I really couldn’t have scripted it better, the blizzard rolling into the city just in time for my second trip to the hospital that month. The first one had been unplanned, a midnight ambulance ride on the first deeply cold night of the year. I shared the emergency room at the city hospital with the homeless, the mentally ill, the addicted, and the very sick. Now that I think about it, I too was one of the very sick.
After three years Crohn’s disease had taken a toll on my intestines, and the scar tissue that had built up was causing dangerous problems with my digestion. The diseased portion had to go. Just 15 cm, they told me, about the length of a pen. Surgery had been my worst fear since my diagnosis. I still told people I had a mild case. I had gone from being sick to being Sick.
We scheduled the surgery for ten days later. Just around then word of the nor’easter started to spread. I called the hospital two or three times to check that the surgery was still scheduled, and they called me a few times to make sure I was still coming in. This was going to be a blockbuster.
My apartment was only two miles from the hospital, but we got a hotel room even closer, where I slept deeply the night before, famished and exhausted from eating nothing the day before and very little for the past year.
In the morning I blew out my hair nicely, because five days in recovery could feel like a long time if my hair was out of control. On went the boots, two hats, gloves. My mother and brother, who had come to Boston to be with me, suited up similarly.
The wind was whipping—the true sign of a blizzard—and the streets were searingly white. One of the busiest intersections in the city was nearly abandoned.
With snow pelting us and a daunting half-mile between us and the hospital I laid out the rules. “No talking. No stopping. If you need to stop, call out and we’ll all stop. Turn right onto Albany St.”
We embarked. All three of us accustomed to exercise, we moved as quickly as we could, stomping our boots at nearly the pace of a run. We held our hands in front of our faces to block the snow. We wrapped our scarves up higher over our mouths and noses. We bent forward, both to balance the weight of our backpacks and to shield our eyes. We turned right onto Albany St and made one more turn, then moved slowly, gasping with exertion, through the hospital’s revolving door.
Almost as soon as I woke up the nurses were telling me I should walk as soon as I could. My abdomen was blazing with pain in three or four different places. So I rolled out of bed without engaging any muscles while my fiancé maneuvered my IV stand and my mom made sure the tubes didn’t get tangled.
At the end of the hallway there was a wide window overlooking the city from eight floors up. Still groggy, I paused there for a few minutes while my family chatted behind me.
The city was all white, an unreal brightness that would soon be sooty and covered in trash. As a lifelong New Englander, this was not my first storm. I knew what was coming next.
People were already starting to tell me how strong I was, though I felt as if my body, which had already betrayed me so brutally, was embarrassing and weak. There was no strength in putting one foot in front of the other, just a gritty determination to keep moving. What choice did I have?
I squinted against the sun’s gleam. There was no more strength or weakness. Those judgments didn’t exist for me any more. There was simply one step, and then another, and then whatever came after that.
More snow was coming. Boston would get over nine feet in the next six weeks, but we couldn’t know that yet. I had my boots and hats and gloves for when the next nor’easter blew threw. For then, all I could do was take a last look at nature’s pristine nuisance on rooftops and thoroughfares from our perch above it all, then turn and shuffle with my people and my IV, back down the hall.