Keep your eye on the ball. Great advice! Okay. Now which curvaceous, shapely, object(s) are we supposed to be focused on?

Lorna couldn’t define herself as healthy anymore, or could she?

When I rescued a seven-month old mutt mixed-breed named Wolfer in the early 1990s, I thought his panting, groaning, and inability to stay still was because he was crazy hyperactive excited to have a loving home. I was wrong. He had severe congenital hip dysplasia. My vet recommended that we put him down, but I couldn’t do that. I was in love with him. With medications to ease the pain (his not mine), the vet said he might live 3-4 years. I decided to give him the best life a disabled dog could have. Wolfer had other plans. He didn’t see himself as a disabled dog—just as a dog. He ran and played despite my efforts to stop him from having fun. I finally gave up scolding him for playing and just let him whoop it up. We were both a lot happier and he lived (with the help of medications and healing touch) to be 12 years old.

Wolfer was wise and did his best playing, er, thinking in the snow.

So what’s Wolfer got to with my dizziness? Wolfer taught me many lessons in his lifetime, but the one relevant to this story is about perception.

No one could see the three-ring circus happening inside my head, except for the occasional stumble or bumping into a walls. Just like when I was schnockered, I covered up my dizziness so that I appeared normal to everyone around me. Teaching about “labels” and “stigma” for years, I knew what being defined as an “invalid” meant. Just look at that word: in-valid. When people see you as ill, they stop seeing “you” and only see the illness. That’s what I did to Wolfer, until Wolfer set me straight.

I was determined not to define myself by an illness that was so mysterious that, back then, had no clear cause, treatment, or cure. (NOTE: In America, research lagged behind other countries like the UK, but today a lot more is known about Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome—CFIDS. Ten years ago, lots of people had something truly miserable, but researchers only took notice of this illness when Cher came down with it, figuring it was more than exhaustion from all that wig tossing and fighting with Sonny.)

The Poster Woman for CFS in America back then. I wonder why there wasn't a "Little Black Ribbon" campaign?

To prove to more than just me I was Healthy-With-a-Few-Minor-Issues, I adjusted my work conditions to accommodate less classroom teaching. Fluorescent lights and the constant motion of students whacked me out. Why couldn’t they just sit still in the dark? I developed online versions of my classes and took on administrative duties in lieu of teaching. This gave some of my colleagues the impression that I was trying to show them up, something a few of them feared anyway. Unbeknownst to me, a movement was afoot to finally put me out of their misery in my place.

I joined Chuck’s anemic small Methodist church choir. They needed a soprano. Well, they needed more than a soprano, and I needed to prove I was healthy. I loved to sing and doing this with for with Chuck couldn’t hurt. All went well until the part-time conductor/organist/pianist quit and Chuck took over. But that’s another story.

While I was busy seeing me as Healthy-With-a-Few-Minor-Issues, the people around me, it seemed, saw an in-valid person.

Chuck saw a responsibility  an invalid who needed a hospital bed caretaker. I appreciated and loved him for all he did. He hugged me and held my hand, but that’s the closest he got. Heck, I was dizzy, not contagious.

I love you, but...

Family and friends saw my unimaginable suffering and felt badly for me. I appreciated and loved them for it. They pitied me. My mom said more than once, “Lorna, of all the people I know, you’re the one who needs your brain the most.” I laughed, telling her, “Mom, everyone needs their brain.” You gotta love my mom.

Alex didn’t treat me like an invalid. He withdrew. Maybe he was just at that age when boys disconnect from their mothers every adult (17), but our relationship was unique (and I’m not just remembering the car-dancing). I believe he didn’t want to think about his mom as ill, so he retreated to neutral, sterile ground. Of all the losses I experienced during this time, losing my silly close relationship with Alex hurt the most. I bet he can say the same.

A small but powerful gang of faculty were plotting my professional demise, should the brain tumor and CFIDS not do me in first. If they put half as much energy into their classes as into foiling me, imagine the all the higher learning that could’ve happened at that college.

Don't worry, Gert, even if they catch us, we have tenure. Plus, we'll slap an age discrimination suit on their sorry butts if they give us any lip. Our classes? Don't worry. The students never miss us.

Along with the dizziness, I developed endometriosis, a precancerous cancerous condition in the female-plumbing area. I had a hysterectomy and started taking artificial hormones so I wasn’t shot-putted into early menopause. My “Healthy Lorna” crusade was losing steam.

In April 2003, Boston Neurosurgeon informed me that my innocent little Menigioma was, instead, a gnarly cancerous Ganglioma. Could I come in for surgery next week? I was preparing for finals. I said no. Chuck was livid. Certain that the Gang of Liomas would chill until after finals, I scheduled the surgery for June. Did I mention Chuck was livid?

Doctorates in sociology make the worst patients.

Keeping my healthy perspective was tough.

Lorna faces brain surgery. What? It’s not like it’s rocket science…