Read original Top Story article in “The Heights” here.
‘Gutless and Grateful:’ How One Woman Survived, Stomachless
In Fulton 511, Oestreicher performed the one-woman show, titled “Gutless and Grateful,” that revealed the events prior to and following her realization that she could no longer eat or drink. The event, which took place on Feb. 29, was sponsored by the Undergraduate Government of Boston College.
Wearing a red dress and bows in her hair, Oestreicher sang and narrated the story of her physical and mental struggle.
Beginning with her rendition of her 13-year-old self, Oestreicher sang about her hopes and dreams of someday succeeding in the theater. She spoke about her excitement over attending an audition in New York City alone for the first time, and taking the time to explore the area. Once, while trying to calm her nerves before performing, she found herself exploring a local bookstore. Oestreicher said that she felt drawn to the self-help section of books, particularly the ones discussing journeys of healing.
“Now I know that my role in life is still to be that same performer I always wanted to be when I was 13. But now with an even greater gift to give. A story to tell.”
She acted out the scene of her flipping through book titles, until she came across one that caught her attention. It was titled The Courage to Heal, and when she looked closer, she read, “for survivors of sexual abuse.” She could not bring herself to put the book back down.
“It was so difficult for me to speak the words, ‘I was sexually abused,’” Oestreicher said.
She disclosed that her abuse was an issue that she had tried to ignore for some time, but eventually found herself facing in her final year of high school.
The scene ended without any more information on the topic, and Oestreicher moved on to describe the events that took place the week before her senior prom. Recreating the chaos and confusion she felt when she woke up in the hospital with tubes and bags connected to her body, she continued to provide the audience with the details of her physical struggle.
“I felt like there was no God, or anyone, to protect me anymore,” she said.
During her final year of high school, a blood clot caused Oestreicher’s stomach to explode and both of her lungs to fail. After falling into a coma for several months, Oestreicher finally woke up to find that she could no longer consume food or liquids. Oestreicher would live with an IV in her arm from that time on.
“I remember waking up from my coma, and I was so heavily sedated that I thought I was underwater,” Oestreicher said.
Using her emotional autobiographical performance, Oestreicher further explained that it took 27 surgeries for her doctors to finally reconstruct her digestive system
According to her songs, the three years filled with surgeries were some of the most trying ones. She shared several anecdotes about her life in the hospital, including one in which her parents tried to help her sneak out for an afternoon of shopping. Their attempt failed, however, as it was not long before she was found and escorted back to the ICU by a social worker. She conveyed her desperation through a song that repeated the words, “let me see the world,” several times.
“They called me a miracle,” she said, voicing the thoughts she had had in the hospital. “Really? What kind of miracle? I feel like a freak at a circus side show.”
In addition to the boredom that hospital life ensued, Oestreicher battled every day with her inability to eat. Even after she was permitted to return home, Oestreicher was still not able to eat. Her parents, heartbroken, kept the refrigerator empty at all times, and would hide in the garage to eat their dinners. According to Oestreicher, she could still smell her father’s eggplant parmesan well enough to cause her pain.
“I was hungry for a purpose,” she said. “And food.”
After years of pain, Oestreicher was finally able to begin eating and drinking again. Since then, she has purposefully pursued every artistic and educational opportunity that she has been presented with, in order to feel as alive and happy as possible.
Oestreicher explained that she uses her triumphant tale to inspire others to reevaluate their approaches to life. She has appeared on the Today Show, and has taken her performance to New York City.
“Now I know that my role in life is still to be that same performer I always wanted to be when I was 13,” Oestreicher said. “But now with an even greater gift to give. A story to tell.”
(See Boston College Performance Details here.)
Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor