In 1997, I found myself in what felt like a nonstop stream of pain. It wasn't awful--I could mostly function--but it was persistent, enough that after a few months of it, I sucked it up and went to the doc.
One doctor's appointment led to another, then another, then a referral to a specialist, then another doc...and after about 6 months of it, I had a diagnosis. I had no idea what to do about it. The so-called specialist swore it would run its course in 9-12 weeks. The other doctors kind of shrugged and intimated that I was basically stuck with it. Exercise, diet, figure out what makes it worse, and suck it up.
The thing is, none of those doctors, as well meaning as they were, really had a clue about it. I was left to my own devices, and did what everyone was beginning to do in the late 90s: I went online to research it.
I don't remember how I found the newsgroup, but it was there, and exactly what I needed. Alt.med.fms. And there I found people who had been living with it, and while they had no real answers, because there were no real answers, they listened.
I made some close friends there, people I emailed back and forth with multiple times a day, people who got me through those first years and who just got it. They understood my pain, they commiserated when other chronic pain issues were dropped at me feet, they championed me through a brain tumor, and together we mourned losses that none of us ever expected.
Many of them are gone now. But Fran was still around, and we connected on Facebook several years ago. We were both older, hopefully wiser, and missed those friends who were gone. She was dealing with a whole lot more than chronic pain, and was on dialysis, for years. Last year, she was in and out of the hospital, and as a nurse knew that was not where she wanted to be or would do best, I think.
On January 1st, she posted to Facebook that she was done. She was ending dialysis, and understood that meant she had just a few weeks to live.
I respected the hell out of her decision, and knew that I might never know when her last days were. I just wanted her to go in peace, the way she wanted, not hooked up to tubes and other things. She wanted out on her own terms, and I wanted that for her.
This morning I learned that she died just 10 days later.
It hit me hard. She was funny as hell and just as sarcastic. She didn't suffer fools lightly. She was kind and compassionate, and made a huge difference in my life. And I will miss her, and I will mourn her, but not too long or she might find a way to haunt me.
If you're the drinking sort, tip back a glass for her tonight. She wasn't religious, but I don't think she would object to a prayer in her name. Or send Mojo, it's all the same. But think of her, and wish her spirit well.
Her name was Fran McCarthy, 1941-2020, and she was my friend.