Yesterday, I had a procedure. I knew when I started this blog that the day would come. After all, when you entitle a blog, Next. . . . Life After Retirement, you know that at some point you will be talking about health issues. I always hoped it would be later rather than sooner. I preferred to think that my general good health and energy would delay that time until my mindset had caught up. The day has arrived, however, and I have been compelled to confront the challenge.
I could run away. You would never know. I would just ignore the experience for now, like closing the blinds on a raging April blizzard. Out of sight, out of mind. That does seem dishonest, a cop-out, even if skirting the issue has a certain appeal. After all, this is a very public forum. I could bask in a comfortable, if illusory, safety. What would that say, though, about me as a writer? Am I ready to compromise my integrity? If the high diving board is still a little intimidating, however, I think I might summon the courage to step off the edge of the pool.
Yesterday, I headed into day surgery for a biopsy. The last time I needed medical intervention on that scale was twenty-four years ago. Yes, I felt anxious. I had to redirect my thoughts toward the positive, like reining in a wayward remote control vehicle you are just learning to operate.
To a person, the health workers achieved a personable professionalism. Two people called at different times in the weeks prior to the procedue to take my medical history. What a time saver! Respectful of my schedule, the first individual made an appointment with me for the longer conversation. 7:45 a.m., then, the phone rings.
"Good morning, Yvette. This is Darlene from the Health Region. How are you today?
"I’m well, thank you. How are you?
"I’m doing well, thanks. Let’s get started. I’ll just ask you some questions. It should take about forty-five minutes."
"No." Never broken a bone.
"High blood sugar?
"Not that I know of.
"Have you every had a concussion?"
Just about to deliver the default reply, I pause.
"Yes." I stretch out the vowel, replay the video. "I have."
Immediately, I am ten years old again, back on the dusty baseball diamond of the schoolyard. I am wearing my favourite summer dress, a hand-me-down from my older city cousins, squares bordered in black and yellow on a while background, each one framing an embroidered pink, blue or yellow flower. Under that, I have a pair of pants which the nuns insist we wear, no matter the temperature, for modesty’s sake, I guess. To cover the bare arms, a perfunctory sweater, gold and mohair-like. Fashion is not a concern, evidently.
In this rotation of scrub, I am the pitcher. The batter hits a foul ball. Why I don’t just let the catcher retrieve it, I can’t remember, unless we are only a few today, and we have scratched the position to save players for the critical roles. Whatever the reason, I run toward home plate to pick up the ball. At the same time, the batter is practicing a few swings, a warm-up for the next pitch. In one of those swings, my head becomes the ball.
I don’t remember pain. I have no discomfort at all associated with the hardball sized lump that has formed on my forehead. Until that moment, I thought that Fred Flintsone and Barney Rubble-like protrusions were just fabrications. Not. I have enough sense not to continue playing. My concern is to cover the lump—I don’t want any attention, and certainly not any teasing.
Someone gets me an icepack. I’m a bus student. What are they going to do with me? My next memory is the decision to walk to the hospital that serves this town of about five hundred people, about fifteen minutes in the June heat. Why aren’t we driving? This can’t be happening to me. I’m tired, and not feeling too well. Finally, we check in at Reception—the doctor is not in that day. They replace the ice pack, and the teacher and I head back to school. No one phones my parents. I suffer through the rest of the afternoon, sitting in my desk, rivulets of water from the melting icepack slowing snaking down my forearm into the sleeve of my sweater. The hands of the clock above the teacher’s desk crawl to 3:30.
On the long bus ride home along a bumpy grid road and four or five sinewy farm accesses, I sit, hunched against the window, my left elbow on the heat register, my arm propping me up and holding what’s left of the icepack. By now, the faux mohair has matted. I am miserable. As Shakespeare says in Macbeth, "Come what, come may, time and the hour runs through the roughest day." Eventually, the bus does pull up to the stop in front of the machine shop and gas station, next door to my house. I stumble off the bus, bedraggled, one hand managing the ice pack, the other the school bag and lunch kit. My mother is already out the door. She must watch the bus from the kithen window. She wonders how this could have happened without her knowledge.
My parents take me to see our family doctor in the next town (seems our family services are spread among three centers—we live in one town, go to school in a second, and get piano lessons, machine parts, household supplies, and visits to my grandparents in a third). He checks me out, confirms the concussion, gives instructions, and we go home. By the next day, the swelling has receded, morphed into two rainbows of black, yellow, blue, and gray, arched under my eyes like the black smears football players wear for protection from the sun and TV lights.
You can imagine that I am an object of curiosity for weeks. The priest stares at me all through Sunday mass. He rushes through the mass dismissal, abandons the procession back to the sacristy, and heads down the main aisle to check me out.
"What happened to you?" I relate the whole sorry tale.
Replicate the scenario at school, at the grocery store. "Had a fight with your boyfriend?" The man packing our grocery bags thinks he is funny. Interminable agony.
"Did you have any effects ?"
Effects? From what? I’m still at the grocery store, contemplating revenge.
"Oh, from the concussion? Depends who you ask."
She chuckles. We complete the inventory in time. She reiterates the critical instructions. Done until the day.
I am so grateful to the team at the Women’s Health Centre for taking such good care of me. They probably don’t realize that their repartee and inquiries into each other’s lives, their praise of the Friday pot-luck offerings, their solicitude in explaining every detail, all contribute to the atmosphere of calm and caring that helps to dissipate the stress. Many of the women here, both caregivers and patients, could be my daughters. Those in the adjoining beds have so much at stake. My doctor takes the time to tell me that everything is looking good. I leave light-hearted, and it’s not just the drugs.