Adjusting to the New Me

sweet clipart.com

sweet clipart.com

If you read my last post chronicling my nosedive into medical testing, you know my perception of myself as a healthy person changed a few years ago.

When young, I thought I’d grow up, get married and live happily every after. I skipped minor details — graduating from high school, earning money for college, seeking employment, choosing a spouse, being a parent — and hit the highlights: marriage and happily-ever-after.

In constructing this fantasy, I ignored the examples of my extended family, dear friends, and good neighbors. In reality, some never marry; some remain childless; some don’t graduate; some are unemployed; some never have the opportunity to go to college; some fight debilitating illnesses; some suffer life-changing accidents.

And, happy as my childhood was, my mom and dad didn’t go around every day bursting with joy and tra-la-la-ing.

Neither did I. Once married and employed, I bumped into reality on a regular basis; never more so than when I faced divorce and its aftermath: an admission of failure and a flood of grief for what had been.

When I began my career, I entertained another irrational illusion: Retirement would happen to others, never to me. I assumed I would teach happily and successfully until I died. Then my classroom would be sealed and a placard hung: “Mrs. Bohart worked here, so step softly and get rid of your gum.”

However, in my early 60’s, reality intervened: My enthusiasm waned; I grew tired; I loathed my alarm clock. Not wanting to offer less than my best, I wrote my letter, accepted my commemorative clock, and went home.

More recently, health issues destroyed the rose-colored glasses that allowed me to pretend I would suffer minor, inconvenient ailments but remain intact and robust as I aged. In this fairytale, I died peacefully and painlessly in my sleep after snowshoeing all afternoon, snacking on carrot cake, and finishing a good book.

Then I slammed to the pavement on 6th street and underwent countless tests to determine why: electrodes plastered to my skin, my breath stilled as various machines hummed and clanked, my heart challenged by a treadmill, and, finally, an electric transmitter run from my groin into my heart.

As a result of the last test, I now live with a pacemaker: a medical marvel that should, as my silver-tongued cardiologist said, “…keep you ticking until something else kills you.”

I’ve grown accustomed to wearing an embedded mini-computer everywhere I go; but for the first few months, at odd moments, my eyes widened in surprise at the thought that I had a permanent, serious malfunction in my body and that I was dependent on a machine. These things didn’t fit my self-vision; I cherished and tried to protect my health. Didn’t that count?

With time, acceptance of my new reality slowly seeped in, like sunlight leaking through a cloud, and I understood situations beyond my control — accidents, exposure, genes — could impact my health; things would happen I could neither prevent nor fix, things I could neither control nor ignore.

I realized for optimum health, I’d need to schedule regular appointments with health professionals I trusted — and listen to them.

At last, I had gained a bit of  the wisdom old folks are said to possess.

Stitched, Scanned, and Restricted

thecliparts.com

thecliparts.com

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.