This is a true story that took place two years ago, in August of 2014.
The MRI was only a precaution.
That’s what I told myself over and over as I stirred the macaroni noodles on the stove. I glanced at the timer I’d set on the microwave. Still five minutes until the noodles were done. I left them to boil as I got the spinach and blueberries out of the refrigerator.
My brain began replaying the day’s events once again. As always, I scrutinized each moment and tried to come up with a rational explanation for it all.
This morning I woke up to find my vision spinning in circles like an endless merry-go-round. I couldn’t see out the corners of my eyes or walk in a straight line. I could still feel the remnants of the merciless wave of panic that had swirled around me, choking the air out of my lungs. This couldn’t be happening. Not now.
I ran to find my mom. She decided it would be a good idea for me to call in sick to work that morning. The doctor believed the sudden vertigo was caused by an inner ear issue. Still, she couldn’t see anything in my ears, so she recommended I get an MRI just in case.
The water growled and steamed, threatening to boil over. I blew on it as hard as I could. A layer of bubbles cascaded over the side of the pot, hissing as the flames turned them to steam. I got a bowl out of the cabinet and began arranging the blueberries and spinach inside. I tried to focus my vision, demanding that the spinning stop. It wouldn’t.
I’d gotten the MRI. I’d tried to act calm and unworried throughout the whole process. After all, this was only a precaution. I had a hard time believing that myself, though. My brain had already rushed forward to various worst-case scenarios.
A week earlier I’d been an excited high school graduate racing down my own yellow brick road at a full sprint. I’d been accepted by my first-choice college—Taylor University—and would be entering a major program unlike any other in the country. That wasn’t even the best part. Just a few months before that, I’d been accepted into Taylor’s Freshman Irish Studies Program. My life-long dream of visiting my grandmother’s homeland was finally going to become a reality. I’d be studying there for three months—three months I’d already dubbed “the best semester of my life.”
All summer I’d been praying God would keep me safe and healthy. All summer I’d been adding more clothes, toiletries, and woolen socks to the frighteningly large pile on my bedroom floor. I’d been asking since the beginning that God would make His plan clear to me. When I was accepted, I took that as my sign. The departure date was only two weeks away.
The timer on the microwave shattered the silence. I pressed the button with one hand while turning the stove off with the other. A few moments later my dinner of macaroni-and-cheese and spinach salad was complete. I certainly needed it after the day I’d had. I glanced at the clock. My family was attending a prayer meeting at church. No one should be home for another hour, at least. I told myself to relax and forget everything that had happened. I was letting my imagination get the best of me, as always.
I had just raised the fork to my mouth when the back door opened. I recognized the sound of my dad hanging up his keys and dropping his briefcase on the dining room floor. He was early, but I didn’t notice the strangeness of that at first.
“Kenzi?” He asked. “How are you doing?”
I shrugged. “You get used to it after awhile.” It was true. I hardly noticed the spinning anymore.
Dad laughed half-heartedly. I looked up as he pulled out a chair and sat next to me. I realized with a start that there were tears in his eyes.
I’d only seen my dad cry once, and that was at my graduation almost three months ago. I didn’t have time to register what it might mean.
“Kenzi,” he said, taking a deep breath as though the words were painful to speak. “They found something in your head. We need to go to the hospital.”
Suddenly it wasn’t just my vision that was spinning, but my entire world, as well. My heart shattered like hot glass and melted into a puddle in the pit of my stomach. That morning’s panic returned in full force, dragging me out to a depth where I knew I’d drown. “No…” I murmured. “No, no.”
“It’ll be fine.” Dad took my hand and helped me up. “I promise.”
As I got into the car, I felt like I was watching a movie about someone else’s life. This couldn’t be real. These kinds of things didn’t happen to me. It was like living in my worst nightmare—only I couldn’t wake up.
Another MRI at the hospital revealed a cyst in my brain. It could be easily removed, the surgeon told me. It could’ve been much worse.
But it also could never have happened at all, I decided.
That night I repeated Psalm 139 to myself to fall asleep. I’d memorized it several months ago because of the beautiful wording. I never dreamed I’d need it.
The next afternoon I went into surgery in a slightly better mood. I had no choice but to face it with determination. It was happening, whether I wanted it or not. Who knew how bad the recovery side of things would be? I couldn’t say it was over yet. I had to have hope.
After four days in the hospital, I was moved to a rehabilitation center to get my balance back.
That room made hope hard.
Maybe it was the color white, or the smell, or the need to have someone helping me every moment of every day. I’d never been the kind of person to ask for help. I hated relying on others to complete the simplest tasks.
What kind of God offered me my dreams but then tore them away as soon as I reached for them? It wasn’t fair.
I wanted to have hope that morning. I wanted to believe God was doing something important in my life, but the starched white pillows and blue hospital gown clearly displayed the impossibilities. I was a storybook-inspired teenager who thought dreams really came true. Now life was showing me exactly the opposite.
“Any travel needs to be postponed,” the doctor told us later that morning. The expression on her face as she looked down her nose at me made her message very clear. Postponed means “never.” “I’m worried about you going to college at all this semester. I think getting there needs to be your goal.”
I could feel a tingling flush crawling over the tips of my ears. I wanted to scream that I wasn’t giving up on my dreams, no matter how impossible they seemed, but even I knew better than that. I knotted the white bedsheets in my fist and bit down hard on my tongue. I wanted to cry, but that felt childish and immature. Who was I kidding? Brain surgery patients didn’t go home in a matter of days. They didn’t rush off to college. And they certainly didn’t fly to Ireland.
I tried praying, but it was hard. I was too desperate. Just a few weeks ago I’d felt as though my entire life was beginning, that I was running at a full sprint toward the place I’d always wanted to be.
But then everything had come to a screeching halt.
After five days in rehab, I was discharged. Being home wove a confused web of emotions in my heart. The sight of my open suitcase had brought me excitement for so many months. Now I didn’t know whether I should hold out hope or start unpacking.The scar on the back of my head throbbed against my partially-healed skull. Give up, Kenzi, it demanded, recognize when something’s impossible. You’ve been a dreamer for too long.
At 5 a.m. just a week after my original departure date, I walked out onto the roof of the airport in Dublin, Ireland. The breeze whispered through my hair and sent a chill snaking down my spine. For the first time, it registered that I was really here. I couldn’t move. I could barely even breathe.
The lights of the city trickled out in all directions like glowing rivers reaching into the dark. I raised my disposable coffee cup and took a sip of tea, splattering half of it down the front of my shirt because my hands were shaking so badly.
The program director who had come to pick me up at the airport pressed a button on her key fob, clicking the car door open. She looked back at me, a smile tugging at the corner of her mouth. “Are you ready?”
I sucked in a gulp of real Irish air and met her eyes. My thoughts flickered back to all those people praying in the hospital waiting room. I’d brushed off their concern, thinking it was worth nothing. I’d given up hope.
Yet, God hadn’t given up hope on me.
For a second my fingers wandered up toward the scar on the back of my head, but it didn’t hurt so much anymore. “I’m more than ready.”