My friend Nat put it better than I ever could. "RM, you got slammed."
The past two weeks have demolished my personal myth of indestructible physical health. On the evening of March 16 I had twelve people over, first for a Pride Month planning meeting and then for a Third Friday of the Month transgender support group. That's more people than have ever been at my apartment for an LGBT evening.
It was all very gratifying until Monday. I felt tired all day at work. I thought that was it, that I was overtired, and almost apologetically I told the G-Man that I was feeling under the weather and perhaps should consider staying home the next day. I wasn't even serious about it.
Then I woke up in the middle of the night with the worst sore throat I can remember in decades. Swallowing was painful, and my voice was a whisper. Twelve hours later I had no voice at all. All the other usual cold symptoms soon came on and joined in a merry spring celebration in my head.
I missed three and a half days of work, in disbelief first that this was not going to pass in 24 hours, then not in 48, and then not even in 72. My throat could take chicken noodle soup and soft boiled eggs but not much more than that. I consumed more tea and honey than I have in years. Our Embassy medical office sent medication home to me through a neighbor, and I went to work on Friday afternoon more for a medical evaluation than for work. At least the sore throat had finally loosened its grip.
On Saturday my voice started to come back, and on Sunday I felt well enough to meet my Peace Corps friend PA for brunch. This is her last week in Romania, and it would be the last chance to see each other. After brunch we walked through one of Bucharest's beautiful downtown parks, the sun warm and an early summer feel in the air. Could it have only been three weeks ago that snow drifts dominated the streets of Bucharest?
I went to bed gently that Sunday evening, certain I had turned the corner and that all would soon be well.
That feeling lasted until just short of midnight. During 25 years of marriage, I became a light sleeper much like my mother had been. Our young son would have the usual childhood illnesses and problems, and my spouse's two aunts and sister who lived with us had an assortment of ailments, some of them serious. Suffice it to say that the rescue squad in our neighborhood knew us well through nighttime visits, sometimes more than once in a month. I was primed for the slightest nighttime touch on the shoulder, the softest call from another room. In a moment I would be bolt upright, leaping into action to address the crisis of the moment.
So there I was on Sunday evening, already two hours into sleep when I heard the sound and jumped out of bed. It took a moment for me to realize it wasn't my telephone that had started ringing but the intercom telephone. Someone was at the door outside, asking to come in. In pajamas and a bathrobe, I opened the door to find my local friend NR standing there. She was having a small personal crisis and had come to me, her trans sister, for a shoulder and a few words. We sat, we talked. It didn't take long, and soon NR was on her way.
As to me, I scarcely slept the rest of the night. The adrenalin had done its job. Instead of recovering, I found my symptoms lingering. Not thinking as clearly as I should have, I rode my bicycle to work on Thursday only to find that the temperature had dropped and the wind had picked up at the end of the day. That night a good cough kept me up again, and I dragged myself into work on Friday. When our nurse saw me at lunchtime, he handed me some more pills and said just two words: "Go home." I took a taxi and collapsed on my couch for the rest of the afternoon. Only today, another Saturday, am I finally feeling back to where I was a week ago.
My story in this journal has been one of almost miraculous transformation, a snatching of my life from the hands of a fate that seemed destined to take me to the grave with the greatest of unfulfilled dreams. At the same time, I don't want to sugarcoat the down moments and put rose colored glasses on everything. Thus to put it bluntly, for me to get this physically sick was a shock. I don't recall anything like it in decades.
So now my mind is going in circles with theories. I am not alone by any means, as this mysterious Romanian virus is wrecking havoc at Embassy Bucharest. A number of others have been laid up at home as long as I was. One friend has what we are calling the 100 Day Cough.
But me, the person who never gets sick beyond a 24-hour cold? Let's see, is there anything different about my life this year than in years past?
Oh, yes, there is the small matter of HRT. It's almost ten months since I began. Could a law of unintended consequences be at work, my body changing not only in ways I had always wanted but also in ways that have lowered my resistance to infection? I've already had two local MtF women friends tell me, in effect, "Of course, didn't you know?"
I guess I should add to that the pressure of a long divorce and then post-divorce litigation. Pressure, pressure, and nothing but pressure for nearly four years with no truly relaxing vacation other than my two weeks in the US with my sisters last October.
So what did I do the day after my workplace transition last November? I jumped right into advocacy and support! Here I am, a very involved post representative for Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA). Most of my evenings and weekends have been going to volunteer work for GLIFAA and with the local LGBT community. I feel I have back dues to pay, at least four decades of them, and that my position at a U.S. Embassy overseas puts me in a special position to be able to begin that repayment. I'm not a great organizer, but I do put my heart into every activity and event that I can.
Would it have been different if I had transitioned on the US? I imagine I would have been just as much involved, but I would not have been the lead on anything. I would have been just another pair of hands. It is a fact of a Foreign Service Officer's life that we are experts on anything that falls within our portfolio. We are experts whether we know anything or not. If we don't, then our task is to learn very quickly. We are the representatives of our country overseas, and it is the very definition of our jobs to be the best representatives we can. Thus it is that I am a very visible if unofficial representative of the U.S. Government in the Romanian LGBT community. My hope is that I can also be an effective representative who is remembered fondly and well when she departs.
But to do that, I must recover my health. So this weekend I am taking time for myself. I am disconnecting the phones at night and lounging in the sun with a good book. My only outdoor activity today was the pleasant one of a morning at the beauty parlor. What better way to start to feel good about oneself again after two weeks of feeling like an infectious blob?
Infections, coughs, and tissue aside, there has been some very good news this month. In rapid succession I received my new Social Security card and my new Diplomatic Passport. My trivia question of the month is whether this is the first time the Special Issuance Office has reissued a passport because of a gender transition. Although I'm certain I'm the first such case for a State Department employee, I can think of a few people at NASA and other agencies who might have stood in that line before me. With new passport in hand, I will hope for fewer interesting experiences such as the ones I had when I traveled to the US last year using my old passport (The Odd Joys of International Travel while in Transition).
|Still Red-Nosed but with a New Hairstyle|
The law of unintended HRT consequences may also be having another effect, one that leaves me strangely pleased and smiling. You see, I got lost a few weeks ago when I was walking to a friend's house. I decided to take a short cut, but then my infallible sense of direction failed me. I came out of the back street maze in a place so far removed from my friend that I had to call her and ask her to come out and find me.
My chair and book are calling, so please forgive me dear friends if I drop everything and attend to their needs. I'll write again soon, I trust without the need of keeping the box of tissue at hand.
Yours diplomatically, socially, and congestedly from Bucharest,