This is what I know.

Today I laid out in the sun on a patch of grass outside my apartment. I have been ill, but not so ill that sunlight doesn’t seem a remedy. My elbows, knees, wrists and ankles were bandaged with drug store patches that delivered a burning, chemical heat (or cold?) that alleviates pain, or distracts from it.

According to an essay in a book I’m reading, Carly Simon did something similar to alleviate the psychic pain of stage fright: before confronting her audience, she asked band mates to slap and spank her hard. She went onstage pink-cheeked and red-assed.

Pain beats fright.

When I woke Monday morning, I couldn’t move my feet or legs without wincing. A wounded feeling, too, radiating from my hands, arms and shoulders. Yesterday I could not write or clench my fists or fit into my shoes or walk without limping.

Still, I couldn’t resist peppering my work emails with exclamation points and smiling faces. I’ll do just about anything not to break the illusion of grace.

“Any other symptoms?” the ER doctor asked me.
“Loss of appetite.”
“You’re eating a banana,” she said, “and a bagel.”
“Yes. But it’s making me full. Why should a banana make me full?”

When you realize you might be sick, you don’t know why, but certain facts begin to resonate.

For example: Sometimes what we experience as hunger is really thirst.

Sometimes what we experience as fullness is really a banana.

At the hospital I was not asked to rate my pain on a scale of one to ten. Does this hurt? the doctors asked instead, and lifted my arms over my head. And I considered.

Did it hurt more than having my arms at my side?

Why, yes.

Did it hurt more than imagining that I am already breaking?

I’m beginning to develop a way of moving that takes the stress off my joints. It is distinctly septugenarian: patient, meant, slow.

We are born with 350 bones. By the time we reach adulthood, if we reach adulthood, we have 206 bones.

“In the Bhagavad Gita, the human body is described as a wound with nine openings.” – David Shields

Arthritis is the leading cause of disability among Americans over age 15.

I had never really thought about rheumatoid arthritis before, never knew what it was. Now I’m armed with facts. I know it’s genetic. I know it’s an autoimmune disorder—that is, a profound malfunction of the body in which the immune system begins to attack its own flesh.

The pain is waning now, and so the fright seeps. The what-ifs.

What the doctors say: I am presenting a case that resembles rheumatoid arthritis, but they are hesitant to diagnose me with rheumatoid arthritis. For one thing, who wants to tell a 23-year-old runner she has a chronic, debilitating disease of the joints. For another, if the symptoms never come back, it doesn’t really matter what it was, does it?

So I wait and see. I move slow. The fright seeps and wanes and moves the earth like a California shaker.

William Saroyan wrote, as his advice to a young writer, “Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, to really sleep… When you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

This ordinarily may not have moved me, but today it moved me, the sun searing into my swollen ankles.

Because sometimes, what we experience as hunger is really hunger.