Homeschooler, Des Moines
Dear J.K. Rowling,
I was first introduced to the Harry Potter series through my older sister who read the books and then wanted to watch the movies with me. I enjoyed watching the first six movies; I was drawn in to the story, and I could easily follow the plot. It wasn't until I started reading the books that I began to actually appreciate the story.
I first started reading the Harry Potter books in March of 2010, when I was 14 years old. I was astonished, and a little irritated, at how many great moments were left out of the movies. I noticed that I could read for hours without knowing what was going on around me; I was so captivated in the story. Even though I had seen the movies, I still felt a sense of anticipation that kept me on the edge of my seat. The seventh book was a complete shock, since the movie had not come out yet. I deeply felt the loss of Hedwig, Dobby, Fred Weasley, and especially Severus Snape. After I finished the series, I experienced what Potterheads all over the world call "Post Potter Depression". I knew I would never find another book series that I would enjoy as much as the Harry Potter series. Just two months after finishing the last book, I started the first book again. At the time, I thought I was starting on another great adventure with Harry Potter. Little did I know that these books were about to give me the ultimate escape from reality.
In August of 2010, I was at my cousin's wedding with my family in Wisconsin. I woke up on the day of the wedding with a very high fever and a horribly sore throat. Since we were out of town, there was nothing I could do. The eight-hour car ride from Wisconsin back to Iowa was unbearably long, but I passed many of those hours engrossed in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. I didn't feel the burn from the fever or the searing pain in my throat. Instead, I felt Harry's discomfort in his cupboard under the stairs and his longing for a normal life. I felt Harry's excitement when letters poured in to the Dursley's house and his disappointment when Uncle Vernon destroyed the letters addressed to Harry. Once I was in the comfort of my own house, I spent many days lying on the couch reading. When I finally went to the doctor, I was diagnosed with mono. The only treatment for mono is rest...and lots of it. While I was still under the weather with mono, my parents surprised me with a trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, Florida. Nothing could contain my joy and excitement, not even the tiredness and aches from mono. For two glorious days, I explored Hogsmead and rode The Forbidden Journey countless times. I didn't even feel the unending fatigue that I struggled with during the duration of the mono. I slowly began to feel better and gain my strength back. Mono weakened my immune system so badly that I contracted a deadly bacterial infection in my colon while volunteering at the children's hospital. C.diff (the infection) gave me waves of chronic nausea. I was put on a very strong antibiotic that increased my symptoms. The only distraction from these awful symptoms was found nestled in a comfy chair with one of my cherished Harry Potter books. I flew with Harry on his broomstick, battled dementors, and worried about Sirius Black instead of battling nausea and worrying about why my stomach didn’t feel better. As time moved on, my stomach started to heal; I once again finished the series. However, the worst was yet to come.
My stomach was never the same after the infection and antibiotics. I had dealt with inconsistent nausea for five months before I went back to the doctor. My pediatrician had run out of ideas so he referred me to a pediatric gastroenterologist (GI), a doctor who specialized in the digestive track. At the first appointment in May of 2011 the GI doctor told me that he thought I had celiac disease, a condition where gluten (wheat, rye, and barley) cannot be eaten. The only way to confirm his diagnosis was to go through an endoscopy-a procedure in which a thin flexible tube with a camera that would go from my esophagus to my small intestine. I dreaded the upcoming procedure. The only comfort and distraction I could think of was my beloved collection of Harry Potter books. The night before the endoscopy, I started reading The Sorcerer’s Stone for the third time. As I waited for the procedure the next morning, I was not stuck in a cold waiting room. I was with Hagrid, delivering baby Harry to the Dursleys' house in Privet Drive. The next day, the results from the endoscopy showed that I did have celiac disease. All gluten had to be removed from my diet at once. As the gluten left my body, I went through gluten withdrawals. My emotions were out of the control, and I often spent entire afternoons in my bedroom, not wanting to see or speak to anybody. During this dark time, I needed the comfort, reassurance, and escape that could only be offered by a Harry Potter book. As the gluten withdrawal symptoms seceded from my body, I felt more like my usual self. However, my stomach was still plagued with constant nausea. The days were so long and tiring. My reward for making it through another day was to read a chapter (or two or three) from Harry Potter. By doing this, I ended the day on a positive note.
By August of 2011, I had not made any progress in my health. I switched doctors, and my new GI doctor wanted to do another endoscopy with a colonoscopy. I don't remember much from that day, but I do remember reading the Goblet of Fire and having discussions about Harry Potter with a nurse and my doctor. In mid-September of 2011, I began to have pain under my right ribcage along with constant nausea. I went through several more tests, each time accompanied by my faithful Harry Potter book, until it was discovered that my gall bladder wasn't functioning properly. I had surgery in late-September to remove my gall bladder. During the recovery process, I passed the time by cheering Harry on at the Triwizard Tournament, attending the Yule Ball, and witnessing the tragic death of Cedric Diggory. Removing my gall bladder did improve my symptoms, but I still struggled with endless nausea. In January of 2012, I went to see a specialist at a teaching hospital. It was the worst experience; the doctor did nothing to help me whatsoever. I began to experience abdominal pain that became so severe that I was hospitalized in March of 2012. During my stay in the hospital, I was reading the Deathly Hallows. When I wasn't being poked and prodded by nurses and doctors, I read to my heart's content. I was not stuck in a hospital on Spring Break, waiting for an answer. I was transported to the Forest of Dean, where I watched Ron Weasley pull Harry and the sword of Gryffindor from the icy waters. A combination of medicine and diet changes helped me gain my life back, around the same time that I finished reading the Harry Potter series for the third time.
The Harry Potter series is so much more than just a story to me. The escape and comfort that the books have given me through my health journey is irreplaceable. I thought of my health problems as my own dementors, and I was inspired by Harry's strength to overcome them. The bravery, strength, and courage shown by each character made me feel like I was not alone. Even though our stories are very different, I felt like I had a friend who truly understood what I was going through by seeing the challenges and struggles that Harry went through. For everything that this series has given me, I have a great desire to thank you. Without this incredible story, I don't know how I would have made it through my health journey.
As Dumbledore said, "Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light". Thank you, J.K. Rowling, for giving me a light.
"After all this time?'' "Always",