‘I’ve learned that gratitude is the best medicine.’
Actress and single mom Chandra Wilson stars on the medical drama ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ as Dr. Miranda Bailey. She’s also helping her real-life daughter deal with a rare disease.
At times, I’ve felt as if my whole life has taken place in a hospital — both in real life and on the set of Grey’s Anatomy [ GA]. My oldest daughter, Sarina, 26, has suffered from two rare illnesses since she was 16. At first, after an outing with her friends, we thought she’d contracted food poisoning. But the nausea, vomiting and stabbing abdominal pains never stopped. Days passed, then weeks. Something was wrong and nobody could tell me what it was. As we shuttled between doctor visits, I knew in my gut, this is serious.
I had a new role to play: medical advocate. I vowed to relay to each physician that came into the room the symptoms I saw, what she’d eaten, how the condition progressed. I had to tell Sarina’s story over and over and over and not get mad about doing that. If I just kept on, some doctor might hear something different, think of something different and offer us a way forward.
Sarina endured one scary procedure after the next as her medical team worked to rule out causes. The best way I knew to comfort her was to be calm and methodical. But when the doctors informed Sarina and me that she needed exploratory surgery, I saw the fear in my baby’s eyes. I broke down in tears as I watched her make the brave decision to undergo the procedure. Nobody knew what the doctors would find. It was awful, confusing and scary. In those Oh my God moments, I’d give myself permission to feel sorry for myself for just a little while — two hours, tops — and cry on a girlfriend’s shoulder. Then I’d take a deep breath and let it all go.
When the doctors would report that they were no closer to an answer in month six or seven or eight, I would aim to keep us both from giving in to fear. “They didn’t say it was a tumor,” I’d tell Sarina. “They didn’t say they were out of options.”
Moms want to be superheroes. I was up at 4 a.m. and headed to the hospital, then to the studio, then back to the hospital after a long workday on the set. I’d go from there to helping with homework or coordinating activity schedules for my other two children when I got home in the evenings. I had to learn to call on girlfriends who could say, “I’ll come to the ER and wait while you go do this or that.”
After 10 frustrating months of hospital visits due to dehydration and dozens of medical tests, Sarina was finally diagnosed with mitochondrial dysfunction and cyclic vomiting syndrome [CVS] in 2010. This was the first time I felt some relief.
There’s no cure for CVS. We look forward to periods of remission, when Sarina can focus on her studies and friends. When her symptoms flare, I look for ways to be positive for her. A bout of vomiting that lasted five hours. Great! We’ve been through much longer ones. You had a good rest. Thank goodness!
Those days and nights spent watching my baby suffer while I was helpless to relieve her pain filled me with stress and anxiety. But even during the darkest hours, like the night I got down on my knees beside her hospital bed and begged God for a diagnosis and deliverance, I was also able to find solace in a deep well of gratitude.
Living with chronic illness, whether you’re the afflicted or a loved one providing care, requires stamina, resilience, courage, deep breathing and tenacity. Grace lives underneath, helping you to handle one challenge, then the next. I was always where I needed to be. The GA set is only eight blocks away from Children’s Hospital, where Sarina got care as a teen.
When Oprah introduced the idea of gratitude journals on her show, I was inspired. Even before my daughter was ill, I’ve tried to remain thankful. I am grateful for good times with my children Sarina, Joy  and Michael . When GA is in hiatus, we enjoy a Disney cruise, a trip we look forward to all year. The sea, the spa treatments and simply spending time with family is so wonderful.
I am grateful that a difficulty I faced as a child has strengthened me to face my child’s difficulties. My father, an epileptic, experienced grand mal seizures. I learned to be a caregiver early. That prepared me to reflect poise and not fear when my daughter became ill. I was the right mom for her.
I am grateful for my Grey’s Anatomy character, Dr. Miranda Bailey. This is the 15th season of GA, and with our 332nd episode, we’ll overtake ER as the longest-running network medical drama. I will direct that historic episode! I pinch myself. In Season 4, Shonda Rhimes and other producers encouraged me to direct an episode that dealt with my child’s condition. It didn’t occur to me to say no to my bosses. I’ve directed 20 episodes since.