Lying flat on a cold table, I held my breath as REO Speedwagon filled the X-ray room. I was relieved I didn’t have to remove any clothing this time—although I wished I had removed my shoes before climbing on. I thought about taking them off, but it felt like breaking the rules; as if the choice to go barefoot had only existed during the brief window before my table was cranked up to its current height. Now I would just have to wait, I guess.
It was a short wait.
As I was guided back through the maze of hallways, I thought about how this was only a maze to me. An outsider. It was probably a very simple layout. In spite of the minor anxiety I always feel about getting lost in unfamiliar medical buildings, I am never interested enough to pay attention. I just go wherever I am led. But this time, as I focused on the rooms and exits, I began to believe I could probably find the parking lot again even without the fifteen separate signs pointing the way to checkout.
The whole adventure took so little time that when I arrived back in my original exam room, the same song was playing. I heard it from a friend who heard it from a friend who heard it from another you’ve been messing around….
I laughed, because this would now be added to the soundtrack of my life. Oops. I was simply thinking too hard about it, which always seems to make a thing stick. The doctor’s appointment itself was completely uneventful. I already knew I was not in a life or death situation, and the X-ray was only for monitoring a kidney stone which, while incredibly troublesome—isn’t currently putting my life in danger. I was just spending too much time in my head.
So This Is What Turning Forty Brings
Add “Urologist” to the growing list of doctors who want to see me periodically for the rest of my life. You know, just to “keep an eye” on things. I’m unusually healthy, and for the first time in my life people seem surprised by it. I noticed my nurse’s suspicion of my uneventful medical history the third time she asked if I was sure I wasn’t on any other medications. And when she took my blood pressure she said: “It’s great today—what is it usually?”
The same, thanks. Why did she ask it like that?
I’m now overdue for my annual visit with my Gynecologist. For years this was the only appointment I ever needed to worry about, and procrastinating is a tradition for us both. In my twenties I could get up to a six month extension on my birth control pills without a visit just because I was a low priority patient in their scheduling puzzle. But now I am also overdue for my annual breast exam…. and I keep meaning to make that Dermatologist appointment. Then there are the appointments I should be making for my husband.
I’ve already got a follow-up appointment with my Urologist for next week, and I can only focus on one at a time. If I am lucky, “physician multitasking” is a skill I won’t have to master until I’m sixty.
(“If I’m lucky” is only part of the equation.)
Odds are good that I will die sooner than I need to for one of two reasons: my procrastination, or my politeness. At least “God’s will” no longer tops the list. I know I am not alone when it comes to avoiding unnecessary doctor visits for tests that are probably a waste of time. The idea is that there are things which can be caught early, avoiding an early death. And it makes perfect sense when I’m lying in bed at night thinking of all the to-do lists I don’t bother to actually write down. I’ll get to it later this week. But months go by and I never want to make the phone calls.
Politeness is worse. Especially because it always comes mixed with a little bit of fear over looking stupid. This is how I will choke to death trying to give myself the Heimlich maneuver someday. Or go to bed while having a heart attack. I have been to the ER for myself exactly three times in my life. Two of those times my doctor sent me because it is the only place to get the Rhogam shot. And the third time was last weekend during a kidney stone attack.
I knew I should go, but I waited until I was stable enough to drive myself. As I checked in, I felt as if I shouldn’t be wasting these people’s time; maybe I should have just taken my acetaminophen and called someone on Monday. And that is what I would normally do. In spite of the overwhelming pain I felt, I sat quietly and waited. I told them my pain was a three when it was more like an eight. And I never stopped smiling at people I made eye contact with.
A man actually tried to pick me up in the waiting room. Because even during a kidney stone attack, while sitting in an ER waiting room—my friendliness gets mistaken for flirting. And maybe because that man wasn’t very bright.
Sweating It Out with (and without) God
There was a time when I would have stayed at home and justified my procrastination and politeness with prayer. Believers know there is a difference between “trusting God to meet our needs” and “trusting God to direct our paths.” God helps those who help themselves. Unless, of course, it’s more convenient to turn it over to God and do nothing. I can tell you from experience that if going to the emergency room is the last thing one wants to do—putting faith in God and sweating it out on the bathroom floor becomes a perfectly logical option.
In ways it hangs on in my mind, as if there was ever a reason to think that way. It’s an example of how personality defines elements of faith for each individual. Forgiveness is another example. Forgiveness has always been too easy for me. I never had trouble believing God would forgive us; and I wasn’t even impressed. Why wouldn’t he?
Others have a very different relationship with the concept of forgiveness. I asked my husband how he felt about forgiving others as a Christian, and he said that he forgave others based on merit. If they had good intentions or sincere regret, he forgave them. But for me, merit was irrelevant. I could forgive in the absence of both good intentions and regret with little hesitation.
How we experienced forgiveness within faith was completely different. Not because of God or anything that was written on our hearts, but because of who we are as people. And now in the absence of Christianity, we each hold onto those interpretations of forgiveness. The only difference is how easier it has become to forgive ourselves.
Now I have to forgive myself for things like procrastination that may or may not lead to our untimely deaths.
Sometimes I look at who I used to be and I see myself as that patient in the maze of hallways, only interested in following where I am led; blindly trusting, and too afraid to be anything but polite. I followed the rules and wanted to be liked to the point where even removing my shoes while elevated a few inches off the ground seemed too bold a move.
So maybe I am exactly the same person I have always been. Why wouldn’t I be? But I am also the person who did end up in that emergency waiting room after all. I am also the person who, in the moments I am left alone with my thoughts as the doctors whisper about the size of my kidney stones, manages to over think all of this. Alternative escape routes to the parking lot, Dermatologist appointments, death, forgiveness, whether or not I should have removed my shoes…. all of this clutters my brain over the period of a few minutes.
Sometimes this part of who I am leads me to completely change my mind about everything in the universe.
And other times it simply ensures I will never forget the words to “Take It on the Run.”