by Urvi Patel
As I lay here in this uncomfortable hospital bed, I think to myself, “What the hell am I doing here?” I’ve woken up to the silence of the hospital floor outside my room and to the sounds of my dad comforting my mom as the tears trickle down her face like the raindrops on the window outside the room. I look to my right and see the time on the clock; it is 11:30 in the morning. I feel lifeless, not moving for the fear of the IV detaching from my left arm. When I finally realize why I am here, I hate myself even more than I did before.
It was my senior year of high school, three days after my eighteenth birthday. I was sitting in my boring math class listening to my teacher go on and on about some calculus formula that I did not comprehend. I began thinking about all the delicious food my mom had prepared for my birthday. She made lasagna with homemade tomato sauce mixed with Indian spices, five-layers of pasta with cheese, and all the yummy vegetables: green peppers, onions, tomatoes, and the small, Indian spicy chilies. My family really wanted to make this birthday special considering it might be the last one I would be spending with them before I headed off to college. My older sister baked a delicious chocolate cake with a pink frosting filling the inside and out, with the words “Happy Birthday Urvi” written on the top of it. It was beautiful. All the food smelled so good and looked amazing. All the hard work my family put into making this day special for me, and I barely touched any of it. I woke up from my daydream about my birthday when the bell rang. As I was walking down the narrow, crowded, dark hallway, I started feeling dizzy. One of teachers asked me if I was OK, but I do not remember answering. The last thing I heard was, “Someone call 911.” When I woke up, I was laying in a hospital bed not knowing how I got there or what exactly happened.
* * *
It all started at my sixteenth birthday when I could not fit into my favorite Indian outfit because it was too tight. My parents and I had been fighting so much about why I could not have sleepovers at a friend’s house, why I could not date or marry someone who was not Indian, why I had to go into the medical field. There was so much pressure already and I was not even in college yet. I felt like I had no control over anything in my life – they controlled everything. The only thing I could control was how much I ate.
In the beginning I would skip breakfast and lie to my mom, telling her I would eat it at school. Then at school I would skip lunch and if anyone asked, I would tell them I ate a big breakfast. By the time I got home, dinner was inevitable and thus my only meal for the day. The first weeks, all I thought about was food, but then I started reading, writing and getting more active in dancing and cheerleading, leaving me no time to focus on food. Finally, after a few months, I just stopped eating dinner altogether. I would chew gum if I started feeling dizzy, or I would eat three raisins every four hours.
The more I fought with my parents and the less attention I got from them, the easier it became for me to not eat; the hunger just died completely . I finally felt good about myself as if nothing could harm me. I was in total control of everything, or at least I felt as if I was. I would slip up sometimes and eat, but then I would go back to not eating again. Finally, the summer before my senior year, I vowed not to eat ever again. I hated my life, I hated my parents for never caring or paying attention to me, I hated my sister for taking every single memorable moment away from me because of her screwed-up marriage. I had to take my anger out on something, so I took it out on the food. I stopped eating.
Luckily, no one else could tell because we had to wear uniforms to school; I just opted for a bigger size to cover up my weight loss. After months of starving myself, the principal noticed and would try to talk to me, but I never listened; I lied to him as well and told him it was nothing. My family doctor kept warning me that I needed to eat more or I would end up in the hospital or worse. I told him I would never let it get that far, but I never told myself that.
When I saw my parents sitting in the dark blue chair talking to the doctor, I realized why I was here. My eating disorder had gone too far. As I lay there, I struggled to call my mom but it was as if I had no voice or tongue to form words. I coughed instead and my mom came over and wiped the tears from my face and she said to me, “Urvi, everything’s going to be OK. I am so sorry for not seeing this.” I could hear the sadness in her voice, almost like a betrayal. I knew what she was thinking, “How can this happen to my daughter and I not know? How can we do so much for her and yet she does not care about us?”
My dad, the man who barely spoke to me unless I asked him something, looked me in the eye and said, “Why, why did you do this? Are we that bad of parents that you had to harm yourself? What did we not do for you? We buy you everything, we provide for you, you don’t ever have to worry about anything in your life, and don’t you love us?”
I sat there and talked to my parents about everything in my life. I finally confessed to my parents why I was so angry all the time and why I spent so much time doing extra-curricular activities. I wanted them to know that I hated them. I hated it when everything I did would go unnoticed and I had no control over my life. I looked at my mom and told her that they controlled my life and this was the only thing I could control. I blamed them for my disorder.
When the doctor came over to talk to me, his white coat had a little, black ink stain, but his smile assured me that I was going to be OK. He talked about all the things I needed to do and people I should turn to for help. When the nurse brought out my lunch all I could think was, “Eww I hate eating hospital food!” My dad came over and told me I had no choice but to eat it, and when my dad gets that tone with me, I know he is serious. I tried the red Jello first; I took the plastic spoon and scooped up the jiggly Jello. When the first bite hit my tongue, it felt like heaven. Jello never tasted better! After I finished eating that, I had toast. My mom made some homemade jam, so my dad put a little bit of it on my toast. The jam brought back childhood memories of how, if I got hurt or in trouble, my mom would put this jam on the toast and it would make everything right. While I was eating and looking at my parents, I knew I had to change my ways. How could I have hurt my parents like that; what daughter does that to her parents? I realized that no one was to blame but me. It was as if a thousand knives were stabbing me repeatedly.
* * *
After my first hospital visit, I had to go back two more times. I kept on slipping back into a deep depression, and the only way I knew to deal with it was to stop eating again. I was tired of everyone saying “just eat, it’s that simple.” I wanted to shout at the top of my lungs, no it is not that easy to just eat, it is so difficult. My third and final time in the hospital, I could not take it anymore and neither could my parents. I needed to get better. I could not die. I had to walk across the stage at high school graduation in my red cap and white gown and receive my diploma and turn my tassel. I had to go to college, party like a rock star, meet a boy, have my heart broken, go to class, and eventually graduate.
I was eighteen years old and 76 pounds when I checked out of the hospital. Three years later, I am 21 years old and 115 pounds. It does not sound a lot, but to me it is everything. While I was recovering, I realized I have the strength of David from the Bible when he fought and took down Goliath. I am stronger, wiser and prettier now because of my eating disorder. Becoming healthy was like climbing Mt. Everest, but I succeeded and put a flag at the top of the mountain.