It’s late June. Temperatures today were supposed to rise into the low hundreds but it’s humid and the sky is low, overcast. It’s in the eighties, looks like thunder. I’m at an open house with my mother in East Portland, in a small house without air conditioning, sitting in the kitchen underneath the ceiling fan, slightly spaced out and tired.
We’re experiencing a drought and heat wave here in Portland. Salmon are dying because the water is too warm. County officials have banned fireworks for the Fourth of July because of the fire danger. Looking back on all the Portland updates I’ve written in the past year, I noticed today that I’d written about climate change and Oregon in January. I wrote that people will be moving to the Pacific Northwest because the effects of climate change are predicted to be less severe here. Well, most of Oregon is in drought, and even though it isn’t as bad as other parts of the country (California,) I’m starting to distrust these predictions. (At least the part about somehow dodging the climate change bullet.)
I’m filled with a nagging dread. I have no working endocrine system; I’m on a medication that regulates my water/potassium/electrolytes and this weather is apparently harder on me than I anticipated. Yesterday I sat outside for a few hours in the blistering heat, talking with a friend. I went home feeling exhausted and got another headache. Daily headaches. I’m a member of several support groups for people with my disease (Addison’s) and people are going into crisis all over the country in this heat. They end up in the emergency room, their beds, on the couch, over the toilet, taking extra steroids, a wet towel over their faces, slugging Gatorade in the dark. I have increased my fludrocortisone and hydrocortisone and have been trying to drink more water, but I still feel tired and a little queasy. I always knew that taking out my adrenals would make me more vulnerable to just about everything, but I hadn’t thought about hot weather. I live in Oregon; I didn’t think I had to worry about that. As a child, it used to rain every June birthday I ever had until I was in college. Now as a medically vulnerable adult, I am starting to feel like the metaphorical canary in the metaphorical coal mine that is the actual Portland-at-the-beginning-of-global-warming.
I went to my endocrinologist last week and she turned my hands over and stared at my knuckles; I’d also noticed how they look weirdly darker than the rest of my skin. She went ahead and got my blood tested. The results weren’t good. Turns out I’m developing something called Nelson’s syndrome. It’s this weird disease that you can really only get if you’ve had an adrenalectomy like me. Basically you have too much of this hormone called ACTH and it starts to deposit itself on your skin, turning your skin dark. I have seen photos of light skinned people turn dark tan. If untreated, a person will end up looking very different. Also – it ruins your liver. So I might have to get my pituitary removed. The doctor told me to stay out of the sun and wear sunglasses as much as possible.
This is all to say that my summer is not going to be very fun, at least in the way that I have traditionally celebrated it. Staying out of the sun and avoiding dehydrating alcoholic beverages and cigarettes seem to be in my future. For the last update I talked a lot about acceptance, accepting the end of my relationship – with Portland and my ex-boyfriend. My diminished summer is another thing I will just have accept. It’s all really okay, and I don’t mean to sound so down in the dumps, it’s just that I’m tired and just woke up from a two hour nap in the middle of the day where I dreamt that I was pulling long, hairy earthworms out of my nose. My legs ache and I’m exhausted. But it’s okay because the ibuprofen has started to kick in and I’m watching a documentary about Nina Simone with my mom.
My life is completely different now than it was when TJ and I started this series; I have my real estate license, I am no longer cleaning houses. I’m single and working towards some concrete goals for myself. As for Portland, the conversation around many of the issues that I have covered in these updates has changed too. The situation has become so bad that people have become politicized. People have stopped merely complaining about the housing situation and have gotten involved. I find this heartening although a lot of it feels like too little, too late.
On Friday, in the heat, my mother wondered aloud when people are going to start panicking. I was too tired to think about it.