I'm still young; nothing bad will happen to me.
These were my thoughts during a time when I began to feel that something was wrong inside me. There was so much pain in my left side; my lower back was killing me, but I had no time for that, and my part-time job did not provide any insurance. At first, I believed it was just exhaustion, that working too much and studying too hard was the source of the pain.
But it was getting worse. My face became so pale; I fainted many times at work. But I didn’t tell my husband, because I didn’t want him to get worried or frustrated. I needed him to focus on his studies, his work, and I didn’t think it was a big deal. I just needed some rest.
My name is Dalia, and this is my story. I see myself as a normal woman in her 20s, active, ambitious, and hardworking. I love my family, my husband, and my friends, and my passion is serving others.
Throughout 2016, before my diagnosis, I had been working two jobs, as my husband, Remon, had been studying for his pharmacy license and working part-time. We support each other, so we were happy with this arrangement.
I also was studying as well as working. I’ve had a dream since before I moved to the United States. I served Sunday school kids and high school age adolescents in Egypt. I cared about them a lot, and when I listened to their problems, I really wanted to give them professional spiritual and biblical advice.
When I moved to America, I finally found my dream school: Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando (RTS). It could give me the academic Christian counseling study that I had been searching for my whole life. I was so excited. I decided I would do whatever it took to get accepted into this school and get my master’s degree in theological counseling.
It had everything I’d ever wanted.
I had read a lot about this school. I worked in the morning, studied at night, and wrote my essays in whatever spare time I had leftbecause I really wanted them to choose me. I knew there were hundreds of students applying for this school every single year, but the college only chose a select few. I had to convince them through my writing. I focused all my energy on winning them over.
I had to.
The school had many conditions for foreigners, but I needed this. I could do it. This was my dream, my calling, my purpose—I knew God would be happy with me for this study and service.
My dream was—and is still—to have my master’s degree in counseling. I would work as hard as I possibly could to reach this, no matter what.
The college sent me an email stating that they were interested in my file; they wanted me to be at orientation and have some interviews with the professors in the school. That same day, my manager at work told me they wanted me to do another interview. They wanted to promote me to a different department, which meant I would get a raise in my salary. That was a day to remember! I was so happy. I felt like everything was exactly as I had planned. Life was opening its arms and showering me with blessings.
While I celebrated by jumping and laughing from the bottom of my heart, I fainted. Everything got dark; the pain was unbearable.
I called my sister. She insisted I tell my husband that I had to go to the hospital immediately.
I called Remon and told him what happened, then I drove home and waited for him to return from work.
All I could think about was my orientation; I had to be fully prepared. What should I wear? What questions will they ask? I have to study; I have to prepare. I didn’t even think for a second about my health situation because I was so sure my pain would pass.
While we waited at the hospital’s reception, I told Remon how excited I was about the promotion, the orientation, and the interview for the next day.
They called my name. We met the nurse, and he asked me how I felt. I told him I felt dizzy, fatigued, and even fainted at work. He said that he would give me a painkiller and send me home.
But at that moment, my husband interfered. He didn’t agree with what the nurse said; I remember he was so mad, so furious. He told the nurse he wouldn’t leave this hospital until they knew what was going on with me, that he needed to meet the doctor, that I should have scans done.
The nurse relented.
When we met the doctor, she ordered some scans for me. They’d find what was causing the pain.
But the pain, the hospital, none of that was on my mind. I kept telling Remon I really wanted to go home early because I had my orientation tomorrow morning. They kept transferring me through different scans, different rooms, over and over again. The six hours felt like eternity, and I needed it to go faster.
I looked into my husband’s eyes, and I could feel how worried he was. I started to get anxious. Finally, the doctor returned, shouting at the nurses saying, “Nobody touch her side or move her.” Then she sat beside my bed, a sad look in her eyes, and quietly told me that I had a very serious issue in my abdomen: my spleen was abnormally large and could explode at any moment. It had lots of blood cysts on it, which made my situation even more dangerous. But this hospital was not prepared for big surgeries, so they would have to transfer me to the main hospital. I needed immediate surgery.
“I will call one of the best surgeons I know,” she said. “One who can perform this type of dangerous and sensitive surgery.”
But I wasn’t processing any of this. I was sure she was mistaken. And at some point, I couldn’t hear anything she was saying despite seeing her lips moving.
When she finished, she asked me if I was okay with what she was suggesting.
I said to her, “With what?”
She answered that they were going to transfer me to the main hospital because I needed immediate surgery.
I remember that my response to her was that I had my orientation tomorrow, that I needed my discharge papers because it was dawn now. I needed to change and prepare for the orientation.
She was shocked by my answer, rather taken aback by my priorities, and restated how dire the situation was. She asked me if this school was even more valuable than my own life.
I started to question why I was so obsessed, with this school, this degree, that I would risk my own health, my own well-being to do so, even if it would quite literally kill me.