Well, one out of three ain't bad.
As the saying goes, if you have your health you have everything. This is true in most cases, though if you're completely out of money and none too bright you're not exactly in great shape, either. That they don't usually warn you about. Some things you just have to intuit. My family is, for all intents and purposes, free from all but annoying, nagging medical problems -nothing serious or life-threatening.
And, as the nagging problem, I can potentially be reformed.
A few weeks ago I had a cancer scare. For the second time in my life I had to have a medical biopsy, sweating it out for a week, wondering if I should make long-range plans or start doling out my book collection. Sadly for those potential recipients, they'll have to wait a little longer.
The first cancer scare felt worse. I wasn't medicated for my chronic depression back then, i.e., I wasn't numbed enough not to feel appropriate terror. Ironic, but when it's become commonplace to consider punching out on the Great Time Clock it's still terrifying thinking you may go before you'd planned, and in a manner you didn't choose. The second time around I barely felt it. The week's wait felt pretty much like any normal week. I wanted to know the results, but I handled the delay just fine. In fact, when the doctor informed me the cyst was benign my only response was, "Oh. Okay." She looked happier, and more relieved, than I did.
Doctor number one was more seasoned (READ: Old). He was used to telling people "this looks really suspicious." Worrying a patient seemed low on his priority list. Doctor number two, however, was freshly out of her internship. She looked apologetic, cringing when she said, "We're sending this in to check for … cancer." I nodded, almost enthusiastically, responding, "Oh, I know that!" stopping myself from adding, "Duh!" I could tell she hated the idea of killing her first patient. Little did she know, what would have scared me more would be hearing I was pregnant.
My husband's claim to medical fame is his status as "skin cancer boy." He's had a lot more to worry about than my little brushes with guest starring on "Dancing with the Reaper." Skin cancer is more insidious than anything I've experienced. Then again, I could be breeding it and not know it. I'm so pasty white I'm a prime candidate. Not to send Paul into a depressive funk or anything, but I'd be more worried about his situation than mine.
As for our children, when my daughter was born in 1993 the media was all over the "flesh eating bacteria" disease as their disaster of the month. I was so paranoid I went over my infant daughter with a fine-toothed comb every day, convinced if I didn't she'd be DOOMED. Not too paranoid. I blame the hormones. Prozac at this stage would have been a really good idea. If only someone had noticed.
Each one of my kids was born with jaundice. Not serious, but still one thing that mars the whole new baby experience. My daughter was least afflicted. She just needed exposure to sunlight. But my boys' cases were a little more severe. They each had to have the ultraviolet generating "light belt" that wrapped around their tiny tummies and hooked up to a machine via scary looking wires. We could take them off the machine to nurse, to change diapers and to bathe them, but for the bulk of the time they were confined to quarters. Talk about depressing. I knew they'd be fine. In this country jaundice is as common as the cold, and fully treatable. It's one of those times you give thanks for being in the First World.
Every week a visiting nurse came to check the boys' blood, which involved sticking needles in their tiny, soft heels. Though the boys hardly seemed to notice my insides were killing me. I hated that so much, seeing all those little poke marks on their feet, all those tiny bandages. But after a few weeks it was all over. The nurse took away the equipment and her needles and I had my babies back again, to have and to hold, to spoil and to take photos.
Despite her cavalier brush with jaundice as a newborn, my oldest has been our biggest challenge. Around the time her best friend was diagnosed with the most virulent form of leukemia, my daughter suddenly couldn't walk without excrutiating pain. For a few days we assumed what every parent would, that it would pass. Then it worsened. At age 11 she had to crawl wherever she went. We went from doctor to doctor, with no answers. When the sports medicine doctor suggested a sprain (in both feet at the same time, with no injury?) we'd had enough. We made an appointment with the pediatric rheumatologist at Children's Hospital in Chicago. After an examination and a course of blood work we had our answer: spondyloarthropathy, a form of juvenile arthritis and an auto-immune disease. It may go away when she hit her teens, the doctor told us, or it may be with her for life, possibly resulting in ultimately crippling her by attacking her spine, fusing together the vertebrae. She'll be 15 in a couple of weeks, and she's still battling it off and on. There's still no telling if the condition will be permanent. The doctors simply don't know enough about it yet.
The impact it has on her life since medication is really pretty minimal. During flare-ups, like she's having now with the change in the weather, she's in more pain, but at least she hasn't had to crawl around the house in years. A big part of the cure is attitude, not letting the pain keep her from living a normal life.
And our boys? My middle child's going through stomach issues, but I'm reasonably sure that'll turn out to be more a nervous condition than medical (we tend toward nervous issues in this family). We lucked out with our younger son, our "whoopsie" baby I prefer to call our "bonus child." He may be so thin we have to hold onto his legs in a stiff breeze, but he's about as hale and hearty as they come.
We know it could be worse. Much worse. Seeing my daughter's friend battling leukemia has put our own problems in perspective. For now she's beating it. Drugs are keeping the disease at bay, though it still lurks in the background. It may always; no one knows. Every day she's well is a blessing.
Health. It's always there, always a potential worry. Like most things, when you feel well you tend to take it for granted. It's only when the bad stuff happens you realize how much more you could have appreciated it when things were good.
But you can't spend all your time worrying. That's its own problem. Keep in mind, this comes from someone who's currently kept "comfortably numb," which is a necessity for me right now, as I go through heavy-duty therapy for serious childhood issues. It may seem easy for me to say "don't sweat it," but believe me I've paid my own dues. I'll pay them for the rest of my life.
When we have our health we have a lot. Maybe not everything, but awfully damn close.