It took a long-distance hail and a jogging trot across the street, but I just barely managed to catch the most convenient bus to my destination—important, because I didn’t want to waste any more time than already had been wasted that morning.
Four blocks later, making a routine left turn, the bus collided with a car in the opposite lane of the cross-street. It was now five hours since I awoke to my fourth urinary tract infection of the year, and my trip for a prescription and labwork was stymied.
My autistic brain froze.
Too many things, at this point, were happening at once. I needed to get where I was going. It had taken all morning just to get from my initial call into an advice nurse to my urologist calling in a prescription. But: shouldn’t I stay on the bus to provide a statement to…whomever? Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?
My bladder has a diverticulum. I’ve never seen the scans, but I’m told by my urologist that it’s shaped like a single Mickey Mouse ear, popping out of the left side. It was diagnosed in 2019, and resulted in my introduction, in somewhat rapid succession, to the in-office cystoscopy, bladder surgery, and catheterization.
There wasn’t much in the way of follow-up care, per se, because global pandemic. Then, just when the manufactured reset of the coming of a new year raised hopes for 2021, came urinary tract infections in January, February, April, and—now—May. As one physician put it, any malformation in an internal organ is a great place for infection to take hold. Don’t ask me why I didn’t have a single infection across all of 2020.
(This timeline sends my brain’s occasional autistic pattern-seeking down the garden path. To wit: this puts my UTIs a week or two after new-to-me vaccinations; shingles, then COVID. It’s not that I think the vaccines caused the infections. It just makes me wonder whether one’s immune system can become so preoccupied with learning about some major new threat that it can miss other threats it normally would deal with easily. Presumably, this is something that can happen for those who are immunocompromised, but not something that happens under more typical circumstances. The pattern-seeking kicks in again, though, and I remember that one of the medical questions we put a pin in while dealing with the bladder diverticulum were enlarged lymph nodes my doctors wanted to biopsy. All of which might or might not be wrapped up in a general surge of death anxiety of late.)
The thing is, during the previous UTI, I’d made some adjustments to lessen bladder irritation. Or, one major one, anyway: I quit coffee altogether, having earlier switched entirely to decaf. At the local bakery, I just order almond milk steamers to accompany me when sitting outside to read. At home, I toss almond milk and a single chamomile tea bag in a sauce pan to heat up. I can’t draw a direct cause-and-effect, but in the wake of that UTI, I had the most consistent run of healthy-appearing urine in memory.
It felt like, maybe, things had become somewhat stable, and that, maybe, things would be quiet until the in-office cystoscopy scheduled for the end of July—an exam that could mean decisions on (major? minor?) surgery to remove the diverticulum. I’d hoped for something of a break before having to confront that.
Instead, there I was, having waited four hours until a prescription was ordered, trying to get to the medical office, sitting on a bus that had just hit a car.
There were no other passengers. Had there been anyone else around, I could have taken cues from the inevitable discussion about whether or not to stay on site to give statements. My brain was stalled, stuck between two divergent realities that seemed just as real but couldn’t exist simultaneously: one where I’d a responsibility to myself, one where I’d a responsibility to other people. I’ve referred to this type of cognitive paralysis before as the uncollapsed autistic wave function.
It seemed forever. It was closer to five minutes. As I picked up my backpack from the side beside me and started to walk to the front of the bus, I noticed the driver talking to me. I removed my earplugs. He was, of course, asking if I’d seen anything. I told him I hadn’t seen anything useful either way, and asked if I should stick around. He said there didn’t seem to be necessary if I hadn’t seen anything useful.
I walked back up the street to the initial bus stop to wait, and had a realization: I could, in fact, merge the divergent realities, by sending a message to the transit agency to tell them what I did, and did not, see during the accident, so they could contact me if needed.
Most occurrences of the uncollapsed autistic wave function do not present solutions this…satisfying. Although in my current mental state its something of a pyrrhic victory. I’m trying to hold onto the fact that I managed to fulfill both my personal and my social obligations without my cognitive stall turning into an all-out spiral.
There’s still another UTI, though. Still another round of antibiotics (too much need for antibiotics in a short period of time). Still an invasive exam at the end of July (and a potential surgery to come afterward). Still weeks to go between now and then (when anything—who knows what—can happen).
Finding myself nostalgic for 2020 was not a space I’d expected to fill on the new year’s bingo card.