.”

I nodded, then tried to puke. If i hadn’t been assured i was facing armageddon, i would have peed myself laughing.

Her nose wrinkled, but then she gently took my pulse and asked me how i felt. “Like shit,” i cackle-hacked. More EMTs started coming, including my own angel: Tracy, who was an EMT and lived one hall over. She wasn’t on duty but she’d heard the call, so she walked over. She’s considerate and compassionate like that.

When i called the police i’d also called Austin – amazing, fearless, dependable Austin. She loved me even after sharing a room with me for three years, so i knew she’d see me through tonight. Barreling through the double doors in sunflower yellow, i vaguely saw her pulling her hair down before she was pulling my hair back into a ponytail.

Talk about clothing the naked putrid and pathetic.

“You’re gonna be okay, sweetie,” she propped me up off the floor. That’s Austin: diving into the fray because there is a practical need she can fix.

Everything after that is blurry, but i remember Austin coaxing me to say yes to the hospital, and Tracy riding third in the ambulance with me. Tracy stayed, even when i was hurling and hurling and squeezing her fingers purple over the IV. Austin, who’d been handling the calls to both Jonathan and my mom, was finally let back to see me in the ER, after they’d given me enough meds to kill a horse.

Angels, i tell you.

When i was finally breathing normal we cracked jokes about the helluva toast this would make at the wedding. I thanked them and thanked them and thanked them, but i still cannot thank them enough. Tracy hitched a ride back to school with the ambulance, but only after ensuring i had a spare pair of hospital pants.

Around 4 AM, i told Austin to go home. The nurses tried to send me too, but then i puked in the lobby (charming) and asked to stay. At last, at last, i crashed into a dreams about 19th-century London, curled under three hospital blankets.

I woke up again at 6:30, IV out and alone in my room. I’d been so lucky to have a bed at all, and even luckier to have a room. The room was part storage, the walls stacked six-deep with crutches in plastic packaging.

And there, alone in hospital pants and shirt and having survived hell the night before, i finally started to ugly-cry. I couldn’t stop. As panicked as i’d been the night before, i hadn’t cried. I’d known it was the line of no return, the hysteria that plagued the ladies of the Victorian era from which my tummy was taken.

But man, i was bawling. Couldn’t stop. It wasn’t the pain, or the loneliness, or even the fear that thirty crutches might fall from the wall skewering me at any moment.

It was a release, and it was gratitude. When i’d been moaning and dying (ok, not dying) in the handicap stall, Kind Hallmate stopped in. Tracy came to the second floor just because she was around, not because she was on EMT duty. Austin came because i called.

While i’d been wallowing in self-pity over my lonely state as a twenty-something, people surrounded me. So that morning i just cried and cried, no moisture in me but somehow walloping out sobs, the shock washing off and the gratitude settling in.

By the time my auntie came to get me, i had run out of water. It would be a solid few days of bed rest and cheesy rom-coms, but my friends brought me snacks and my auntie took incredible Saltine-cracker care of me.

I was thankful, am thankful, that adulthood didn’t have to be as forlorn as i thought.

It’s Not as Weird as it Sounds: My Online Friends

Let’s just clear the air: i have friends i’ve made online.

Immediately whenever i disclose this particular piece of information to people who have not done the same, i (99% of the time) get one of two reactions. The first is a mild, “oh-that’s-nice” which reeks of subtextual fear and disapproval. The kind of response that means that people might ask politely intended but poorly phrased questions indicative of their worry that i only have friends online because i’m incapable of making them “in the real world.” I’m not a fan of this response, but i understand it. Making friends via YouTube is still relatively new in the broader discourse, despite YT’s years of existence.

The second response is one of overt judgement or worry – people who make comments like “that’s really weird, lizzie,” or “how do you know they’re who they say they are?” To the first comment, my initial response is simply to say: well isn’t any way you meet someone weird? Who defines normality?

But such esoteric smartass replies are not precisely conducive to communicating my point.

Because, at the end of the day, i get it.

The stereotype of creepy, predatory men lit in a dark room only by their computer monitor is a real one. At least, Criminal Minds tells me it’s real. The idea that there are dangerous people out to manipulate, scare, control, or abuse people (particularly young women) is not merely an idea: it’s a grim fact. I don’t discount that – but i also am aware that there are bullies and threatening people in every corner of our world. There are as many dangers as meeting someone online as there are in meeting someone at a bar or coffeehouse. You have to use your intellect, street smarts, guts, and meet in public places the first time around.

But here’s the other thing about said stereotype: it infers that i am talking exclusively to creepy men in their fifties preying upon my youth via chatrooms or facebook. The reality is quite different (not that you can’t make friends that way). My closest “internet friends” (a term i only use to distinguish them as people i met fist via wireless, and secondly in person, not that they are any less important to me than my “real life” friends) i met because of YouTube.

Which, understandably, might even compound the confusion. I would wager (again, in my non-expertise, totally subjective opinion) that 90% of people who use YouTube watch videos only pertaining to cats (totally acceptable), music videos, Rick Perry parodies (also completely okay), and the occasional school project for the super cutting-edge teacher. What is not included in this is how i got into YouTube – video blogging.

I’ve posted some videos here before of my own making, and more often than that make references to my favorite vloggers, John and Hank Green of the vlogbrothers. While the Green brothers by no means started the idea of a video blog (vlog), their channel and the community subsequently created around it has initiated an entire online movement. In 2005, the two brothers committed to a year long project where they would engage in text-less communication, predominantly through videos they would make for each other alternating every day of the week. The project, though not daily videos, has grown and persisted into the impending year of the apocalypse 2012. Because of their wit, insight, nerdiness, and utter abandon of self-consciousness on the web, these two gleaned, somewhat surprisingly to them, several hundred thousand followers (over the span of several years). As part of their mission to “decrease world suck” (which is literally to fight, through the power of love, anything that sucks in this world) they believe that all people are “made of awesome.” To this end, anyone who is “made of awesome” (who can be anyone) and wants to combat “world suck” is a “nerdfighter.” Meaning, if you like Doctor Who or Harry Potter and want to support small business owners in developing nations, you are a nerdfighter. Or if you’re into other things, that’s okay too.*

As i’m writing this, i can’t help but giggle a little at how strange this all sounds to put into a textual body. “Made of awesome” may not reek of Shakespearean eloquence, but it is pretty communicative and expressive of what the community is about. Yeah, the vlogbrothers are quirky and strange, but they have – through their own self liberation – given space for the inner nerd flag of anyone with an internet connection to be flown with pride. In their wake, thousands upon thousands of people have started their own vlogs, created nonprofits, made friends, hosted “gatherings” of nerdfighters, and generally united over a front to fight what they see is bad in the world by making connections with people who believe the same.

It’s no different to me then meeting someone at a Harry Potter appreciation society. Or a meeting for a campus organization seeking to promote awareness of injustices within the US Court System. A group of people, with common interests, meeting and talking. The difference is a computer screen.

In January of 2011 – exactly one year ago – i started a vlog. To be honest, i was wretched. My videos were too long, i had no clue how to edit, i talked too much, and never had much of a direction. But, six months new to the nerdfighter community, i desperately wanted to be a more involved part of it. That, and i was doing a little participant-observer research of my own for a potential senior thesis (more on that another time).

And, within a month of making videos, a fellow nerdfighter sent me a message on YouTube asking me if i would possibly be interested in a collaborative channel with herself and three other nerdfighters. I was both flattered and a little apprehensive – making videos on a channel with four people i’d never met before? Talking about what exactly? All of the responses i now get when i saw i have a video blog ran through my head. And yet, a part of me knew that this would be a really cool thing to try, should i only give it a chance. If it failed abysmally, it was just a little internet experiment. If it rocked, then i would have really been a part of this online community. Thus, allmadeofawesome was born a year ago this February made of myself, Jenn, Candace, Sarah, and Sara Michelle.

Fortunately for the five of us, i would say our little project rocked. It’s not famous, we’re not renowned among internet folk or anything like that – but that is not the point. The point is that, in spite of the weirdness of it all, i started talked to four other incredibly motivated, intelligent, and totally nerdy women about nerd culture and being at university. Basically, what i do with my friends “in my real life.” And through our videos, i’ve become genuine friends with these ladies. Not pornography, no predators, no venting of pent-up emotions i am incapable of expressing to people i see and hear and touch in the “real” world. Just friends.

Such good friends, though, that i’ve now hung out with two of them in person. Sara Michelle, who has the Friday slot on our channel, lives pretty close to where i go to school. We’ve attended two Harry and the Potters concerts together and have plans to do more nerdy stuff of the like – and when we’re hanging out, it’s just us talking and driving around or eating guacamole sandwiches (well, the last part is just me with my neurotic eating tendencies). Not weird. Not creepy.

okay, the normalcy argument may be lost here. but look, no serial killers!

With Sarah, i got to see her when i was in London in October. Sarah is, in fact, one of the major reasons i started watching Doctor Who, because she being British means that it’s somewhat compulsory to be awesome and nerdy and moon over Matt Smith (i know, sweeping generalizations (it’s a joke!)). Thus, when i’d fallen so deep in the time vortex that i wanted to go to the Doctor Who Experience in London, i invited her along – and we had such a marvelous time. For, despite his many waonderful attributes, my father is not precisely a Whovian. He was such a dear in spending the four hours with us in the museum, but it was Sarah with whom i geeked out over the tenth doctor’s actual TARDIS and the Ood prosthetics. She got the geekdom, the excitement, and the exhiliration at such silly things the way i did. Friends. Real friends.

sarah and i…in the tardis!

All of this to say, yeah. I have online friends. They’re real, they matter to me, and i realize that culturally this may not be the most acceptable. But as much as the internet has changed, so has our culture. The internet is a vehicle, i think, for what you make of it. For friends, for news, for connections, for cat videos during exam week. I think if we exercise appropriate caution in the same way we do in tangible reality, we can use the internet as a tool for good.

What are your thoughts? Have you made friends via the interwebs? Think i’m still a freak? You are all most welcome.

current jam: ‘safe & sound’ taylor swift, t-bone burnett, & the civil wars

best thing in my life right now: kitties, coffee, and my new mug.

*if this is not clear, i recommend this video as a better, from the horse’s mouth introduction!