For those of you who don’t know me personally and were too lazy to read my bio, I was a Religious Sister for 5 years. The following story takes place during that time…
There I was, sitting up in bed at my local Urgent Care, in my pajamas, staring into the void while one of the Sisters sat at my bedside texted updates to the other Sisters. She had been kind enough to drive me there earlier that morning since I was in no condition to do so myself.
The nurse pushed past the curtain and asked what seemed to be the problem.
I began to recount all that had happened that morning:
From the moment I opened my eyes, I was dizzy. Really dizzy. Like, trying to lift my head off my pillow put the entire room into motion. I was so light-headed and disoriented that I couldn’t gracefully descend from the top bunk like a normal human being; in attempting to roll over to see just how far away the ladder was and whether I should gamble climbing down it, I ended up losing control of my roll and falling out of bed. Luckily my feet hit the ground first, as my hands desperately grasped the fitted sheets above for balance. I slowly let go, and turned around.
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of all this. It was an entirely new experience for me.
I had to halt my contemplation as a wave of nausea hit me, and I quickly weaved my way like a drunkard to the bathroom. Once more, I literally fell over, this time into the shower. At this point I began to freak myself out a little as I tried to self-diagnose.
Balance is way off — inner-ear infection?
Sick to my stomach – food poisoning?
Mind is foggy – brain cancer? (Oh please, like you all don’t start leaping to drastic conclusions within a single google search of your symptoms.)
The Sister I was currently sharing a room with at the time (due to some convent renovations) was equally concerned and agreed to drive me to Urgent Care. Normally, I’d insist on driving myself, not wanting to inconvenience anyone (let’s face it, why kill both of our day’s productivity with all the waiting rooms and examinations we’d have to sit through in the not-so-urgently-handled Urgent Care?), but even I recognized this was an extenuating circumstance.
I’m pretty sure she even checked me in at the counter, because I didn’t want to risk standing up from where I sat in the waiting room, contemplating my own imminent death six months down the road and coming to peace with the tumor that I knew they’d find in my brain. #melodramatic
Anyway, my story for the nurse concluded with: “So I’ve just been really dizzy, and nauseated from the time I woke up…”
My voice trailed off and the room came to a silent halt.
Too late did I realize that I had not described symptoms of a brain tumor at all. I literally just finished describing “morning sickness” to the nurse.
I scrambled internally in that frozen moment, trying to figure out how to undo whatever damage I might’ve just done. Was there a way to say what I said without it sounding like morning sickness? I felt guilty for basically confirming (albeit unintentionally) what I assumed was her (and society’s) view on religious life — I mean, we’ve all seen the “pregnant nun” costume in Halloween stores. I came to Urgent Care thinking I was going to be diagnosed with some freaky brain cancer (since pregnancy wasn’t even a viable option), and was completely unprepared for this unexpected change in conversation.
“Are you pregnant?” the nurse asked.
“No,” I replied, and tried to explain in more detail what I had felt that morning, but the more I talked, the less it sounded like brain cancer, and the more I was confirming everything I was trying to deny. It didn’t help that in my desperation to clarify, I probably looked even sketchier like I was trying to cover something up.
“You’re sure there’s no chance of pregnancy?”
What I really wanted to say was, “Look, this is how it works: first, I get to have sex, and then you get to tell me I’m pregnant” but I was really trying to weigh every word I said to make sure I wouldn’t give an even worse impression of Religious Life than I was probably already giving.
At this point, the Sister accompanying me in full habit came to my defense. “Look, she’s with us; she’s not pregnant.”
I tensed up even more as I realized that was probably the least helpful thing anyone could’ve done at the moment. Now the story in the nurse’s head probably went something like: Rebellious pajama-wearing postulant sneaks away from the convent by night to meet up with some guy, winds up pregnant, and now has to hide it from her fierce Mother Superior, or else she’ll get in trouble, so she’s lying to the nurse in front of the nun to save her own skin.
With not a little bite in her voice, she asked the Sister to leave the room.
The whole scenario was escalating in all the wrong ways, and I quickly felt things spiraling out of control. I forcibly leapt in at this point, and said, “No. Look, she can stay. I’m telling you she can stay. I have nothing to hide, there is absolutely no chance I’m pregnant, I promise.”
The nurse, not looking any happier, handed me a cup and said, “I want a urine sample anyway.”
I took it from her, less upset with myself now, since I had no control over my illness anyway, and more upset with the nurse for not taking me at my word. AND expecting a disoriented patient to supply a urine sample – honestly, how many of us can do that when the room isn’t spinning?
After I turned in my assignment, I sat in bed again, and waited for the results that I knew would come back negative.
The nurse eventually came back and said, “Test results came back negative.”
I withheld comment.
So she hooked me up to an IV for some fluids, and took some blood samples for the doctor to run some other tests on, and left the room again.
After a while, the doctor finally came in, and confirmed that all the serious tests came back negative. He asked if I was under a lot of stress lately, and I said, “Somewhat.”
When in truth, I had been under some of the greatest stress of my life. It was about this point during my discernment that I began to realize the convent wasn’t actually my vocation. And as is the case with any life-altering decision, there are hundreds of things you have to take into account before doing something that you know will burn bridges and impact forever your already-uncertain future. It leaves you mentally, emotionally, and (eventually) physically spent. In retrospect, it’s no surprise my body decided to start shutting down in new and unexpected ways considering everything I had going on.
The Doctor reassured me that stress was one of the toughest things for doctors to diagnose, because there is no set symptom for it. Everyone embodies, channels, and expresses stress differently. It just so happened that my body decided to manifest all of its stress in the most embarrassing form ever.
One afternoon and a hefty bill later, we finally left the building. Not only did I get the rights to one more incredibly awkward story-of-my-life, but I also walked away with a very valuable lesson. It was a lesson I had learned before, but every time I re-learn it, it takes on new weight and meaning.
Never. Ever. Ever. Judge.
Judge actions all you want, sure. A man who drinks until he’s drunk before noon every day is an alcoholic. But never judge why.
A nun who walks into urgent care with “morning sickness” might just be coming to grips with the fact that the convent she’s been a part of for 4 years might not actually be her calling, and she may have no control over how her body handles the internal struggle.
As “obvious” as a situation might look, there is always the possibility of another side of the story, left untold, and one that may not even be your business to know.
Food for thought, my dears. Unless you have morning sickness. Then you might want to let your stomach settle first.