Sunday, February 24, 2008

2/22...the worst day?

Last Friday after work I go to a nearby clinic for a doctor's appointment concerning leg pains that have been plaguing me for about a week. I take a seat in the waiting room. It is after 4:00pm. There are a handful of us there. Nearby a middle aged man sits between an elderly woman who has a plastic tube running into her nose and two kids, a boy and a girl, roughly 9-12 years old. Across from them sits a couple, both senior citizens. Everyone seems to know one another, they converse good naturedly about nothing in particular. Aside from the couple, it's not obvious who else might be related to the other. Time passes, there is a palpable sense of the week winding down. The elderly couple is called and then shortly thereafter, the man and the two kids. Idly, I note these facts, checking off possible family configurations. I have almost dozed off when the two kids come running back in. The girl stumbles and nearly falls. She catches herself with a smile and sits. The man, the father, trail in behind. He returns to his seat. The elderly woman with the tube, smiles at him and askes, "Good news?"
The question causes me to search the man's expression for clues. There is a slightly preoccupied air to him, though he manages a wan smile for the lady.
"No," he says and sits next to her. "It's not good at all."
The woman sits quietly beside him. She does not avert her eyes. There is something inexpressibly kind about them. The man turns and looks at her.
"I didn't expect it to be this bad. I thought it was getting better." He drops his chin a little. A few seconds pass. The two kids who have been extremely well behaved, begin to wriggle ever so slightly in their chairs. Finally the girls gets up and goes to the chairs that had been occupied by the elderly couple. She stretches out as if to take a nap. The old woman reaches over the arm rest dividing her and the father. She puts her hand on top of his, and then a moment later she says, "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, yeah...I'm okay. It's just that I thought she was getting better." I glance at the girl. I can't help this impulse to try to connect the dots to this heartbreaking scene.
"The doctor offered her some medicine to help. She said she didn't like medicine. And I said Trudy (not her name), take the medicine, if you don't like it then you don't have to take it, but at least try it."
The girl struggles to wrap herself in her sweater as she tries to get comfortable. The old woman gets up and goes to her. She lifts the sweater from the girl and makes it billow like a parchute over her before letting it settle gently over her shoulders and torso. The girl smiles sweetly at her but says nothing. The old woman returns to her seat. We remain this way in silence for some time.
I have completely forgot about my own troubles as I watch this poor man being attended by this saintly woman. His stoic courage, her enfolding grace, the children's invincible naivety. What began for me as an idle means of passing time in a waiting room has suddenly become a sort spiritual mystery play enacted in front of my eyes. And then a woman walks in. Middle aged, average height and weight, hair the same color as the boy's. She walks wordlessly to where the man is seated and retrieves her coat and bag and begins to get ready to leave. The man seems a bit flustered by the pace of things. He gets up and says, "Are you okay?"
She just looks at him flatly, and says, "No. I'm not."
Suddenly a nurse appears and summons me to my appointment. I get and walk past them. My legs begins to hurt all over again. I allow the pain to pull my focus inward, and I make my past them discreetly.

An hour later, I'm in the emergency room at the hospital getting an ultrasound for what I've been assuming was a pulled calf muscle. I watch the images on the screen as the technician presses against my thigh. They remind of the ones I looked at when Beth was pregnant. I couldn't make heads or tails of the image of our kids in the womb and I can't make head or tails of my veins and ateries now, even though the technician has given me what she obviously feels like is a more than satisfactory explanation of the image onscreen. She works her way down toward the back of my knee. "There's something," she says in a pleasant though matter-of-fact voice. The technician goes and gets the radiologist who informs me that I've got a blood cot. My doctor shows up soon after to explain to me that it's called DVT (Deep vein thrombosis). Clots like this if they break loose can make their way to the lungs and cause an embolism..."which can be catastrophic," she adds. Clots which make it into the thigh where the veins are bigger have a 20% chance of doing this. She seems satisfied that we've found it just before that threshold.

The doctor puts me on anti-clotting meds, including injections that I'll have to administer to myself at home.
"You're staying in the hospital tonight." she tells me.
I call Beth from my hospital room and we survey the day's events together. Talking to her helps me put things in a perspective. For one thing, the blowup between my and friend is over. The day before, I went to his house...we literally embraced one another and pledged to moved forward. It's good to talk to Beth always, but this evening it is more than good, it is a lifeline. I'm pissed off having to stay in a hospital instead of going home, but talking to her and hearing my kids lifts my spirits enormously.
Beth looks at the calendar and is reminded suddenly of something. Before she says goodbye she tells me that a few days ago, a friend told her that she had read somewhere that Feb.22 would be the worst day of the year. No context, no explanation, just that.
We both laugh.
Later on as I reflect on things and recall the family in the waiting room and the kindly old woman, I realize that if this was the worst day of the year for me, I can definitely live with that.
K

ps. here's a photo of the kids watching me give myself an injection this morning. They were impressed to say the least.

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