Living Life

What if you were dying?

Yeah, I know, it’s a helluva way to start a conversation, but can you answer the unspoken questions that come with it? What would you regret doing? Not doing? Who would you miss, or realize you hadn’t spoken to? Are there things you wish you had done? Said? Chances taken? Opportunities ignored because you’d get to them… eventually?

It’s not Sunday as I write this, like it normally is. It’s Tuesday night. Tomorrow I get to relive all those questions. Tonight, I’m going to bleed a little.

2007 was not a fun year. Oh, it started that way—I had an amazing New Year’s filled with laughter and shop talk and insanity with several of my favorite people, and a Stoker dinner to remember, thanks to a friend, big brother & mentor. And then two weeks after WHC I noticed my fingers looked funny. Like little froggy fingertips, which I later learned was called digital clubbing. Oh, it was nothing like what google brought back for me [because here me now and obey later, if you’re having any type of medical anything, do NOT google… google is the evil!]. Before I got to the doctor to ask what the hell that was about, my legs began to hurt. It went fairly quickly from there. Agonizing long bone pain, pins & needles in my limbs, funky fingers, tired all the time, not remembering my own name, oh yeah, by the time the snow was gone I had a symptom/pain/ache/nightmare for every day of the week and then some. When my arms started shaking it became a grand ol’ time.

Freaking out at the pins and needles in my legs and shaking in my arms, I couldn’t wait for an appointment and hit Urgent Care. Note: the medical profession claims to love a mystery… they lie! But they do get excited when something other than a three-year-old with the sniffles comes through the door. But they didn’t seem to care that I couldn’t stand from the pain, that I couldn’t write from the shaking, that my motto was “I could nap” or that I’d had life-long anemia. Nope. They saw clubbing fingers and declared it lung cancer.

Thus beginneth the tests. Xrays, cat scans, pet scans, invasive, rude, horrible procedures that will haunt me forever. Of course, they couldn’t find anything actually wrong with my lungs—no emphysema, cancer, fibrous tissue, abcesses, blockages, nothing. A smoker, I blew better PFTs than nonsmokers. Although they did find a tiny, itty bitty little 5mm spot on an Xray that didn’t show up in cat scans or glow in pet scans. They declared it “scar tissue” from a childhood illness and vowed to watch it. And then moved to the next obvious reason for clubbing—my heart. I still shudder thinking of some of those tests. My favorite would be getting strapped to a T-table like a lazy Christ and them feeding wires and camera from my thigh to my heart, and then having to carry a card on me for 90 days while I waited for the plug to dissintigrate, hoping it would instead of dislodging and forcing me to whip out the “oh shit, get me to the ER card.” Nothing there either.

Stumped doctors decided maybe they should broaden their minds. Maybe even consider some of my other symptoms. And they did, while I suffered through a Necon I was determined to attend [and did damn it, surviving on Nate & Brian & Cassi to help me stand, walk or get me more vicodin], a HorrorFind I promised my daughter she could attend [and if you were there, you may have noticed I didn’t move much. I found a spot on the brick outside and let my friends walk around with her because I couldn’t], 17 specialists, and a Halloween season at the Mayo Clinic. I was accused of, believed to have, and/or tested for a plethora of chewy goodness for 10 months, including but not limited to: 5 types of cancer, liver failure [which, as the non-drinker of the group, would have pissed me off!], 6 different thyroid disorders, lukemia, celiac, crohn’s and some funky stuff that had to be named after someone [addison, eisenmenger, whipple]. It was a good time.

In the end there were too many symptoms that didn’t go together and one lone blood specialist got smart and started weeded through them. Lo’ and behold, that life-long anemia I had mentioned, specifically, at the very first turn and repeated over and over each time I had to answer “And why are you here today?” was the culprit… for the most part. See, your iron can be tested with a simple blood test, which is what they were doing, but he tested further. Seems my stores were depleted. My long bones. Long story short, minor surgery later and the anemia problem was under control. My pain stopped, the shaking stopped, the pins and needles went away, my mind came back and I could function in the real world again. All because my blood had gone wonky and my marrow was working overtime but never catching up.

However, cuz I bet you’re wondering what the hell we’re doing at this point, aren’t you? Even though the world’s TOP lung specialist—no, I mean that. Top dude on the planet—said my lung are shiny and pretty and perfect and don’t even look like smoker’s lungs, the rest of them just won’t buy it. All because of a 5mm “scar”. Do you know how big 5mm is?! Seriously? It’s TINY! [Then again, so are mosquitos and they carry all kinds of plaque and death and fun]

So I sit here on the eve of “final test,” trying to figure out how to study for it. If it hasn’t changed, moved, grown, etc. then I finally get the all clear and can go on with my life. If it has changed…if it is something… well, I have a whole schpeel that goes with that that none of you want to hear. Since I can’t seem to find “Living a full life for dummies” at Amazon, I find myself returning to the question that haunted me for 10 months…

What if I’m dying?

Of course, I already know the answer. I figured it out sometime around August of that year. Right after Horrorfind if I remember correctly. I still haven’t called two of those people, though I did [through Facebook] find two I had lost. I’m still way behind on my “before I die” writing goal, so I may have to kick that into overdrive. I’ve said things I never thought I would and done things I never thought myself brave enough to attempt. I’ve followed through on promises I made to myself, and remembered one I made long ago to someone else. There’s still plenty of work to be done and I’m not feeling unhealthy or ready to lay down and call it quits, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say there was some fear.

As a writer, I’ve journalized a lot of this experience. I’ve tucked ideas away with plans of returning when the blood dries a bit more. I’ve people-watched with new eyes and listened to my instincts with tenacious clarity. I’ve grown because of it. My writing has changed because of it. And when, not if, the tests [because oh joy, six hours of medical rape includes a LOT of tests!] come back negative… when it turns out to be nothing more than a scar smaller than a paper punch… then I get to finish my list. Because yes, when I couldn’t sleep while my brain spun too fast and my tears ran on a force of their own, I made two lists: “What if I’m dying?” is just the first.  By the time I post this, if I post this, I hope to be hard at work on the other list…

What if I’m living?

[Note: Yes, this is the abbreviated medical version—believe it or not! B/C, B, N & D had to put up with it while it was unfolding. I heart them forever for that.]

0 Responses to Living Life

  • That was harrowing to read. I can’t imagine going through it.

    And here I am still pouty about my kidney stone experiences.


  • The mom says:

    I don’t think it’s about what you do if your dying , so much as if you live through this experience-why am I here. I think about what is my purpose -and am I on it, am I doing what I should do for others. It’s not always about you.

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