Saturday, July 30, 2011

Please, sir, can I have some more? Also known as "How I knew I wouldn't 'live' past 36."

Today was my abdominal MRI to get shots of whatever these lesions are found on my liver and adrenal glands. I've been told not to worry, but then again, I was told that before. So, guess what? I'm worried.

I arrived, after taking the stupid prednisone at 10:30 pm last night and then, again, at 4:30 am this morning (I swear to gawd, I was being woken up in the middle of the night less when I was nursing both my children than I have in the past week and a half taking prednisone!) and again at 8:30 and again at 10:30 am. Let me tell you, that is a pill that desperately needs a candy-coating. Bleah! The bitterness stuck for hours on the back of my tongue. I had two technicians today - Michael & Gerard - over at the hospital. Fortunately, since this was a "regular" MRI, I didn't need any breast specialists, so I could have it done at the main Radiology department on a weekend. Both of the guys were really nice. I discovered that Gerard was a mountain biker who just bought a Trek 3900 (the bike I ride) a year or two ago, so I invited him to join us at the ROCK the RIDGE on 9/18 to benefit LIVESTRONG. While he was trying to find a vein - for years I've had veins to envy according to the Red Cross, but I guess having had more ports put into my arms than I've had in my life has caused my right arm to scar up a bit, so we had to go to the left - we talked about what he could do to teach his kids to get off training wheels (and a little plug for Danny's Cycles... he wasn't happy with where he bought his bike, originally, from a shop farther south... ). Finally we had blood flow, and I was shot into my futuristic tube.

While I'm in the MRI, I like to pretend that I'm in one of those wacky Japanese hotels, just even more compressed. It's the only way not to lose one's mind when you open your eyes in there. Either that, or that I'm on the Starship Enterprise and that Patrick Stewart has commanded the medical team to scan me for any fungi picked up on an alien planet before allowing me to mix with the general population, again. But the Japanese hotel image lets me relax more.

Believe it or not, the chirping of the MRI when you first walk in doesn't bother me. To me, it's like a strange inter-galactic bird simulation. It's the buzzing and the thumping that gets annoying - for a number of reasons. First, I like to get into a "zone." I'm not big into formal meditation, but I'm pretty good at transporting my brain to other places than where it's physically located. One of the easiest ways to do it is via music. So, I sing in my head - that also helps me regulate my breathing for the tests. Today's soundtrack included some audition pieces I'd prepared and/or considered for my "The Voice" auditions - "Get It Right" from Glee, "Rolling In The Deep," by Adele, "Jar of Hearts," among others. The problem is that often, the thumping doesn't jive with the rhythm of the songs! And today, I was just too tired to think of music to match the beats.

Secondly, I am starting to feel like my body starts to react to the vibrations and magnetic forces as it runs over my body. Does this make sense? It's like I can feel the scanning with a very fuzzy sensation. It's like a mild Dementor's Kiss, sucking a bit of my soul, out of each incremental portion of my body that it reviews. There's a strange twinge and pull, and then a release. And I can't control it.

Lastly, the mind wanders and I start philosophizing. It's not very funny in there. Perhaps it's the Jewish mystic in me, trying to find universal connections between this world, the spiritual world and the next world, guided and highlighted by spirits of those past and present with whom I've connected. The past several years have felt very out of control - between finances, having to entrust various people with ranging levels of trust (emotional, financial, task-oriented) and being let down, having to clean up those messes - and physically. Things really took a strange and bad turn in 2005 or so. My body/metabolism stopped responding to the thyroid-based treatments my endocrinologist prescribed. I knew something was wrong, but I couldn't tell what it was. Vague symptoms haunted me - lack of ability to lose weight despite "correct" diet & exercise (save when I starved myself because every penny I had had to go to finish the house, and I could only afford 1 meal a day of beans, tomato paste and whatever else I could find in the house - and maybe the free bagels the local bagel shop boy would give me if I can at the end of the day), sicknesses that, previously, I'd bounce back from quickly, but now were leaving me bedridden, vertigo, an ultimately mental sense of losing control, and anxiety related to it - you name it, something was off-kilter. We readily blamed my Hashimoto's - from the sometimes overwhelming emotional "insanity" to the dead metabolism to the fatigue.

But it's as though my body has been SCREAMING, increasingly loudly, that, "Something is wrong here!!!!! And I'm going to shake you up, rattle your cage and make you find it because I can't tell you what it is, but it's happening! SO FIND IT & FIX IT! NOW! BECAUSE IF YOU DON'T SOON, IT'S GOING TO BE TOO LATE!"

I'm not going to lie. For years, I mean, as long as I can remember, I never thought I'd live past 36. I'd never envisioned myself as an older person. I saw myself as being forever young. That's one of the reasons I'd never pictured myself as having children. Something in my gut felt like I'd be part of the 27-club or something. Perhaps it's a result of losing enough people that meant the world to me to death at such early ages - as though their deaths knock another 10 years off of your own life. Add into that those people that you lose for other reasons - pride, distance, fights over nothing - figure that can knock another 5-10 off.

And, perhaps it's what my cousin can tell you, while we will never claim to me "psychic" or fortune tellers, we do genuinely have a connection to an "Other World." No, that's not the meds - I'm not on any, nor do I need to be (ahem, Billy, Dash & others... truly... when psychiatrists have evaluated me, the answer was, "NO.") But it's true. I know I have an acute connection to those that are now dead. It's not just the figurative, "It's like they are around me." It is that they are around me. If you've seen "Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Part II," think about the forest. If you have seen "Goblet of Fire," think right before Harry battles Voldemort in the cemetery. Yeah, we know when houses are haunted. Do we see dead people? No. Do we feel chills, get possessed and convulse? No. Do we know? Hell, yes.

This isn't a new thing, either. Our Grandfather saw his dead father at his bed when he was in hiding in Germany telling him, in the middle of the night, to take his tallit and tefillin & go to synagogue in Berlin. He did. When he returned, his friend stopped him from going back to where he was staying because the Gestapo had raided his apartment looking to arrest him moments after he left.

When I was in college, I had just bought a car from my friend, Kristen, in Oberlin, and I'd driven it home for a week or two before I went back for the summer where I was studying voice, working at the Conservatory and studying at LKKK LCCC (Lorain KCounty KCommunity KCollege). The day after my birthday, I drove back to Oberlin by myself - something I'd never done. It's an 8-12 hour drive, depending on traffic. I left early in the morning, it was a bright day, and I was bushy-tailed. Half-way through Pennsylvania, however, I fell unconscious (after much speculation, we concluded that the strobe-effect of the bright sun on the newly-painted dotted lines triggered a massive migraine) and I veered off the road at 80 miles an hour from the far left-hand lane, across 3 lanes of traffic, missing the safety barrier, and plummeting into a valley, with the car flipping head over tails 3 times before landing in a ditch. The attending physicians advised my parents not to show me photos of the car for weeks, because he was afraid it might trigger shock.

Aaron Cass, my best friend in
high school, who died
I don't remember much except for waking up in a wooden-paneled ambulance. I saw the driver and another paramedic in the front of the ambulance. But a third man in a white uniform was standing next to me. I couldn't focus on his face, but his voice was remarkably familiar. He was holding my hand, smiling at me, telling me that he'd never let anything happen to me, he promised, and that I was fine. He said he'd watch over me until he knew I was ok, and he wouldn't leave my side. A flash before I fell back unconscious, I focused on his face, got a mental "snap shot," but fell back asleep before the final "light bulb" went off. It wasn't until later, when the two guys who were in the front stopped by to see how I was - I only had minor abrasions, a concussion, and some ridiculously minor damage to the nerve that controls timing in my left thumb - and to tell me my iguana (who was in the car) was taken to a vet and he was fine.

I then asked them where the third guy was - the one that was holding my hand, checking my pulse, and telling me I would be alright. They looked at each other. Clearly, they were confused and didn't quite know what to say. They asked me to describe him, and I did - to a tee. Black hair, blue eyes, comforting yet awkward voice, pale skin, big smile, wavy hair - very old-fashioned hair cut - slender, slightly hunched, nervous hands. Their eyes opened, they stood silently, and explained that there was no one else in the ambulance - just me, alone, in the back, the two of them in the front, and my iguana hidden under the sheets under the gurney so they could keep him with me. I told them he was with me for quite some time. I described the scenes out the window as we drove - which they verified. But they swore there was no one else. They asked me describe him again, and then I realized who it was. It was Aaron Cass, who pledged to be my "paladin," my guardian angel, months before he was killed by a drunk driver.

I could go on with moments like these (like when I was biking in Boston a couple of years ago, and had gotten lost on my way back to Chestnut Hill. A truck almost hit me, when something literally pulled me into a parking lot and I avoided being dragged along by the truck. When I stopped to catch my breath, and get my bearing, I looked up - it was the funeral home where I had stood watch over my friend, Ari Wolov, the night before his funeral,) but I'll refrain.

I don't mean to say that I plan to throw my hands in the air and say, "Uncle!" Nor is it a self-fulfilling prophecy. I don't plan to die this year. But it goes to show that I've had these kinds of gut feelings, instincts, senses that something is/isn't going to be, someone will be there, etc with no explanation other than that I know it to be. Even when Aaron died, the night before, I knew I had to get something off my chest the next night, come hell or high water, or else it would be too late, somehow. Sadly, he died in the morning before I had a chance to. But that's the key - I know things.

The point is, I cannot help but think that everything is falling into some strange cosmic place. According to the doctors, while what we've found is relatively small (at least from what we can tell - staging cannot happen until the lesions are removed), breast cancer doesn't just "happen," it takes several years. Perhaps the past few years, some of the sensation of being out of control, the resistance to treatment of my Hashimoto's, my sometimes erratic and out-of-characteristic behavior, was my body's way of trying to communicate to my brain that something is wrong. My requests of my OB/GYN at my annual for a baseline mammogram and initial resistance to her assurance that there was no way I needed one was my gut's way of saying, "Yeah, ya do!" The sudden impulse that made me decide to take an extra 10 minutes to get that digital mammogram out of the blue, that caused me to cut off 2 drivers to make the left-hand turn when I should have been rushing back to work, was my body saying, "ENOUGH! Just do it!"

Perhaps this sensation that I wouldn't live past 36 wasn't really that I'd die at 36, but if I live past 36, I'm going to battle something deadly - like when the doctor didn't want me to see the photos. My mind didn't want to clue me in to what my instincts and 6th sense was projecting past 36 because I couldn't handle it. (No, I do not think it's a coincidence, either, that I had the mammogram the day after my birthday - the first day I'd outlived 36 - "Double Chai" - or "Double Life.") Could this be why I've refused to turn a day older than 29?

By the time I'd realized, without question, that I've known for some time that something was terribly wrong, and that I'd known when things would change, without having a clue what it was and how I wouldn't "live" past 36, I was pulled out of my test tube and told the tests were done.

And now, we get to hurry up and wait.


  1. Come to think of it, I mentioned the other day that my blood pressure plummeted for no reason during the guided imagery in the Integrated Medicine clinic. The image I was trying to leave was one of my grandmother holding my hand, offering me chocolate pudding, and telling me everything alright. What I remember before the vertigo was the feeling that I was being held in her arms, I was in her house, I could smell her, feel her, hear her call me "Zeesikind," and she was there. Perhaps she didn't want to let me go and the guided imagery forcing me away from her while she held me so close was too much for me?

  2. Great post. Very thought-provoking. Thanks.


  3. Two things: When I was in 5th or 6th grade, I was walking to school. I climbed the rock wall at the Leopolds' house, went down their driveway (Herb Leopold wasn't with me that day), and crossed Rose Hill Avenue (some avenue!), then turned towards North Avenue. I heard someone very clearly call my name in a high-pitched voice. I stepped quickly to the wall at the side of the road as a truck came tearing around the corner. That voice made me get out of the way. It wasn't the squeal of the truck's tires. I. Heard. My. Name. Clear as a bell.

    And, if it's any consolation, when I was young, I couldn't envision living past my 40s.

    - Dad (73 and still ticking and kicking)


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