Recently, I came across one of those anonymous sayings that pop up on social media like prairie dogs in Texas:
Cherish your health:
If it is good, preserve it.
If it is unstable, improve it.
If it is beyond what you can improve, get help.
And I remembered.
Walking with vigor and strength through an afternoon of erratic March weather, I felt light-headed, thought, “Whoa,” and caught a close-up glimpse of my scuffed shoe next to dirty snow.
I came to in a park a block away: my heart thumping, my vision crystallized, my walking faster. I looked around. How did I get here? Unable to remember, I continued striding across the snow-ruffled grass of the park, puzzling over my wet, muddy jeans and blood-stained jacket. What happened to me?
At home, I looked in a mirror at the ugly havoc on my forehead and mainly felt relief: At 5:00pm near a busy intersection in a town full of helpful people, I fell on my head, thrashed about in a muddy gutter like an upside-down turtle, scrabbled to my feet, and walked home, billowing blood, with no witnesses — and thus no need to explain my clumsiness or to pretend pluckiness. Whew.
Joel came home, looked at my head, and we went to the hospital. As the doctor stitched my forehead together, my comedienne husband asked if I would be too traumatized to cook dinner. Ha. Ha.
The next morning, I looked like I’d walked on the wild side: a blood-encrusted, cross-stitched wound, shades of purple, black, and green like the aurora borealis and a squiggle of red eyeball peering through massive swelling. Joel, ever happy to celebrate my life events, emailed a close-up photograph to family and friends. They all called, forcing repeated confessions of my inability to walk and think at the same time.
When the stitches were removed, an intern gave me good news: “Wow! Cool! Looks like the stitches stretched out a couple of wrinkles.” Perhaps he could team with my husband as the new Abbot and Costello.
Eventually, I stopped dwelling on my plummet to earth and my inability to remember. I thought I misjudged my step, turned my foot or tripped. So I was taken aback when my family doctor said she feared an underlying cause for my scarred forehead — potentially more serious than a lack of grace. She recommended tests and a cardiologist. I trusted her, so I agreed.
As I waited for the tests to be scheduled, I experienced strange symptoms: pressure in my nose, twinges in my chest, lightening striking my brain. Was that a hiccup or heart failure? Could a faulty aorta be causing my painful big toe?
But a second conversation with my doctor disconcerted me more than my imaginings: “Janet, I talked with the cardiologist; he said you shouldn’t drive until you’ve had the tests and see him. You could blackout again and harm yourself or others.”
Because I feared being a little old lady who passed out and drove through the window of a Denny’s restaurant, I obeyed. Grounded for four weeks, I was monitored, scanned, x-rayed, and stressed. Electrodes and wires became my fashion accessories and please-hold-still-and-don’t-cough my new pastime.
Finally, only one procedure remained before I could reclaim my car keys: a test of the electrical current in my heart. If problems were found, I would awaken with a pacemaker.
A pacemaker? Me? Ridiculous. I cherished my health. I worked to protect it. I did things to improve it. How could I need help?
Self-perceptions can change overnight. But that’s another story.