January 6, 2021
My mammogram is two hours away. Physically the appointment lies just down the road. But in the distance of time, it is a bit over two hours from now.
A somewhat strange, yet perfect, beginning to my annual January vacation. For the past three years I have ignored a usual schedule of appointments. Given my age, I should abide by the rule of body maintenance. “Get your annual ‘lady’ exams,” is rule number one no matter what your age.
Maybe that awareness is the secondary gift from the pandemic to me personally. Gift number one is my family’s health. Gift number two, “up my efforts” on my own healthiness that I have taken for granted. Yet, luckily everything is fine. I might recover less and less quickly from exertion or stress. I do have more lines on my face despite the buffet of skin care products which line my bathroom cabinet. But I am fifity-five, in wonderful health relatively speaking, and I am active.
I would like to keep it that way.
So, among a mountain of stress with a promotion (oh, poor me, right?), learning business operations in the midst of a pandemic, and what had been a mounting of holiday customer traffic, I called to set appointments. The whole she-bang including physical, bloodwork, “lady exams”, mammogram and my feet/legs check-up. My feet and legs? I walk at minimum, five miles per day. I want to take care of that blessing so I made an appointment with the bone and joint clinic.
My regular physician had retired, so I carve a new path with my new doctor in a new clinic. At fifty-five, I am not sure I even need gynecologic services. (Turns out, yes I do). Three years have passed since I have seen a doctor. It feels like an entirely different universe. While I question my timing of seeking a new doctor, I have waited long enough. With caution, a mask and sanitizer, I proceed.
On the 12th Day of Christmas
On the twelfth day of Christmas I find myself myself lost in a city I used to know as well as I know the back of my hand. But I am in the outskirts, roaming in its villages. Hospitals and medical groups now operate clinics, ambulatory centers, specialty clinics, the satellite clinics and of course, hospitals. I picture that I know exactly where my first appointment was located.
I was wrong. “Steph,” I chided myself. “Future reference, you need to note the exact location of your appointments. You are a new patient. You see your new doctor in the new satellite clinic.”
Ugh. I wave my paperwork at the reception desk. She looks to me while saying the village name written on the paper. I am truly in the wrong clinic. Months ago I had planned these appointments. Now in minutes I have wasted everyone’s time.
After a pouring of phone calls between the new clinic, the clinic at which I mistakenly stood, and me, I received the go ahead for the appointment. They would still see me this morning.
Would I like directions? Yes. Yes, please. Plus I have the Google Map weaponry against my own misguided sense of direction.
My new doctor seems relatively new to general practice. She is young enough to be my daughter. We talk. I ask questions. She matterfactedly guides me through the exam. Since I have attained the fifty year old milestone, she recommends the first in the series of shingle vaccinations. At my last doctors appointment, I was not eligible for the vaccination. But the conventional wisdom has changed. I am old enough. I marvel with gratitude at the new knowledge of a young doctor. She could help me the rest of my life.
Luckily I had fasted with the hope that the doctor would order metabolic and panel blood work. The lab technician, the phlebologist, extracted blood samples with the same orderly manner as the doctor and nurses at the clinic. All in all, my whole experience lasted one hour. In my fleeting moments of superior planning – or so I thought – I had scheduled an annual exam and my mammogram for the same day. As long as I was catching up, I might as well catch up. Really catch up.
I drive away from the small clinic, escaping into a scattering of ranch homes, clinic buildings and groves of mature evergreens. The minimal snowfall and weeklong fog has tipped the tree branches with frosting. They look artifically flocked. Acres and acres of distinct, mature white pines, balsams and the occasional spruce look as though they have been dipped in artifical flocking. My heartbeat finally slows. Adrenaline subsides for the first time with the accomplishment of my first goal.
But now I am hungry. I drive, in an unusual mode of no radio, no music, and no news. I do not even talk to myself. I drive silently in gratitude of step one’s completion. Nothing outright had alarmed the doctor. She had ordered blood work. I am complete.
Next to find a spot to eat. With the pandemic, not every cafe is open nor are the franchises operating with a sit-in area. I keep driving, not sure where I am, despite my mind’s eye telling me I am mistaken. I do know where I am.
What I am is hungry and tired. And now, slightly worried at my aging brain. Is this a first sign? I wonder to myself. In the strangest wintery tunnel of small businesses, trees and residences, I drive further. I keep going west as the residential area fades into more businesses. I am on the backside of a major highway.
Why Denny’s? On this, the twelfth day of Christmas, I had the image in my head of a quiet family cafe. But I grew tired of being lost. I had been tired to begin with. I was hungry and tired; lost, then found.
When I saw Denny’s, I thought of my son. In his early years at college, he had found himself hungry, at Denny’s, in the middle of the night. Alone, he texted me to relate a play by play of his experience. The cook and his friends were of a different race. Yet he felt accepted and nonchalantly ignored. The late night cook who doubled as the waiter, sang to the retro music.
I remember him describing the experience. His experience draws me in. The nostaglic 1950’s early pop songs echo in the half-filled restaurant. A mixture of pexiglass and wood divide the restaurant’s seating spaces. I follow the waitress through a maze of partitions to a cozy window seat.
“Is this ok?” she politely asks.
“Yes! Thank you,” I reply without concealing my surprise. I feel badly. But she kindly asks if I wish coffee even before I remove my coat.
Grateful, I sink into the booth. My coffee arrives with delicious steam.
I order too big of a breakfast with eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes and an English muffin. It is large enough to last me the day. Such a strange beginning to my vacation. My mind drifts a bit with the happiness of a pause and food. I eat and I type my first draft in a restaurant which is not far from where I began writing seven years ago. The people sounds blend softly into the echos of classic pop songs. In the banter among waitresses, customers and cook, I hear different languages. Nothing is too loud nor too soft.
And nothing or no one asks me to participate. I have nothing to say.
Except juice. I never order juice in a restaurant unless I am going to share it or it is part of a cocktail. But do they have grapefruit juice?
“Yes,” my waitress returns.
“Grapefruit,” she announces with the glass of deep pink juice.
Juice. I never order juice. Juice, coffee and eggs.
For a half hour I am merely here, writing and eating.
The Key is the Stretch
I arrive at the conclusion that I have been granted good health. Although there are no guarantees, I can live without thinking that at any moment my health will decline.
“I will have a heart attack. A stroke. Cancer. A stroke,” my mind would internally predict so that no where in my body would I be unprepared for the inevitable. But I can no longer live with looking at the next bend in road of my life as though I have finally arrived at a moment of doom. I can no longer live like that.
Maybe I should just lose those few pounds already, keep them off. And when my legs stiffen up and my hip cries a bit, I should stretch.
Doctor’s advice. Stretch those muscles I use to walk upon. Rest those muscles. Stretch.
Stretch is the key for me.
I am unsure how to phrase it delicately, but I had a mammogram a few years ago which showed a spot. A fold in the mammary ducts of my breasts. A spot.
When you hear those words, your mind teletypes to every cell in your being… “a spot, a spot, a spot, a spot.”
True there had been a spot but the spot was only a fold. After a repeat mammogram and a few tears, I had been lucky. So here I wait again in a quiet waiting room. It is filled with rather nice ‘Herman Miller’-ish, early 1960 modern styled furniture. The chairs and tables were minimalistic, yet pleasant. An office manager will tire of them before they wear. Still, the decor is kind in its beige blahness.
I sit. Typing. Groups of two come in, each waiting for one name of their partnership. I’m here alone. Most of the time I am. And even though that is a fact, it makes me wonder why I worried what I would do as I got older.
While I will have contingencies, I think I should instead get on with my life. I will do what I do, but maybe a bit slower!
I don’t mind hearing of other conversations. The young man who brought his mother in. She coughs a deep cough of chronic conditions. “Prednisone” he tells the person on the other end of a phone call. “How bad..” he repeats to the other person. My mind halts its inquisition.
The beige room is empty again. The wait is divine. After a morning of rushing and arriving at the incorrect clinic, a sit down is heavenly. I write. I am warm. No pressure other than an occasional text or email from work. I like being early. Oddly there is no music nor is there any television sound, even though the screen stares blankly from the wall.
As I edit my writing, Epiphany 2021 brings a day of unrest at the US Capitol building in Washington, D.C. Congress halted their session but reconvened to count the Electral College votes. Words like “security breach” and “rioters” are describing some of the most extreme conditions. A woman has died.
May 2021 be a year of mindful recovery.
Love to you and yours,
Stephanie, the brick dandelion.