October 26, 2010

Just To Be Safe.

Getting old is a bitch.

I can accept, grudgingly, the fact that I’m falling apart. It’s much harder to witness those whom I love following suit.

Recently, I decided it might be a good idea to visit my ob/gyn; I’d had a few minor problems that warranted an explanation. When I finally called to make the appointment, I learned my last check-up was over three years ago. (I guess it’s obvious how I feel about doctors and doctors’ appointments.)

The exam went well. The doctor was not at all worried about the concerns that brought me in. But as an extra precaution, just to be safe, they drew blood. A week later, the doctor’s office called: some odd results; no need for alarm, but to be safe, I should see a specialist for a more accurate diagnosis.

So yesterday, I went to another doctor. She couldn’t offer an immediate answer, but she was more than happy to siphon off more blood to send to the lab (are doctors related to vampires?). And she did a physical exam: eyes, ears, throat, reflexes. She ran her hands down my neck, frowned, and told me I had an enlarged thyroid, probably a goiter. Okay…what the hell is a goiter? (Yes, it’s on my list of items to google.)

She said she was not concerned, but just to be safe, I should have an ultrasound. So now I have three—count ’em, three—prescriptions for the imaging center: mammogram, bone density scan and ultrasound. The older I get, the more the prescriptions pile up.

This is why I mistrust doctors. They find things. Then they order more tests, just to be safe. But often, what really happens is that they find more things. In the meantime, however, they advise you not to worry about the things they’ve already found, so of course, you do.

As I left the doctor’s office, my phone rang. A good friend was on the line. He had had a doctor’s appointment that morning, too. Although he had told me a bit about his medical history before, the seriousness never really sunk in. But his words this time gave me pause (even as he, too, told me not to worry): he needs a biopsy because certain levels are high, but it’s just to be safe.

Argh. I’m really starting to hate that phrase—just to be safe—and I’m usually not inclined toward hate.

After my appointment, I had hoped to meet another close friend, one who is struggling with stage III cancer. She’s hit a really tough period: it’s too early to see the light at the end of the tunnel, yet it’s too late to hope the original diagnosis might have been wrong. The chemo is taking its toll. When I called her, she was sobbing because her hair was falling out in chunks. Her husband was home consoling her. She did not want to see me, or anyone else, at the moment.

Surprisingly, the onslaught of gloomy health news did not affect me as I thought it should. I simply felt acutely, painfully conscious of our mortality.

I thought about my wonderful, strong, beautiful, spiritual friends. These are relationships I cling to tightly. I hold these people close to my heart, tucked carefully into a spot that glows when I think of them. I felt saddened and more than a little frightened after talking with them yesterday.

And then I realized that my fear of mortality stems from pure selfishness on my part. My fear of mortality is all about me and how I couldn’t bear to lose these people whom I love, who enrich my life so.

But I also realized this: there is no cure for the fickleness of mortality. There is only the preemptive strike against regret. So here’s my prescription, my inoculation against the “should have” blues:

Let the ones you love know how much you love them. Make the moments you spend together count. Consider it insurance: something vital and necessary for the health, happiness and sanity of those you love, something you apply faithfully, often and regularly, just to be safe.


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Melinda Matthews  |  Contribution: 5,130