“Gigi, how are you feeling today?” Mom had been calling twice every day since the oral surgery to check up on me. She was worried and so was I.
Cleaning out my wisdom tooth sockets had done nothing. Different courses of antibiotics had done nothing. The lump just kept getting bigger. Ibuprofen was no longer controlling the pain, and the acetaminophen with codeine made me nauseous.
“About the same.” The lump was the size of a golf ball, and it was pressing on my jaw so that I couldn’t even open my mouth wide enough to bite into a sandwich. My diet was limited to soup and smoothies, but I wasn’t that hungry anyway. I’d lost 20 pounds since starting college.
By some miracle, I was still keeping up in my classes. I even attended most of the CSF meetings, even if all I could do when I got there was languish on a sofa. Maybe my body needed to rest, but my mind and spirit needed the normality of going to class and the support from fellow Christians more.
“Your father and I are praying for you. Kirsten and Ruthie too. I put your name on the list at church, and my Bible study group asks me every week for an update.”
“Everyone here is praying too. I give a weekly update at CSF meetings.”
“I still think you should be staying in your room and resting.”
“Mom, I can’t. I’d go crazy with worry and fear. I need to stay a part of campus life as much as I can. Dr. Curtis said …”
"Yes, how did your second appointment with the specialist go? Did you actually get to see him this time?”
“I liked him. He’s pretty funny. He even thanked me for bringing him such an interesting and challenging case to diagnose.”
"So you have a diagnosis?”
“Not exactly. The CT scan they took last week showed necrotic tissue in my neck. He still doesn’t know if it’s an infection, or …” I paused, not wanting to say the word that terrified me most. “Or something worse, but either way, the dead stuff has to come out.”
"Something worse? You mean cancer, don’t you? Oh, God.” Tears were in her voice. “Is it a major surgery?”
“Just outpatient.” To me, that sounded less serious, and therefore, less scary.
“We talked about scheduling it for the day after Thanksgiving so I don’t have to miss any classes. I don’t know how I’m going to get there though. Ian’s been my chauffeur all this time, driving me to every appointment, but he’ll be going home. I mean, everyone is. It’s a major holiday.”
“You should come home too. We could do the surgery here.”
“Mom, we’ve been over this. If I come home I’m afraid I’ll never make it back. I don’t want to be the girl who went away to school and couldn’t hack it. I want to at least finish one semester.”
“You got sick, honey. That’s not in your control. Everyone will understand.”
“But I’d still feel like a failure. Besides, I want to stick with Dr. Curtis.”
"In that case, I’m coming there. I can’t let my baby go through major surgery alone.”
I’d been trying so hard to stay strong, but all of a sudden I realized how much I wanted my Mommy. “It’s just outpatient surgery. But it will mean a lot to have you. Even if I’m not a baby anymore.”
“You’re never too old to need your mother.”
I had to change the subject or I’d start crying. “Oh, before I forget, I want to do something to thank Ian for everything he’s done for me. He’s been so willing to help, not just giving me rides, but always asking if I need to talk or do something to cheer me up. He’s turned out to be such a good friend. Sometimes I wonder if it could be more.”
“Is this the same Ian you told us about at the beginning of the year? Didn’t you say he was annoying and odd looking?”
“He is a little, but it’s kind of endearing once you get to know him.” He was so good, so godly, so kind, so wise, I hardly noticed his unkempt appearance any more. But I was reluctant to tell him of my feelings. “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from Jesus Christ Superstar got stuck in my head whenever we were together.
“I knew it, you’re going to fall in love and get married and you’ll never come back from Ohio. Just like your grandmother. You know she met Opa at Elk River.”
I’d been so wrapped up in my own problems, I’d forgotten about Oma. “How is she?”
“A little better I think. She started talking again, although it’s very hard to understand her.”
“I wish I could visit her.”
“I’m ready to buy your plane ticket tonight. Come home and let us take care of you, honey.”
“Mom, let’s not go over that again.”
"Had to try. You’re handling this all so well, Gigi. I’m so proud of you. Call me tomorrow, ok?”
“I will. Good night.”
A week or so later, I jolted awake at the creak of the door. The book I’d fallen asleep studying slid off my stomach and crashed to the floor from my loft bed.
“Sorry to wake you, hon,” Lacey whispered as she handed the book back up to me. “How are you doing today? Feel up to CSF tonight?”
“Not sure. Just walking back from class took so much out of me this afternoon. Could you just give them an update for me?”
“Sure I could. I know how much it helps you to be around people though. How about I ask Ian to give us a ride?”
Before I could answer, she had Ian on the phone. Of course, he’d be happy to help.
“Better get bundled up,” Lacey said. “It’s cold out there tonight and Ian says the heater in his truck just went out.”
Lacey insisted that I ride shotgun while she crouched on the jump seat behind us. We sped around the campus roads.
“Thanks for driving us, Ian,” I said. “It’s so icy out there! I clung to the hand rails all the way down and up the hills this morning, they were so slippery. As it was I ended up on my rear more than once.”
“Ian, sounds like Giselle’s hinting that she’d like a ride to class tomorrow too,” Lacey said.
“That’s not—,” I protested.
“I’m ashamed I haven’t thought of it sooner,” Ian said. “We’re both going that way anyway, might as well carpool. Plus, I’d be glad of the company.”
He’d be glad of the company? I couldn’t help wonder if there was a hidden message in that. Maybe Ian was developing feelings for me too. Why else would he do so much?
Wednesday I stayed on the Quad, buying soup from the snack bar in the Student Center during my break between classes. After my afternoon class, Ian drove me back and dropped me off at the curb of Warner Hall.
“Pick you up tomorrow at ten till nine?” he asked as I climbed down from the truck.
“You don’t need to,” I said.
“Don’t be afraid to accept help,” he said. “It’s one way God shows his love.”
“Fine, see you tomorrow.”
Thursday morning, we walked in to Religion 101 together.
“Thanks for the ride again,” I said to Ian as we took our seats.
Breanne leaned over. “The ride? Something going on between you and mountain man?”
“He’s just a friend, helping me out because I haven’t been feeling well.” I felt myself blush. I hadn’t wanted to talk about my health problems with anyone outside of CSF.
“He may be a friend now, but looks like you want him to be more?” she said. She sounded odd, maybe disappointed?
Breanne’s words rung in my ears as Ian continued giving me rides to class more mornings than not. Did I want him to be more than a friend? Did he think of me that way? I surreptitiously studied him for clues as to his true feelings.
As the date of the surgery approached, though, such trivial issues fell away under the weight of pure exhaustion. The last few days of classes before Thanksgiving break arrived and for the first time all semester, I told Lacey I planned to skip the weekly CSF meeting.
Ian and Lacey tried to drag me from my room anyway. “Gigi, are you up to taking a walk with us? We have a little surprise for you,” Ian said.
“Depends on how far we’re walking.”
“Not far, I promise,” said Lacey.
“Where are we going?”
Ian’s eyes twinkled. “It’s a surprise. C’mon.” He grabbed my hand and led me down the hall. I liked the feel of his hand in mine.
As we turned the corner to the lobby of Warner Hall, I saw a room full of people — the CSF meeting had come to me. Tacked on one wall was a giant banner that read, “Get Well Soon.”
I was stunned speechless at the outpouring of care. All I could get out was, “You guys!”
Phoebe stood up and addressed the group.
“We’re all here tonight to hold Giselle up in prayer and encourage her as she prepares for surgery on Friday. Giselle, the banner is yours to keep. Everyone signed it with their favorite scripture or a prayer or a joke to cheer you up. You’ve been such an inspiration to us all, your faith and sweet spirit as you patiently wait for healing. I’d like to open it up now to anyone who wants to share some words of affirmation for Giselle, and then we’ll spend the rest of the time laying hands on her in prayer.”
I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t help crying as my friends and even people I didn’t know that well shared their affirmations. Would they be saying such kind things if they knew the real me?
Then during the prayer time I couldn’t help worrying: Did I have faith enough to get God to heal me? What if He was the one who allowed the sickness in the first place?