It has been more than nine months, since my mononucleosis vacation began. I spend most of my time on the terrace in my backyard. Here in what could be a paradise - which I hadn't really noticed in the past three years since we bought our beautiful place - I had been busy running and working like crazy, like almost everybody else in this country. Laying in my lawn chair, I spend mornings, days and evenings watching our large green field, surrounded by tall old maple trees and green pines with nests of different birds, and a multitude of white birch trees where squirrels skillfully climb, playing hide and seek like children. My favorite red birds come every morning for breakfast, twittering happily once their little stomachs are full and content. I am just one meter away from their birdhouse. They are so used to me that they are not afraid of me. For them I am probably a part of nature's decor.
"Good morning," they say cheerfully waving their wings. "How are you today?" "Good morning my friends," I answer, happy that someone asks me this question. "Thank you for asking, but I must say that I feel the same as yesterday, weak and mononucleosisly alone. But, wait for tomorrow. Tomorrow is a new day! Maybe tomorrow the phone will ring and someone will call and maybe even come over for coffee? I swear I will not share my utensils or my coffee cup with anyone!"
Indeed, despite the solitude I would be perfectly happy if I didn't have this stubborn virus with such a frightening name, as if it was from another planet. This hardened, hateful modern-age mononucleosis that came into my body without any notice, comfortably installing itself for weeks before I actually became aware that I had it. This deceitful mono has played with me for a long time, giving me wrong impressions and even wrong diagnoses, until I finally find out that my unwanted visitor was a type of virus that I may not get rid of any time soon. While this unwelcome guest is camping, enjoying her vacation with me, I am completely worn-out and deprived of any energy, like a deadbeat spending time in two of what has become my favorite places, depending on the weather, on a sofa in the living room, or outside in the sun on the terrace. I was almost unable to walk for a long time, looking and feeling like a mess, with pain in my throat, half comatose with painful swollen glands all over my body, particularly in the back of my neck. I was suffering from terrible headaches that were like ping pong matches inside of my head, starting in the back of my head and going all the way to my sinuses in the front. I was so weak and helpless, that for many days I thought my end was near. My uninvited visitor was so clever that she even tricked me with the first mono test. It came out negative.
"I thought you had mono," said my new family doctor, whom I finely managed to get after so many years being without one and spending endless hours in clinics. "But it looks more likely that you have a chest infection," he said. So, relieved, but yet still sick, I left the doctor's office with antibiotics, convinced of my coming quick recovery. However, as soon as I arrived home I laid down on the same sofa where I had spent fifteen days helplessly sobbing, and I was calling my extremely patient doctor during panic attacks about my symptoms, and repeating the same questions, hoping to hear miracle words from my good fairy doctor. "Be patient," he answered calmly, soothing my fears. "If it doesn't get better in seven days, come and see me," he muttered. Of course, it didn't get any better; it got worse, so I impatiently waited for the upcoming next appointment.
In the meantime, I was diagnosed with many types of sicknesses by members of my family, both physical and psychological... "We don't believe you are sick," my brother tried to tell me. "We think that you may have some psychological disorder," he stated. "How sweet and soothing," I answered, powerless to object, trying to hit him with my pillow, but of course I missed. "No," my mother said. "I am sure it is menopause. At your age I was completely exhausted," she exclaimed. "It is not menopause," I screamed. "I am not at that point yet!" "Don't be scared of aging," my husband added. "I will still love you!," he reassured. "And I will hate you if you mention that word again," I yelled crying, grabbing the phone in a panic to call a psychologist. "It looks like you've all won," I said angrily grabbing the phone, now convinced that my fate depended on a psychologist. After a few minutes giving a detailed description of my state of mind, I got an appointment with a doctor.
However, I didn't feel relieved. My major concern was how to get there on my two feet in this state of fatigue. In the meantime, the big day had finally arrived: my new appointment with the doctor. Somehow I entered the office on my feet, but as soon as I saw the chair I dropped into it like a bag of potatoes. My haggard look, pale face, giant dark circles and uncontrollable tears must have forced the doctor to think: "Oh my God, what I am going to do with this poor thing?"What a gift I got?
"I still think you have mono," he said calmly with soothing,angelic voice, especially after examining those hateful, enlarged lymphatic glands on my neck and arms. "Your previous mono test was negative, but the EBV virus seems to be borderline," he concluded. "Who cares?" I said, trying to be optimistic. "If it stays in its territory and doesn't cross the border, then I'll be happy," I stated. "We should repeat the blood test," my doctor answered laughing. "You can do it here at the clinic or in the hospital, depending of your insurance," he insisted. "Let's also do a hormone test," I asked my doctor imploringly, since everybody around me is convinced that I am going through major hormonal changes... Deeply grateful for his patience, I left his office with referrals for endless blood tests. "I will do my tests here if it's not too expensive," I said to the nurse appointed to do my tests. "I am sure that my insurance will cover major tests. It is too much for me to go to the hospital in this state," I replied. The nurse looked at me with a gentle expression that came with an angle on her face. She nodded understandingly, not mentioning that the hospital was only a few minutes away... Keen to help me, she took a piece of paper and started to count. In the middle of her counting, she stopped and discouraged she said: "It comes out already to 600 dollars and I am not even finished counting...." "Oh," I screamed through my tears. "I will have to go to the hospital." Finally after a long 15-minute walk, instead of normally two minutes to get to the hospital,and three hours wait time, I managed to do my blood tests, crying out of total fatigue. I arrived home in the late afternoon and dropped to the sofa motionless, where I stayed until the next morning.
The next day, I pushed myself to get up and go on my 10-minute eternally long morning walk. As I was walking, slowly dragging my feet, I saw my neighbor running towards me. "Good morning slowpoke," she said with a large, proud happy smile. I looked at her shocked and I was shocked by her appearance. She was in her thirties, yet she was dressed like a teenager in a short t-shirt, unreservedly showing off her fat stomach. "You would be slow as well if you had mono," I answered, using my borderline EBV virus in a desperate attempt to justify my slow speed. "Oh," she said laughing, brushing off her sweaty face. "You are a bit old to get mono," she answered. "Well, you are a bit young to sweat as if you had just ran a marathon," I reacted bitterly. "After all, you should be in better shape at your age!" I responded.
I left my neighbor speechless and hurried back home at snail speed. I crawled up the stairs and headed for the mirror in my room, where I started to examine myself from head to toe. Yes, I had dark circles under my eyes, and Yes I had put on a few more pounds since I was not very active anymore, but yet I didn't find that I looked that old. OK, if I continue being inactive, then the next problem will be obesity, but for now, I was still within an average weight range. I approached my face as close as I could to the mirror, examining every single line on my face. After a deep examination of every single pore, I exhaled with relief. There were no wrinkles on my face or forehead except for a few lines around my eyes. "Thank you Mother Nature," I said gratefully. "Thank you for giving me this youthful look which was probably the main reason why I was never afraid of aging. By the way, what is wrong with aging?" I said to myself. "Do we have to be mandatorily sick in our forty-something age range, and labeled as pre-menopausal, menopausal, depressed, anxious, or nervous?" I repeated to myself. "I certainly don't look my age, and I certainly don't feel my age. I am still a young mother," as I kept talking to myself. "My daughter is only six years old, or maybe this was just an illusion," feeling young in my late motherhood.
So now the truth was bearing down on me, knocking at the door. "Knock, knock, my old-young mother," open up the door and face the truth. Nobody is infinitely young and energetic. There is a reason why everything happens in life. Stop crying and get up. Face the truth," the inner voice was saying to me. "I know," I answered reconciling, thinking about all those years of running, working non-stop, getting up early and running through the day on adrenalin, fulfilling a million duties without taking a break. Cleaning and cooking were compulsory tasks, plus that catering business that I started for who knows what reason, and completing my new book Refugee Tears on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, plus four days a week working at the cosmetics counter every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. And all of this multiplied by the enormous anxiety of late motherhood has lead to my total psychological and physical exhaustion. My day would start at 6:30 a.m. and finish at 11 p.m. Still rubbing my sleepy eyes early in the morning, I would prepare scones, muffins, pancakes and breads at dawn, while everyone else was still asleep. As soon as my daughter would get up clapping her hands happily, exclaiming: "scones, mommy made me scones with chocolate,” my drowsiness would disappear. Overwhelmed by love and pride, I was ready to conquer the day with a new energy. But the day was just starting. I still had to spend 30 minutes convincing my daughter to eat her fruits, eggs and yogurt, prepare her lunchbox, dress her up, comb her long hear, and convince her to move faster, which was and still is one of the most difficult tasks. And finally bring her to the school bus on time. By the time I would arrive at the bus stop, if I managed to catch it in time, I was already breaking out in a sweat. "You missed the bus yesterday mademoiselle," the bus driver asked my daughter one day with his narrow eyebrows, poking fun at me by asking my daughter this question. "No, she was sick yesterday," I would answer, with like a red-faced lobster trying to save some dignity, embarrassed about the day before.
"Put your shoes on, the bus will be here at any minute," I asked my daughter Lara while preparing the last thing left to do; fill up her bottle of water. "Wait mommy, I am drawing a princess," Lara answered, ignoring my panic. Almost in a panicked state, I would run down the corridor, trying to find her shoes, which with all my luck, would not be there. When I would finally manage to find them under the sofa and put them on her, I noticed that Lara was holding her stomach. "I have to go to the toilet," she announced two minutes before the bus arrival time. "Oh," I sighed desperately hoping that the bus would be late. But like a sure thing, it was not late. It was punctual as usual. It was just Lara and I who were late, just late enough to see it disappear around the corner. "OK," I tried to calm myself down. "It is not the end of the world. I will drive you to school," I reassured her and myself. But to my big surprise, I noticed that my keys were not in their usual place. With the first symptoms of a panic attack, a rapid heartbeat and sharp chest pain, I called my husband accusingly on the phone: "Did you take my keys? I can't find them!" "Calm down," he answered in a calm voice. "I am on a conference call," he said. "Look in your bag, or in your shoes," he suggested as possible places I could maybe find them. "I have to get back to my call," he uttered. "Don't go, don't leave me alone," I yelled, as I was crying and running searching the insides of ten pairs of shoes. "What the hell would they be doing in my shoes anyway," I said to myself. "Where did you get this idea?" I repeated to him. "I find them there sometimes," he said. "Maybe Lara played with them. I certainly didn't put your keys in any shoes," he continued. Half laughing, half crying, I asked him to think again: "Look in the garbage can. Maybe they fell in there by accident. I have to get back to my meeting. Good luck," he said assuredly. With no other option, I started looking in my place of last resort, searching in the garbage bag like a raccoon. But to my big disappointment, I found nothing. "I found them mommy," I heard Lara screaming with joy. "Where did you find them?" I asked with relief. "In one of my shoes," Lara answered proudly. "Oh, there is no time to punish you, we have to run," I said in between tears and laughs. When we finally arrived at school, it was 9:15 and I was completely exhausted from the morning stress. "Sorry, we are late. We missed the bus. We were playing outside and got carried away," I was trying to explain to the secretary, who looked suspiciously at my sweaty face. But she was sweet enough to accept the apology without commenting any further.
"So Madame," the bus driver woke me up from my thoughts the next morning," are you putting the young mademoiselle on the bus, or is she staying with her mommy?" he asked. I put Lara on the bus breathing a sigh of relief, still ashamed of my little lie, but what choice did I have anyway? I would be more ashamed of admitting to the bus driver that I really missed the bus, even though I lived in the house across the street from the bus stop. How could I admit something like this to a man who had four children and yet was never late a single time?
I stood at the bus stop watching the bus leave, waiving for Lara until I lost sight of the bus. At that very moment, a miracle of motherhood transformed my angry feelings into sadness. I already missed my daughter just a minute after the complete morning chaos. "It is time to go back," I said to myself. But the morning chores were not yet over. I wiped my tears, hurrying home to clean the kitchen. By the time I finished cleaning and scrubbing, it was already 10:15. I had only fifteen minutes left to take my shower and get ready to go to work. Finally dressed at 10:30, I had only enough time to put on some lipstick. "How could I go to work without any makeup?," I asked myself, looking worriedly at my pale face, frantically searching through my cosmetics bag. Then I realized that my daughter had misplaced it again and that I had no chance of finding it today. My face got even paler from shock. I must have a lipstick somewhere; I was trying to calm myself searching the bottom of my handbag while running to the car. "I am saved", I screamed excited with my success, proudly pulling the red Christian Dior lipstick jammed under different dollar bills. I waited for the first stop light where I transformed myself within a second from a washed out housewife into a tempting enough looking woman, waving to a man who was watching me with a wide smile on his face, amazed at my transformation.
Dressed in black high heels, with long blond hair, I entered into the world of perfumes. I breathed with pleasure the soft-scents, letting myself be carried away by the magic of seductive beauty that makes me oblivious to my morning duties. I couldn't recall anymore the dirty apron with my hands in the dough, and the smell of scones and fresh baked bread. All this had given way to the lure of the world's most beautiful perfumes. Holding a bottle of Angel perfume, as if it was a diamond in my hand, I started the day with the most confident smile, ready to conquer the market. "You didn't do your eyebrows again?," my colleague said disapprovingly, approaching me with a brown eyelid crayon. "If you want to conquer, you have to look like a conqueror." Within a few seconds she transformed my soft eye brows into two dark brows, which I don't like by the way, but in this world we believe that eyebrows are the mirror of your face. I let her do this to me without trying to explain the real reason for my lack of makeup on my face. What could she say anyway. You have to live the moment in order to understand the moment. I don't think that anyone can possibly imagine me, seeing me dressed in Armani clothes, with an apron working in a kitchen. Dressed to kill, ready to sell I walked around the store presenting my beautiful Angel perfume, forgetting about anything but my main goal: to sell as much as I can, to be as effective as I can. The businesswoman in me had replaced the caring housewife, and the writer in me which I would do in my spare time sometimes three days a week, from the moment when Lara left the house until late at night when Lara went to bed. There in my office with a pen in my hand, I lived in another world, my world, a world I was born to be in, that I was gifted for, that I had studied for. The world of the written word! The world where my novel Refugee Tears was born, and where my many fairy tales had at last seen the light of day. This four-day routine of selling perfumes was my refuge from my own soul. It was the time when I wouldn't think of anything, the time when I would relax away from my many thoughts, tired of my haunting past that I had left behind, along with my book, about the war in my native country Bosnia, and my years as a refugee in Serbia living in a refugee center: away from the words awash in my soul, like the ocean that would eventually throw my soul ashore like a drowned body. I do not need to think in order to think again. I need to see people in order to feel alive. I need to touch beauty in order to feel beautiful. I need to smell perfumes that intoxicate the soul with their beautiful fragrances. I need to talk, to walk, to work, to produce. Until five-o'clock, I was nothing else but a passionate ambassador for Thierry Mugler, proud to be part of the fashionable world. At 4:55 p.m., on my way out to pick up my daughter, I became a mother, anxiously watching the clock to see if I was going to get my daughter on time from the daycare, honking at sleepy drivers trying to accelerate in the traffic jam. Another day was starting. After I managed to get Lara just before closing time at the daycare, I still had to go to the store to buy food for supper. In my haste, I did not see that Lara had put chocolate sweets and many other unnecessary items in the shopping cart, until I got to the counter where the surprise was waiting for me. Exhausted from the day, I didn't have any choice but to pay more than double that I had planned, threatening my daughter that the next time I would not bring her to the store. "Oh mommy," she smiled wisely, "you can buy this now since you avoided the late fee at the daycare." "Oh today's kids," I answered with resignation, "you can't outsmart them."
As soon as I entered the house, I put on my apron and started my Cinderella job. Cooking, washing , cleaning, bathing Lara and finally putting her to sleep, when my day would finish falling asleep right there beside her, too tired to even hear my husband asking me if I wanted to watch some TV with him. "Next year," I would answer already half-snoring. Watching myself in the mirror, I don't only examine my age or my wrinkles. While I examine my fatigued look and dark circles around my eyes, I am also looking for the source of my fatigue, as if trying to solve a puzzle, with every piece finding its place like all the answers to this puzzle of life. I tired myself out, running, working, and living in anxiety about my daughter from morning to night without respite, without asking for help, without taking a single deep breath. I never let my husband take care of my daughter alone, unless I supervised him. On Saturdays and Sundays, I would send my husband and Lara either to his parents or to my brother's to play with my nephew. Even then, I would call five times per day to see if she was hungry, cold, or if she had her shoes so she would not fall down dangerous stairs, which had already happened once. In my obsession with Lara's safety, I forgot about my husband's feelings, imposing my own security measures for Lara, without wondering whether they would be offensive to him. Since the day she was born, I would get up at least five times each night, watching her, observing her, to see if she was breathing properly, touching her to see if she was hot or cold, or if there was a spider in her room, mosquito or any other insect, or if there was enough fresh air, or enough light so she wouldn't fall if she happened to get up. Since the day she started to walk, I would scream in anticipation of her falling. I watched over her, trying to keep her safe from the world, keeping her in the palm of my hand. The time had now come to open my hand and let her fly without me. The time had come to learn to trust my husband, Lara and her guardian angels. Watching myself in the mirror as if the mirror was the mirror of my soul, I found many of the answers clearly written on its glare. I saw my husband getting into the room with a worried expression on his face. "I called you several times," he said."You didn't hear me. The phone is ringing. It is the number of your doctor on the phone," he would repeat. I looked at him tenderly, feeling love in my heart. I put my hand on his shoulder, seeking refuge from this illness, and then released an avalanche of tears: the tears of gratitude for having him in my life, the tears of my awakened conscience, the tears of eternal love and a deep respect for this noble man and father of my daughter. "I would like you to marry me again when I get better," I proposed, which he accepted with a gentle caress on my cheek. "Hello," I answered the phone, while my heartbeat was accelerating. After all, we never knew what would be the news. We hoped for the best, but we feared the worse. "Hello," I heard a warm, soothing voice on the other side. "I have news for you. You have mono," my doctor said. "It is confirmed." "Mono," I screamed, almost relived, ready to suffer a few more months. "It is much better than what I sometimes imagined in my darkest thoughts. I feel as if a truck has rolled over me," I exclaimed.
"I am going on vacation," the doctor said. "By the time I come back, it will probably be over. Just rest and drink plenty of liquids," he reassured.
As soon as I dropped the phone, I called my mother. "It is mono," I said almost joyfully. "It seems like you are ready to open a bottle of champagne to celebrate the terrible news," my mother answered, scared about what she had heard. "Don't be scared, mother. You were never afraid of anything," I was trying to console this iron lady who was and still is my idol, my brave hero, my 6-foot tall Amazon woman. "Nothing matters now," I said. "It is not something worse. I am not afraid of this monster. I am ready to fight it," I declared. "It is true that I was never scared of anything regarding myself," my mother replied, "but when my children were not well, then I would no longer be that Amazon woman you knew. Under this mountain of me there is a heart that bleeds every time something hurts you or your brother," she said holding back her tears. But I could sense them through her shaking voice. As soon as I hung up the phone, I went to my office to start to research mononucleosis. I was keen to win this, to push out this mono vampire. So I went through almost every single website on this disease, in English, French, Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian, to learn as much as I could to help grapple with it. In order to win, I had to find out as much as I could about my enemy. Until the day I got it, I had ignored even the existence of this disease. The first time I had ever heard about this strange name was from my husband when we met." I once had mono many years ago," he said honestly, "but I didn't think that it will ever affect you. It was a long time ago in my early student days." "Mono-what," I asked with my mouth half-open, like something from another planet. Yet, after his explanation, I still didn't know any more than in the beginning. "Listen," I said to my husband, "I grew up in the school where my mother was a teacher. Imagine how many children I met. Yet, I never heard about this mononunu… so I can't even pronounce it correctly." That was the end of our conversation, until the beginning of another conversation on this subject, once I myself had the honor of being affected by it. All day long I would work hard on my "mono education", taking several breaks and naps before I managed to finish my research and getting the big picture about my unwanted visitor, and my to-do list! "I have a list for you," I told my husband the next morning, asking him if he could go to the store to get some things for me. Since I've been sick, I couldn't drive anymore. Better to say, I simply just don't go anywhere. I have had just enough strength to take a small walk in the morning, in order to be functional in the house for the rest of the day. Being dizzy and weak all the time has prevented me from leaving the house.
My husband took the list, suspiciously looking it. "Oh my God," he said, which is his favorite phrase whenever something surprises him. "There are 58 items on this list. How long did it take you to write this?" "Don't worry about it," I smiled. "Just hurry up and get these things for me. I need all this to improve my immune system. I am starting my detox diet as of today." "But, you have always eaten healthily," my husband tried to protest. "Not healthily enough," I answered, keen to get every single article from the list. "I am sure that we have half of these things in the house," my husband tried to convince me again that I didn't need so many kilos of fruits and vegetables. "You are absolutely right, but they are not fresh. I want to start with fresh produce," I said. "But, who is going to eat all the old stuff?" he asked with raised eyebrows. "You, my love," I answered in a half guilty, yet sweet voice. "You don't like to waste food.", I implied. "Well," he answered sighing, "if you think I am a garbage, I can always try."
My husband started examining the list reading aloud: "Red beets (two kilos) Apples (two kilos) Carrots (two kilos) Spinach (5 packs) Kale (5 packs) Cabbage (3) Butternut Squash Walnuts Hazelnuts Macadamia nuts Pecans Pine nuts Pistachios Pumpkin seeds Sesame seeds Chi seeds Hemp seeds Dry raisins Dried figs Dried plums Dried apricots Ginger root Cider vinegar Salmon Tuna Mackerel Haddock Vitamin C Vitamin A Vitamin E Zinc Selenium Magnesium B complex Garlic Horseradish Fenugreek Sage Thyme Honey..."
He stopped in the middle of the list asking questions. "For God's sake Natasha, it will take me two hours just to read the list. Look at this," he continued. "Two kilos of beets. Why on earth do you need two kilos of beets?" he clamored. "If you really want to know, this is the main part of my detox program: grated beetroot, grated apple, grated carrot with arugula salad, spinach, dry fruits, and nuts. This will be my daily lunch. Since there is no medication for mono, only rest and a good diet, I have no choice but to do with the best that I can muster. Furthermore, since everybody is predicting that at my age, as if was 100 years old, I am going to be sick for a longer period, which means several months, I want to be sure that I have enough reserves. I don't want to bother you every day to go to the store, to buy one beet or one apple. I have read that beets literally push out toxins. They have anti-inflammatory properties that help detoxify the liver. As you know, the liver may be enlarged up to nine times due to mono. I don't want to walk as if I have a big pumpkin in my stomach." "Whoa, we are not at war," he answered laughing. "Yes, I replied, it is war. My war against the virus," I replied. "OK, but what about the endless bags of spinach. When are you going to eat all of these?" he asked. "I have plenty of time to spare," I answered unwaveringly. "You and Lara are going to eat it as well. We don't have to wait to get sick to take better care of our body. By the way, spinach is supposed to be part of an everyday diet. There is a reason why Popeye eats this vegetable which is high in antioxidants. I also read that the vitamins and antioxidants present in spinach play a crucial role in the promotion of healthy and glowing skin. Moreover, spinach juice has benefits for hair, making it strong and problem-free." "Don't worry about your skin," my husband answered. "You are already using the most expensive face creams. "As for hair," he looked at my thick long hair, "I am the one who should be worried since I don't have any..."
"What about nuts?" he continued his questioning." "Why would you need every single possible specimen from the nut family?" he enquired. "Each has its own unique nutritional profile," I prepared for a long speech, but my husband cut my discourse. "That is enough, please, I don't have time to hear about all the health benefits from each article you read. I believe you. By the way, why did you write all these vitamins separately? I will just buy you a vitamin complex," argued my thrifty husband. "OK," I agreed, "just be sure to get a supplement which contains the entire B complex - B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B12 (cyanocobalamin) and biotin. B complex vitamins help to support the adrenal glands, which help the body cope with stress. They're also involved in energy production, which makes them essential for people with mononucleosis," I continued. "Don't forget to also buy fish oil capsules separately, please. They help reduce lymphatic inflammation." I said, going on with my order, rubbing my painful swollen glands in my neck, as if this gesture would convince him of the importance of this Omega-3 salvation.
"If you want me to come any time soon, I have to leave now," he said, grabbing the paper and running to the door. When I heard the sound of the car, I suddenly remembered that I had forgotten a very important article about my mono cure. I ran outside waving my arms in a panic trying to get my husband's attention. I am saved, I thought, when he opened the window. "I forgot to write Oregano oil, so please don't forget," I insisted. "It has miraculous antioxidants that help protect against the effects of free radicals and improve your ability to fight infection," I explained. "And also probiotics that are crucial elements in the healing process of immune system," I made clear. "I will try," my patient husband responded sighing. "But don't call me for anything else, please," he stated. "Pollen, please," I screamed in vain; as he had already closed the window. He couldn't hear me anymore. "Well, I presume," I said to myself, shrugging my shoulders, "he doesn't want to know the health benefits of this other miraculous ancient, holistic remedy." I looked at my watch. It was 9 o'clock. It was time for my morning walk. I had to push myself despite my headache and dizziness. I know that if I don't use the morning time, I will not have enough energy left at the end of the day. I would never be able to walk in the afternoon.
So, I put on a long scarf and wrapped myself like a salami although it was already 25 degrees C outside. Since I have mono, I am always cold. I managed to find a nice three-colored cotton scarf that I could wear, not to be fashionable, but rather out of necessity. On my slow walk, I saw some other walkers dressed in t-shirts and shorts already sweating. I followed my limits using superhuman strength and took another step, thinking how lucky I was to be able to walk. I saw one of my neighbors on a bicycle, thinking how free and beautiful it must feel riding a bicycle with the wind in your hair. "Natasha," he said in his pleasant voice, making me feel as if I was the most important person in our village. "What is wrong this morning?" he asked. "Well, it is this mono," I answered in a said voice. "It is not only this morning, unfortunately. There will probably be many other mornings like this one until I get better," I explained to him. "Well," he answered sympathetically. "You look fabulous any way." "I would rather say that I look mononucleosis," I replied with a weak smile. "Well," he smiled back optimistically. "Then I must say that you look mononucleosisly fabulous," he joked. "Good day," he said flying away on his bicycle, while I continued to force myself to walk. I had just walked a single block, hoping to see my house soon. At 9:45 a.m., I had reached 100 meters from my home. It had taken me 45 minutes to walk that distance, that would have normally only taken 15 minutes. I stopped, completely exhausted watching my house longingly without any power to move on. I looked at my cell phone, wondering if I should call a taxi, but I imagined the taxi driver looking at me as if I was crazy, so I abandoned the idea. "Move," I was ordering my resisting body. "You have to do it", I commanded. "But if I move, I will die," my body answered. "No you will not," I screamed back loudly."God, give me the strength to go on," I asked the Lord with my eyes fixed at the sky. "I know you have other plans for me. Otherwise you would not have saved me from drowning last year," I remembered.
I took a deep breath and closed my eyes, recalling the day when I almost met my death the year before. I was remembering myself lying on a beautiful sandy beach in Crete, lazily watching the crystal blue sky. My daughter was playing beside me, making castles in the sand, and my husband was body surfing on some big waves in the distance. It doesn't take much to be happy, I thought, overwhelmed by the gratefulness of being able to rest on an unspoiled beach, and feel the beauty of life with my family on a beach in one of my dream countries: Greece. "Are you going to swim today lazy bee?" I heard my husband say, bringing me back from nirvana. "It is so beautiful to ride the waves," he said. "I can try," I replied, getting up slowly in the heat. "I could use some waves to refresh myself," I uttered, so I entered the water, plodding through the soft sand, enjoying the wonderful feeling of walking barefoot in the water. I walked far away, but the water still went up only to my knees. The strong waves splashed me up to the middle of my body, but since the water was still shallow, I could easily sustain its strength. I was watching the waves, thinking about my husband playing all day long like a little boy in them. I can do the same, I was thinking. There is no danger. The water is not deep. The next moment I jumped, screaming with joy as a big wave hit me, waiting to be pushed back. But the unpredictable sea decided to play around with me. Instead of being pushed back to the shore, I realized that I was being pushed out into the deeper sea where I couldn't touch the bottom. I was caught in a hidden deep sea swirl with strong currents. I flung my arms as hard as I could, struggling with the waves, trying to get to shallow water, but the more I fought, the stronger became the sea. I would swim two meters forward, and the sea would push me back the same distance to where I was just before, playing with me as if I was just a tiny straw. The powerful, tenacious waves gripped me easily and quickly spun me on my back, filling my throat with water. My strength gradually subsided, and my reason was increasingly blurred. That's it, I said to myself. This is the end. I didn't have the strength to fight anymore. Weak as I was, I looked at the sky almost ready to give up. No, I said again to myself, this isn't possible. This is not my end. This is not how I am going to die, thinking about my daughter. I opened my mouth and screamed out my husband's name as loud as I could: "Frederic. Help," I screamed again several times, waving my arms as much as I could. With a few people on the beach on that windy day and my husband half asleep in a long chair, there was little chance that somebody would hear me. But God did. When I saw my husband walking towards me, I knew that God had sent him to save me. It was God's will then, now and always, I thought as I pushed myself to make another footstep, another hard move to reach the house. Everything was in God's hands, and so was my mononucleosis. This painful state was in itself a cleansing process, a time of contemplation and deep knowledge of the self and others, of regeneration of my tired being and long burdened mind and body. This had to come out like an extinct volcano provoking chaos inside of me, like a healing process that leads to recovery and perfect order. I finally reached my house, dropping to the bed, almost unconscious, where I stayed in my usual state, between sleeplessness and reality for several hours.
When I came back to some normal state of mind, I realized that it was almost 1 o'clock and Frederic still wasn't home. I was weak with stomach pains, so I couldn't move to do anything. I was craving for my healthy salad of grated beetroot, apple and carrot. I picked up the phone and dialed my husband's number, ignoring his warning not to call him, when I heard the door. "I am saved," I whispered to myself gratefully. "Where have you been until now?", I asked my husband, loaded with parcels full of chard leaves, beets, lettuce, and other vegetables. "Well, considering your large order you can call yourself lucky I didn't come back tomorrow," he answered irritatingly. "I feel like a delivery boy," he stated. "Too bad," I replied to his joke. "I don't have any money on me to tip you," I answered. I managed, despite my fatigue to find some strength to laugh. I got up almost on four feet and started searching for my lunch. After a lengthy search, I finally found my seven vegetables. I put everything on the table sighing: beets, apples, carrots, walnuts, dry cranberries, flax seeds, avocado, turmeric. "Uh," I sighed. There was a huge demanding task in front of me. I looked piteously at the grinder, wondering if I could ask Frederic to grind it for me. "Freddy," I called my husband who was already in his office. "Could you help me in the kitchen?" I asked. "Well," he answered, "I just started to work on your book editing. If it is not important, I would like to finish this first. At least, you will have something to cheer you up once your book appears on Amazon." "Go on," I replied. "In the end, it is better that you finish publishing my book than cut vegetables for me," I exclaimed. "Well," I said to myself, staring at the mountain of vegetables in front of me, "I will manage somehow." If I interrupt him now, who knows when the next opportunity will come? I will let him finish this important work. I was anxious for my book to see the light of day. This was my first novel that I had named Refugee Tears. The book is a testimony to my own experience in the war in Bosnia and as a refugee in Serbia in the early 1990s.This work brought me back to the part of myself that I thought I had forgotten; the part that had pushed me to study literature in ex-Yugoslavia, which had proven to be worthless in Canada, where I had been struggling to earn a piece of bread. This book woke up all of my sleeping senses that I had put to sleep while doing my many routine jobs. This book is proof that everything is possible if you have vision and determination. I am now walking towards another part of my life, a part where the real meaning of life comes to fruition. It has become clear to me, as if written somewhere in my heart, that writing is the second meaning for my life. The first is my daughter Lara along with my husband Frederic.
With these thoughts that gave me strength, I finished making my demanding salad, which at the end looked more like a mountain of vegetables topped with smoked salmon, different nuts, dry raisins, pumpkin seeds, and seasoned with healthy turmeric, olive oil and lemon. When I finally finished my lunch, I couldn't get the strength to move one finger. I couldn't even pick up the plates. I left everything on the table without feeling guilty, wondering how we can easily change our habits when we are sick. From being super neat, I must say, remembering myself being a slave of the house without even having ten minutes for TV, I had become indifferent to once important matters like immediate cleaning up after eating. Dizzy and weak, I went to my lazy chair outside to get some rest. I was just about to fall into a state of mind between sleep and reality when I heard my husband's voice: "Oh my God," my husband came to see me, "what a mess you left," he protested. "If you say this again, I will kill you," I said in my unconvincing feeble voice. "Sorry," he whispered as he came closer to me. At the same moment he bounced back: "Boy, you smell like garlic," he said, holding his nose and making me feel as if I was a seven-headed dragon. "Well, I don't think you are intending to kiss me any time soon," I answered bitterly. "I am using a large amount of garlic to try and kill this virus," I insisted. "Don't worry," he laughed, "you can kill many viruses with that smell." "Get out of my sight," I answered angrily. "You look so tired and pale," he finished the conversation with a nice compliment... "If you don't disappear at this moment I will bite you," I screamed with my remaining force. After he hurried up and went outside to escape trouble, I sighed deeply and went back to my friendly cheer. After all, maybe I don't look that mono-fabulous, as my neighbor tried to convince me, I said to myself as I fell deeply into my afternoon rest.
In the middle of August, I went back to see my doctor. I didn't feel any improvement in my health, just an avalanche of fatigue in my body and mind. "Hello," I said to my doctor, and smiled when I entered his office wrapped in a heavy autumn coat on this sunny and hot day. "I guess you are not getting better," he concluded from my weeping appearance. "I will be happy if I am not getting worse," I answered rubbing the painful glands in my neck. These glands were an everyday reminder that I was still climbing a mountain of recovery. It seemed that as soon as I would take a few steps, somebody would push me down to the bottom of the mountain, from where I would have to climb back up again. By the time I had colorfully explained to my doctor my enduring mono symptoms, he turned on his computer and appeared startled. "Your blood count came in while I was on vacation," he started. "It looks as if you have both mono viruses at the same time; EBV and CMV. which is extremely rare." he explained. "So, I don't have mono, I have stereo," I said trying to be funny, but what I really wanted to do was to scream. "Have you ever seen somebody with both viruses?" I asked him hopefully. "Nope," he sighed," I have not." "I guess this is just my luck. I should go out and buy a lottery ticket," I replied with a smile of acceptance.
As soon as I left his office, I googled: two mono viruses, double mono, simultaneous mono. After a while, I fell upon an article about the confessions of people who have dual mono. I read each testimony, trying to find advice on how to get rid of the virus. But instead of finding hope, I found nothing but disappointment and frustration. Everyone, just like me, was looking for a miracle cure. And many of them for several years... I shut off the computer and promised myself not to read anything anymore about mono. I arrived home with mixed feelings: disillusionment, letdown, fear, and pain. In a state of total debility I opened the door and saw the most darling and most beautiful face in the world: my mother's face. My mother, my fortress, my stronghold, was standing there in the corridor like a most beautiful dream, with her arms open to me, her child, taking me in her arms to alleviate my pain and fear. I buried my face in her arms and cried out loud without any shame. I laid down on the sofa a few hours in her lap, while her slender hands gently caressed my hair to calm my anxiety and fears. "Don't be scared," she was saying with her strong voice. "You will not die. Nobody dies from mono. You will get back your strength. Look at me, I was close to death many times. But do you know why I survived? Because I was never scared." "I am not you, mommy, I am scared. I don't have your strength," I argued. "You are my daughter. You must have some of my blood," she replied in a firm convincing tone. "I survived typhoid fever when I was only 12 years old," my mother started to tell her almost unreal story. "I woke up when they lit a candle for the final hour. I wasn't ready, and I didn't want to leave this earth. They fed me with only liquids for a few months. When I was strong enough to get up from my bed, I had to use the edge of the bed to learn to walk again. My cousin ran away when he entered my room and saw me without any hair on my head, only bones and skin staring at him like a ghost," she continued. "Look at you. You are six-feet tall," I teased her. "You are like a Dutch windmill. You are stronger then the strongest wind. Look at me, a tiny five-foot three minuscule creature," I stated. "Power is in mental consciousness, not in physical appearance. You have the power. There is enough power in your little head to win. I was not this big when I won my first battle," she explained. "I had a smaller head than you now. There was no fear in there. That is why I won. When I was just about 10 years old, I faced the most terrible fear of my life. I was a Partisan courier, sent by my father to deliver secret correspondence to the commander of another battalion in a nearby village. My father was a great Partisan officer in the Yugoslav army that was fighting Nazis and Nazi collaborators such as Chetniks and Ustashis. The major problem was that the passageway between the two villages was in the hands of the Chetniks. "Eat this letter if they catch you, my father told me," she said. "Don't ever let them read what is inside," he repeated to her, presuming that she was a small enough child that nobody would touch her. "My father didn't have any choice but to send this important letter which just had to be delivered. Unfortunately, I was not small enough to go unseen, or lucky enough to pass as a child from a Chetnik village. Somebody on the lookout noticed that I was coming from a Partisan village. They started to fire at me, regardless of my age. The only shelter I had was in a corn field, but I didn't stay there. I was running faster than a bullet. I was flying as my little heart was pounding in my throat. I kept on running, even when I was far enough away to no longer be a target. In the end, I didn't eat the letter. I brought it to the commander and dropped to the ground, unconscious after this harrowing mental and physical endeavor," she concluded. I listened attentively to my mother, admiring her for her courage.
"I don't have your toughness," I said, "but I have the will to survive. I want to be there for my daughter when the time comes to be her best friend, like you are mine now." There are moments when I am broken in fatigue, when this weakness gets to every part of my body and mind, rendering me completely powerless with thoughts of how impossible it seems to be to get fully back on my feet. "Nobody has died from mono. It is hard, but it is curable. It may take months before you recover, but never think that you can't stand up on your own feet. Get up and walk, even if you have to crawl," my mother insisted. "When I was in my late twenties, my mother recalled, "I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Do you know what saved me again?"she asked. "Your strong genes," I answered. "Maybe, but mainly it was my attitude and my mental fortitude, so that I wasn't scared." she said defiantly. "When they were shaving off my hair to prepare me for surgery, I cracked some jokes: If you cut me up, you will not get a tip," my mother said to the doctor. "How can you laugh Novka?" the doctor asked in surprise. "You know that you may not wake up. And even if you do wake up, with the kind of tumor you have, your chances of survival are no more than six months," he asserted. "If I wake up," she said without fear, "I will survive. And if I don't wake up, I'll see you in another world," she warned him. "I woke up and, as I promised, I survived. I survived for many reasons, but for me the most important one was to meet your wonderful father and to give birth to your brother and you several years later. You are the reason why I am still alive. I have survived many recent setbacks, the death of your father, and many recent surgeries. But you were always holding my hand and praying for me to stay alive," she reminded me. "And I did it for you, to teach you to be strong. You have to learn it now while I am still alive!" she declared. I wiped my tears and stood up while holding my mother's hands.
My feet were shaking, my head was spinning, and my heart was beating fast. I was holding my mother's hands, feeling the warmth of her elderly, struggling, but still strong hand. I did not fall. I stood up straight in her arms, without any fear of tomorrow.
It is the February 2015. My visitor is still here. Stubborn and persistent, but not as strong. It gives me a few breaks from time to time, allowing me to go for longer walks, and to ignore my
swollen glands in my neck and arms. I walk a little faster every day, without the fear of having to call a taxi to get back. I do have some relapses, sometimes terrible ones, but I am not scared
of them anymore. I still cry when I have them, but I have learned to live with them, as we learn to live with storms and floods. There is sunshine under every cloud. Peeking out shyly but
persistently, warming the sodden earth, even fondling the cracks in the earth filled with rainwater, delivering the energy of incandescent light. I have learned to function with limited energy
levels and scant power of movement. I have learned to accept not having vacations with my husband and daughter. I have learned to wave to them a long time whenever they go without me, holding
back my tears. I have learned to quit my job, while the scents of perfumes still tickle my nose when I close my eyes imagining my former world of fashion and beauty, full of action-filled days. I
have learned to live without my friends. I have learned to appreciate the days with my mother, my husband and my daughter. I have learned to appreciate my good neighbor Yong Mei. I rejoice when I
hear her steps on my terrace when she comes to visit, asking me if I need anything. I have learned to deeply respect her Chinese generosity and goodwill, her Chinese garlic that purifies the
blood, and her divine dumplings. I have learned to live with my ups and downs, using the ups to do as much as I can: longer walks, at least an hour of writing each day, and suppers with my
family. For each hour of work, I need two hours of rest. Sometimes when I have good up periods, I make a cake for my daughter, enjoying her little applause and the happy glow in her eyes. I have
learned to be as happy as I can. I now always look forward to each Sunday evening when I feel the warmth and love of my parents in-law when they perform a Reiki treatment and place their gifted
hands over me, and reach out to the angels to heal me. I am always smiling, overwhelmed and forever grateful. I have learned to accept taking small steps towards recovery, and discovered a great
virtue that I thought I never had before: patience. With patience, hope, will and strength in me, I smile to a future day. Tomorrow is a new day. Maybe, it will be my lucky day. If not, there is
another one coming after tomorrow!