At the time, I was a sports columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. This was a newspaper that I had been hired to write a column from a new and outside-the-box point of view in 1993. Unfortunately, within months of arriving at the P-I, one of my male colleagues filed a lawsuit against the paper, saying I had only been hired because I was a woman and that he had been denied the job because he was a white male. The lawsuit dragged on for years, and the tension in the small department of almost entirely male staffers became a source of great anxiety for me. I wanted to succeed. It's why I moved all the way across country from New York to take on the exciting job. But I felt the odds and perceptions stacked against me. All around, it was a very troubling feeling to contend with, especially since I was not a hardcore sportswriter but a columnist who had been asked to look at sports with a wider lens. My fellow sportswriters and editors didn't seem to appreciate what the papers' editor and managing editor wanted out of me. Many wanted me gone and, over the years -- despite refusing to fold or be run out of town or out of my career path -- I, too, knew I had to find a new job when a good one came along.
Then I got pneumonia.
It was April 2001 when I had flown from Seattle to Harrisburg to attend my grandmother's surprise 80th birthday party. For a few weeks that spring, I had felt increasingly weak and exhausted, but figured it was a bug or bad cold and eventually my normally healthy immune system would throw it off. I started to feel some effects of a horrible cold in February, when I flew to Las Vegas to cover the ESPY Awards. I went to spring training with the Mariners in Arizona, and continued to fight through fatigue.
Then came a trip in mid-March to cover the NCAA Tournament in Memphis. Gonzaga -- a Washington state school that had become a huge national power -- was playing in the South Region. All I can remember that long weekend in that famous Tennessee city is wondering why I was so freezing cold, and why I had no energy or interest to go sightseeing. Graceland was minutes away and, instead, on an off day between games, I stayed in my room and fitfully tried to rest. This was just not like me at all, but I still did not figure there was something really wrong.
Finally, on Opening Night for the Mariners' 2001 season, I chattered through the game in the open-air press box. I typed my game column and dragged myself home, just in time to start feeling intense pain around my heart. I don't know what I thought it was: A virus that effects the heart? I did not go to the doctor. But I did call my sister back in Pennsylvania to tell her maybe I shouldn't come to the birthday party because I was sick. My reason was I didn't want to get anyone else sick, but she insisted that no one would mind and I had to be there. So I flew across country with my newly adopted 2-and-half-year-old daughter in my arms.
By the time I arrived in cold, early April Pennsylvania, I was just feeling like a ghost. I was out of it. In pain. On the first night there, I actually got sick to my stomach. (Turns out it was pleurisy that caused the vomiting.) The next day, we headed up to Bloomsburg for my grandmother's party. I lasted about an hour before, exhausted, one of my cousins drove me to her house so I could sleep while the party went on. In that bed, under piles of down comforters, I felt so cold, I began to lose sense of reality. I could not even imagine getting out of that bed.
By the time my parents came to pick me up, it was clear. We headed back down to Harrisburg, straight to the hospital, where I was admitted after X-rays showed severe pneumonia. When the administered a nebulizer and a massive dose of antibiotics, I looked up at my mother in the blur of emergency room lights and thought this was it. I was dying. Luckily, I responded to the antibiotics and, after three days in the hospital, was allowed to be released. I was driven to New York where the doctor had told me I had to stay for two weeks: No flying.
My father had called the sports department initially to tell them I had been hospitalized. Now he called again to say I was going to be out of work for two weeks, at least. On the other end of the phone, the tone was not exactly sympathetic. It was more suspicious. Was I trying to get out of work, or was I trying to find another job back East? The resentments and lack of good working relationship with my editors and colleagues was that bad.
The idea that I would fake a case of pneumonia to take two weeks off back East was, well, another dispiriting blow. I had never been so sick, yet the guys back in Seattle who felt I wasn't good at my job or that they could do better had no particular sympathy. All those weeks that early spring of traveling, tying to do a good job writing and giving readers insight or a fresh look at their sports stars or favorite teams, I did not consider calling in sick or declining a coveted assignment. As a woman in a man's game, the stakes were high. It is very difficult to explain what it feels like to try and work in these conditions, in this kind of environment, without sounding like you're complaining or trying to make excuses. Especially when you come down with a whopping case of pneumonia. But within a year, I finally landed another job in Baltimore where the atmosphere inside the sports department was much better -- until the sports editor offered a new sports columnist exactly twice in salary what I was being paid. Within a year, I quit sportswriting altogether. I didn't like the fight.
Here's hoping Hillary Clinton recovers nicely from her current bout of pneumonia.