It’s the little things

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Backyard Ladybug #1, by Pascal Gaudette on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

Yesterday was better. All my troubles seemed so far away. I even went to the gym.  I’d slept a good night, not so congested. I even made dinner. I made! dinner! That was pretty exciting.

Then last night again I didn’t sleep well, the congestion was worse. Woke up with a splitting headache, sure the worst was happening and my brain had been liquefied by the cancer (I do realize the cancer does not attack in the same way a mosquito does, yes, I know this). I was coughing up ugly things, too.

I couldn’t really seem to get out of bed. I did, briefly, but it wasn’t a good idea. So I went back and even managed to nap a bit. Woke up and it was past time for my cancer meds, and it’s important to keep to a schedule with those because they require a three hour window of not eating or drinking anything but water. Reached for the pills, put them in my mouth, then realized: My bedside water bottle was empty! Down the hatch, I urged, and managed to not get them stuck in my throat. So. Another stupid milestone: I could easily take my meds in a drought.

I staggered out of bed after another hour and heated up some chicken soup. I ate it and felt very hot, sweaty, but no fever when I checked. It was a beautiful day outside, the mercury rising half hourly, and I was missing it all! I went back to bed, listened to a podcast half-heartedly. Finally, I decided to call my doctor. They had time to see me! Felt like winning the lotto (for five bucks). Then, after a most unusual seventy-five day wait, my – ahem – cycle started again. Without a sputter. Just as though it had been here regularly all along.

I walked over to the doctor (about a third of a mile, uphill). It winded me, and I worried. I’d taken that same walk many times before, and when I get winded by it, that means I probably have pneumonia.

After an hour, the nurse saw me. She handed me the dreaded tube and had me stand in front of the computer. In the past, a crude image of a tree has shown up, and my breath through the tube has to blow all the leaves off. Today, though, a curveball: it was a bunch of birthday candles to be blown out instead, but in a formation not unlike bowling pins.

Every time I start this test, I think, “No sweat.” And yet, every time, I feel like I’ve failed it. Too many leaves stay on the tree. Today, it felt like more than half the candles stayed lit (and there were no children to help me). I repeat the test three times. Each time the computer screen says, “Blow harder.” I blow with all my might, and the message never changes. I feel pre-defeated, after three tries, even before the doctor comes in to listen to me breathe. My head was splitting with a migraine, but at least now I knew why: it was my usual menstrual migraine, right on schedule, and since I didn’t exercise today (the only surefire prevention), I hadn’t headed it off at the pass.

The doctor came in. First, I let her listen to my breathing. I heaved huge, heavy  breaths like it was my job. She didn’t seem too concerned. There were no “rhonchi” (my medical term for the day), the doc said, but there she was, writing me a script anyway for a chest x-ray. Which meant I’d need to go to the imaging place far from my house, and I needed to pick up Young A in ten minutes. The stars aligned, and I managed in the space of five minutes to: 1) get a phone signal (the doctor’s office is in a basement so that can be a challenge); 2) reach someone at school who promised me Young A could go to aftercare for an hour; 3) tell the doc my period started again, but that I was worried about my thyroid numbers but I hadn’t actually gone and done the bloodwork she’d ordered for me because I was initially too lazy and lately too sick, and hey, I didn’t need a pregnancy test anymore! It turned out that the doc can do the bloodwork herself, she just wrote me the order since they don’t always have time to do it in the office. So in no time flat, I made my fist, got stuck, gave my two vials, and got out of there. I called J and begged him to leave a little early so he could get the kids by 5, while I walked to the bus stop to head to the x-ray. I also urged him to find someone else to attend the Jonathan Richman show we were going to see tonight, and he did.

My phone was running low on juice, but as I was stepping on the bus, I was in the process of booking the apartment in Rome we’ll stay in for a few days this July, when we take the kids out of the country for the very first time. I exchanged some messages with the owner in minutes, and somehow managed to complete the transaction before my phone screen dimmed. I smiled as I stepped off the bus and walked to the imaging place. A magnolia tree I passed had wide-open blossoms, like it was high-fiving me.

My migraine came to a jagged peak in the waiting room. You may like Ellen, but try listening to it at top volume with a musical guest, while your head is splitting open. I hadn’t been a fan and have probably now developed a lifelong aversion. I somehow managed to keep it together until the waiting room emptied out, then asked the receptionist to please turn it down.

The chest x-ray took no time at all, just the usual berobed, weird tango with the machine, lead apron tied like an apron. I don’t stop to wonder how I have gotten so used to so many things, how I have become so medically obedient. X-rays, CT scans, even MRIs. There was a woman in the waiting room insisting she’d need a heavy sedative for her MRI, and they were telling her she’d need a prescription, and I knew she wouldn’t think much of my MRI advice (“take a detailed mental tour of a place you haven’t been since childhood”).

I came out of there starving, parched, wanting nothing so much in the world as a sesame bagel from the good bagel place around the corner, and some kind of juice. But I also wanted to get home, and I didn’t know when the bus would arrive. A woman in front of me was having an elaborate sandwich prepared for her by the sleepy worker, and I kept thinking he was done, but then he would lazily take a tomato over to the slicer and shave off a couple of pieces, then lazily repeat the process with an onion, as though knives had never been invented. I thought my head might explode. Once she’d paid I said quickly that I wanted a sesame bagel, and grabbed some juice. I didn’t watch him, because I was looking out the window to the bus stop across the street.

I paid. I opened the door to leave and saw the bus pulled up at the stop, traffic coming in both directions. I channeled my childhood hours spent playing Frogger – see, Mom and Pa? It was useful! – and managed to get across the street without getting hit. I have a weird feeling that I maybe lifted my arms and legs in an exaggerated way, to get my body to run. It didn’t feel at all natural. I think in that moment I knew I did not actually have pneumonia, because if I did, I never would have been able to run for a bus. I have had pneumonia, and you, cruddy-ass cold, are no pneumonia.

On the bus, I switched my nearly-dead phone back on. There was a voice mail from the doc already. Indeed, it wasn’t pneumonia! I opened the bag to find a cinnamon raisin bagel, and a pretty burnt one they’d probably have given out for free in 30 more minutes, and I wanted to curse the counter guy.

Guess what, though? Nothing was going to really ruin my day now. I felt horrible, couldn’t breathe through my nose, had a splitting headache, was going to miss a concert I’d been looking forward to. On balance, though: No pneumonia! Magnolia! J gets to hang out with an old friend tonight! And, four wonderful nights in the not-so-distant future will be spent with my family in my favorite part of Rome, a stone’s throw from Piazza Navona.

OK, so I can’t breathe right now, or even deal with bright light (my phone display is turned down to the dimmest as I type this) but I can find many reasons to smile. This makes me an optimist, or an idiot, or – perhaps most accurately – about equal parts of both.

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