The essay — structured around my disappointment about having to miss yet another Boston Red Sox game due to multiple sclerosis — is an exploration of how, since being diagnosed with MS in 2014, I’ve been on a long learning curve adjusting to my new normal, adjusting to an unpredictable life with chronic illness.
The essay begins this way:
It was game day.
I had tickets to see my beloved Red Sox play at historic Fenway Park. They were in the hunt for a Wild Card playoff spot.
But I couldn’t attend the game.
Why? Because it was going to be hot and humid. Because the weather conditions – not the spate of uneven Red Sox performances – would make me ill. Because multiple sclerosis has caused damage to the area of my brain that controls my temperature and, when I’m in hot and humid conditions, that damage causes me to, essentially, short-circuit.
Over on Intima’s blog, Crossroads, writer Marleen Pasch, compared themes in “Another Game Day” with a newly-published essay of her own, “Rocks and River.”
Pasch (on right) said, “O’Brien understands the need to assess risk then listen to and heed the more protective voice of wisdom.”
Fast-forward to early February 2021: I was contacted by MFA Program Director Leanna James Blackwell and asked if I could take over the already-in-progress Intro to Narrative Medicine class because Suzanne had to take a temporary leave due to an injury. (This is such a weird confluence of events, an injury preventing her from teaching narrative medicine.) Luckily, I was already familiar with the Canvas learning management system which they utilize — also used by Northeastern University where I teach journalism classes — and had already read one of the main texts.
Now as I plan to have my second evening Zoom class with a group of seven writers, I finally feel as though I’ve got a handle on the class and its rhythm, and cannot wait for the rest of the semester to unfold as we devour Writing Hard Stories by Melanie Brooks, Bodies of Truth edited by Dinty W. Moore, Erin Murphy, et al., and engage with the students’ creative nonfiction work about issues of illness and trauma.
Meanwhile, we’re sending healing vibes to Suzanne!
The Republican — the daily newspaper for which I used to work way back in the day, back when it was called The Union-News –ran a feature story about my medical memoir, Uncomfortably Numb, and my experiences with MS.
Fatigue hit her hard while she was watching her son at a Christmas musical event at the high school in Southborough where she now lives. “Quite quickly, my thinking became foggy and my legs were on the verge of giving out,” O’Brien recalls. “I had to ask my husband to drive me home immediately. I spent the next several days in bed, unable to do what I wanted because my body needed the rest.”
I’ll be joining award-winning author, Bay Path University writer-in-residence and faculty member, the wonderful Suzanne Strempek Sheaon June 1 for a free webinar where we’ll discuss “Narrative Medicine and the Art of the Medical Memoir.”
Writer Michael Carlton said in Yankee Magazine,Songs from a Lead-Lined Room “is one of the most moving and important books ever written about the extraordinary pressures the disease places not only on the victim, but on family and friends as well.”
Strempek Shea and I worked together at the Springfield, MA daily newspaper, The Republican, and she has written blurbs for a number of my books. It was our connection that resulted in my attending and graduating from the Bay Path University MFA in creative nonfiction program, which she was instrumental in creating.
Please join us for a warm conversation between friends about the craft of writing about the innately personal topics of illness and medicine.