I work in TV and we have a really great amount of time off. Outside of that time, people don't really miss days. We do a show everyday. And my approach to work in general is to never miss a day, which was grinded into me at a young age by my Irish-Catholic raised father who, to the best of my knowledge, has never missed a day of work (except for when he was hit with a 'Fever of Unknown Origin' in 2003 and spent 3 weeks at the same hospital Prince George was born in. Needless to say, we did not get the throngs of paparazzi upon departure, but it was a very interesting experience to say the least. I'll tell the story if he lets me which he probably won't. He is very private. This is where we obviously differ). When my parents found out my mother was pregnant he still worked for the telephone company because my grandfather also worked there and helped him get him a job. Nepotism is alive and well in the working class. It wasn't a great job, it was a fine job. It paid the bills. It helped him get his life back together when he was in a rough spot in his late 20s. They were on an escalator in a mall in Queens and they were about to break up, after having dated for a few years. My mother was going to Paris to study and live out dreams of eating baguettes and cheese and my dad, I don't know what my dad would have done. He said (and prepare yourself, because this is one of the most romantic things you've probably ever heard, ripped straight from the pages of Sleepless in Seattle or Gone With The Wind) 'So, should we have the baby? Get married?' Real smooth, pops. When I was born he decided he had to 'secure our future' so he quit his job and went to law school. He took out loans and went to St. John's University in Queens. Not Columbia, not Harvard, not Yale and certainly not paid for by his family. He says he never would have been hired nowadays if he did the same now. My grandmother took away the keys when everyone turned 18, there were 5 kids and to her credit, they've all done very well in life. Maybe that's a good parenting tactic. She looks at me with horror and often asks when I'm moving out on my own. She sends me links to apartments around the city, suggests one-bedrooms all over town. I get it grandma, spread my wings and all that (as long as I stay in the tri-state area). You down to pay my rent? For now the liver transplant is a pretty good excuse to stay a bit longer.
He took out loans which I think he finally finished off paying in the early 2000s. The way he tells it goes something like this 'You know, there were the young guys, they were going off on their ski trips and their weekends away, they were out at 5 o'lock sharp on a Friday. I was the old guy, I had a kid at home' (he was 35 when he started his first job as an associate) 'I would stay late. (Oh really Dad, why'd you stay so late: because the kid was at home or because you had a kid at home? We'll never know. The guy is a lawyer, after all. Real hard to pin down, those lawyers.) 'So the phone would ring on Friday night and I'd pick up. I'd always be there and so the clients got to know me, and they started to request me for all the work.' His tricks (and stamina) worked. He became a specialist in his field and in a short 5 years was hired at one of the biggest law firms in the world and got to move to Hong Kong and London to live and work and therefore really did 'secure our future' as was bandied about so often in my early years. My mother would say 'Tom, why are you never here? I have a screaming baby and I'm tearing my hair out and we're in this apartment in Forest Hills and I don't know anyone here and why oh why and take me to Paris.' He'd say, in his ever-even keeled tone, which is infuriating at the best of times: 'Lesley, I'm securing our future.' He was right in the end, he did a good job at securing the future. They got married when my mother was 6 months pregnant. Their honeymoon was in Montauk with my uncle Allan. Apparently my dad was so tired from law school exams that he slept the whole time. So yeah, I have a good work ethic, I like to think. Although, after graduating during the worst recession since the Great Depression with the historically very employable degree MA in Art History and French Literature, I somehow wasn't afforded much opportunity at first. Shocking! I carpet bombed London with my CV in 2009, and didn't have much luck. I've had so many jobs: I worked at magazines, I worked for a fashion label, I catered, I worked in PR and had to pitch newspapers on 'Cashmere Toilet Paper' and Christmas pudding (a lot of journalists hang up on you when you do that for a living), I sold tea (not so good with the selling of the tea), I produced garments for other designers, I copy-edited books, I was a wedding planner for just one wedding (my portfolio is short but the quality of my product is top-notch), I helped produce other events, I babysat a lot, I worked in a bookshop, I worked in restaurants and at my lowest point in my mid-20s I worked in a lobster shack buttering rolls and stuffing cold lobster in them. I also created my own opportunity and started a jewelry company which did marginally well. Then, when that opportunity didn't work out I chased a dream that had been nagging at me for as long as I can remember and tried to work in tv and film production. And I managed it, and I took it really seriously. So I was coming from the spectrum of watching someone work really, intensely hard for my entire life and making it and succeeding against some tough odds apart from two important factors including but not limited to white male privilege (sorry dad) and starting a career in the early 90s (sweet life).
I was so grateful for the opportunity when I got hired in my current job and I didn't have to do that round the clock hustle anymore of having 3 jobs at any given time that I sometimes allowed it to cloud my view of actually having a life outside of work. This of course happens to all of us, everywhere, in any industry. In this instance, I was being severely irresponsible with my health because I thought I had to be at work to the exclusion of all else and not tending to what was clearly a very serious situation. I was putting this on myself, I was the one making these stringent rules and it didn't make sense in this situation. I don't know why I was so stubborn. So I stayed at work until Tuesday, until the nurses kicked me out and with good reason. When I told my boss I had just had to take a nap in the nurse's office, she said 'Nora, that's not normal.' I realised she was right, why did I think that was ok? I don't want to put labels on what was going on in my head but if I didn't know me I'd say I was in a severe psychosis and grappling at straws at what was normal. But that's just if I didn't know me. Since I know me, it's really a mystery. It was lucky that I wasn't allowed on the premises for those few days, because it allowed me to go to get tested and to rest. Which of course I only did one of.
So I'm home and I wake up with a shock at 930am, finding it hard to believe that this is my current reality--after sleeping for a straight 13 hours (sound the alarm, Nora's brain) I email the nurse practitioner from the bougie medical office you can read about here, and she tells me to come in for testing for Hepatitis E, with her lukewarm, non-committal answer about whether I should go into hospital (what are you, lady, a lawyer?) and so I prepare to go into the city and get my blood taken. My dear friend Pema had just arrived from Delhi, where she lives full-time. She comes back to New York to visit her mother and see friends twice a year. At the time, I was actually helping her with some editing work and we had been working together for months and I was going to help her with the writing of a book. That fell way way WAY off the wagon after the summer but she's still doing it and doing it well. Check out her many projects here, it's fascinating work. So of course I wanted to see her, it's only every 6 months that she comes to NY and it's always a treat to have her here. If I could describe Pema in any way, it's as one of the calmest, most Buddha-like (not just because she's Tibetan buddhist), most patient, accepting and loving people I've ever known. She walks the walk. We met living in Florence at 18. In fact, she was 19 and I was 17 and we lived in a room with 5 girls. I lived on the bottom bunk of a bunk bed and would hang an Indian sari up that I got on Portobello Road so no one would speak to me when I was watching 8 hours straight of The Sopranos or The O.C. It took so much effort to watch those shows. This was before Netflix. Straight downloading for days. And yes, I lived up the road from the Uffizi and many other beautiful museums and relics and history and art and culture. And yes, I did love the O.C. with all my heart and I did watch maybe more than I should have when I was studying in a beautiful foreign country and attempting to learn the language, but what's it to you? We all bonded hard that year. I only got to stay for a semester thanks to my killjoy dad who apparently knew what was 'best' for me (he did) and suggested I take my place at St. Andrews and not live out the rest of my days drowning under student loan debt because my British passport afforded me a cheap-as-chips tuition (I haven't). Foresight is lost on the young.
We've remained friends for over 10 years and it's a joy to know her. She did so much for me last summer, it's almost astonishing sometimes when I think of it. I'll get to all of that later. One thing, though, that speaks to her character and who she is as a human being is this: she was postponing going back to Delhi for days and days when I was in hospital. I think originally she was only supposed to stay in NY for 2 weeks. I was circling the drain after transplant and I had my second surgery on her 30th birthday. She decided she didn't want to leave until she knew I was ok. She ended up staying about a month and didn't leave New York until she knew for sure that I was ok. Or at least that I was going to live. She had a life to get back to and work to be done, but she stayed just to come see me here and there in hospital (I wasn't good with visitors at this stage, I was almost catatonic at certain points). To me, that act of kindness and generosity of spirit tells you everything you need to know about Pema.
I'm at the doctor's office in the plush and kind of ridiculous setting, ripped straight out of the pages of Architectural Digest and I get my blood drawn for Hepatitis E. Pema happens to be a few blocks down at a restaurant with her mother and her mother's partner, both of whom I adore and who would also be pillars of strength through the power of example down the line. They invited me to come eat with them. I managed to sit for a bit, nibble on a morsel of bread, and they all sort of looked at me, surprised and more than likely alarmed. After that Pema kept urging me to go to the ER. If you look back at our text exchanges it's her asking me repeatedly 'Are you at the ER?' and 'Are you on your way to the ER?' and me largely ignoring the question 'Omg Pems, I just vommed in a restaurant in Williamsburg.' I couldn't accept it, I wouldn't and I was so confused and baffled (and paralysed by fear) so the establishments of NYC (and my worried loved ones) had to suffer. Her mother is no stranger to serious illness, and neither is Pema. I couldn't stay for too long, I said something to the effect of 'It's so good to see all of you, but I have to dash.' Except I've never used 'dash' in my entire life so probably something less obnoxious. They questioned me a bit about what the doctor said. I didn't have any definitive answers. Off I went back to Brooklyn, just trying to plod through the rest of the day to the night. I don't have to even mention vomit at this point, you know the drill. Pema and I decided the next day that we would try to do some work on her book together, since I wasn't allowed at work anyway.
We tried to see each other on the Thursday, but I kept postponing throughout the day because I couldn't move and I was also busy trolling the internet looking for ways to do liver cleanses and castor oil treatments and finally I said hey, I can't make it to the city after attempting to leave my apartment for a straight 5 hours. On Friday, the following day, I woke up after another night full of nightmares, sweats and vomiting, I woke up with a new lease on life (astonishing, right?) We went to see Amy, the documentary about Amy Winehouse. It was bone-chilling and heart-breaking and it spoke to me, like every huge fan of Amy Winehouse, because I loved Amy so much, I never wanted to see her go and I feel like I watched her descent into addiction so closely and so helplessly. Just like everyone else. I remember first learning about her by reading an article in Culture in 2003, a magazine section of the Sunday Times, when Frank had just come out and loving how honest she was about the whole circus. This article has also always stuck with me, she said: 'I used to smoke £200 worth of weed a week, that's two ounces, which is disgusting, and it made me eat crap food on impulse. I lost the weight when when I stopped smoking week and got into the gym instead.' I always remembered that quote over the years, watching her slip further and further into the disease of addiction from afar. The press called her 'feisty' and 'contradictory' but she was just honest and took the piss constantly and she was different. She was only 20 in that 2003 article and everything she said was being put in print and wrapped up into perfect little sound bites (perfect for the media, not so perfect for Amy). If even half the things I said when I was 20 and every other 20 year old I have ever known had been recorded we'd all be categorized as contradictions in terms. I've never forgotten that article about the North London girl done good. I loved her so much. She was so real, I could relate to her so closely, she was not manufactured in any way shape or form, she refused to be. She was honest and unapologetic. And she went to Sylvia Young! Fuck off no she didn't! That's the theatre school I went to at 11 years old because I somehow found it (I think I read in Smash Hits that one of the members of All Saints had gone there and decided, right, that's my life sorted then, I will be the 5th member of All Saints, just have to get to Sylvia Young). I was an awful actress and tone deaf and I cannot follow a choreographed dance to save my life, so I didn't last very long in the Saturday classes. But Amy and I were not that far in age and I always loved that bit of trivia for myself, that if I had just stuck to my terrible acting game I would have been privy to the early days of Amy Winehouse's talent. But I didn't so I'm still grateful I got to witness it from afar. And there we are, two for two of films about death, illness, and in Amy's case, addiction in the week leading up to my stay at Club Cornell. Death was on my mind, I don't think that was an accident.
We watch the doc together and we go back to Pema's house. We do some work and make a few plans and I feel excited about it all. Things are happening and we're going to really do something together, after bandying the idea about for so long of working on some side project. Then I start to feel really awful again, like a wave crashing up against my stomach formerly known as made of steel and I have to leave immediately. But I don't just jump in a cab like any person in their right mind would do and book it home, I want to find an optimal point to get into the cab from downtown to get to Greenpoint and so I start walking east. I lift my legs, which at this point are lead balloons and I'm for sure in liver failure now, (if I haven't already been for decades) as I walk down Broome Street. I feel sorry for myself so I buy a pair of $50 jeans and two iPad cases that are on sale and very cute (I didn't have an iPad to put them in. Certainly don't have two iPads). Today the jeans no longer fit me but I wore them almost everyday for 5 days and into the hospital so I feel like they served their purpose. Sometimes I still put them on and wonder how the fuck they fit me before. I continue on my way and some unknown force is just pushing me along, I'm walking and I don't know where. It's about 4pm by this time. Suddenly the urge comes on hard and fast and I have to find somewhere to vomit immediately or I'm going to do it on some Soho street and some Soho resident is going to kick me in the face because I'm sorry but Soho residents can sometimes be quite rude these days. Except for those old school ones, they're the absolute best and a dying breed. So I clock a hotel and I book it inside. I ask politely, as if I had just been in the adjacent restaurant 'May I please use your bathroom?' The receptionist grunts and his sidekick stares at me blankly, and in his bro-ey patois, goes: 'Downstairs, on the left.' 'Thanks so much, sir!' I love calling people sir to get them to endear them to me. Never works on the bros. I want to draw as little attention to myself as possible. But the outcome is inevitable and if I don't find a toilet bowl in the next 8 seconds my popcorn that I choked back during the film and I guess bile will be going all over this low-lit-all-black-I-don't-quite-understand-the-decor-or-the-vibe-you're-going-for hotel floor. Of COURSE the bathrooms are unisex and there is a guy cleaning right when I walk in, absolutely, that makes perfect sense in the story of my life. He gives me a look. I shoot him one back. I run into one of the stalls and have at it. You know the one, the hunched over the toilet seat wondering if your actual stomach is going to come up? That one. Mind you, I haven't spent any money in this establishment, I'm not a hotel guest and I'm not looking my best, I guess you could say. I don't look the worst I've ever looked, but I've probably looked better. I come out the toilet and the guy is still there, this time I don't look at him but he is sure as shit looking at me. I meticulously wash my hands, because I do not have a toothbrush on me so that's the only act of defiance in the fight against seeming unhygienic to this guy that I can muster, and I book it. The two dudes at reception seem to know what just went down, it's a slow day for them. It's Thursday afternoon. They definitely thought I was a crazy drunk asshole who just used their facilities for a vomit receptacle. Which is what I did do except I was not drunk and generally I like to think I'm not an asshole. But I mean, insanity levels were at an all time high.
So I book an Uber to go home because obviously walking around in the summer heat isn't my best course of action. I love New York in that you can pretty much bet on any given cab or Uber driver not talking to you or trying to chat you up when you're in their cab. They don't give a fuck about you and the dynamic is one of quietude and reflection. Oh no. Not today my friend! This guy wanted to chatty chat chat chat and then chat a bit more. 'So, what are ya up to today?' 'What do you do?' 'How about them rent prices?' 'You live in Brooklyn?' I tried to be as monosyllabic as possible but he didn't get the signals. It didn't take much effort on my part because I was sitting in his Uber physically and mentally willing myself not to throw up on his Honda Civic. I run inside my apartment and I collapse in a ball on my bed. I try to understand what I'm doing or why I'm doing it but none of it makes any sense and in my head I'm not computing. I'm not that sick, I'd say to myself, I'm just vomming in restaurants and hotels in Brooklyn and Manhattan and one very special toilet bowl in Greenpoint. I try to venture out to get something to eat. I had only eaten a hot dog bun leftover from the wedding the whole day. I get some guacamole at the local taco place but I can barely stomach it. The next day would be Saturday and still two more days until I go into hospital. It's Friday night in New York City and I'm barely alive. The night stretched out in front of me like a long trail of wooded forest, playing tricks on me and betraying me in darkness, I'd sleep in restless winks until daylight. The moral of my story is this: even when your doctor says 'Oh no I don't know whether you should go to hospital necessarily until the test results come back' even when this happens (which hopefully it will not), please do me a solid and instead listen to your friends, your colleagues, your family members, the friendly Uber driver and that tiny voice in the back of your head saying 'Nora, I think you might be dying, dude.' I realise this is case specific, but that voice is usually right.