It’s my birthday. Earlier this week I went to the doctor for a full physical. I hadn’t done that in YEARS, despite people (health coach, family, friends) telling me to go. While I am not a huge fan of birthday celebrations, I spent the week celebrating… sort of.
People tend to measure whether or not they are where they are supposed to be in life by what they have or haven’t accomplished. I have never been that good at tooting my own horn, and often times I’m a bit hard on myself. A few years ago, on the toilet where I do my best thinking (this is not TMI, this blog is almost seven years old, we cousin family now), I wrote my “future bio.” I was very specific about who and what I wanted to be. Years later, my “future bio” is pretty much my actual bio and then some, so now what? What’s next for me at 42?
I have toyed with the idea of actually taking care of myself. In previous years, I would jump in and jump out of healthy living. Work out for a bit, then stop. Eat right for a while, then ease back into the drive through. The thing that allowed me to do that was being able to tell myself that I was too busy to eat healthy… I worked hard, so I deserved the whole bag of chips… and the soda… and the cookie. It was the reward for doing everything. As long as I avoided the doctor, I wouldn’t have to find out what was really going on. I don’t own a scale. I don’t have a blood pressure cuff.
Close to the end of my final semester in law school, I started feeling way past run down. I was falling asleep for no reason. My heart was beating out of my chest after just a few steps. I finally went to the campus clinic to make sure I didn’t die during exams, and she sent me over to the hospital. My iron was so low, they wanted me to stay the night. The doctor there told me that I was falling asleep and out of breath because my blood was basically… nothing. It couldn’t carry enough oxygen to keep me functioning, so I was falling asleep and not able to walk short distances without feeling winded. My heart was fine. My lungs were fine. Blood pressure was fine. He said nothing about my weight. I honestly don’t even remember getting on the scale.
Tuesday: This time, I remember stepping on the scale quite clearly. It was so fast, and the number was so big, I didn’t have time to process it before I was rushed off and into the room. My face must have been telling (people say it is) and the nurse said, “you had shoes on – we always blame it on the shoes.” She put the blood oximeter on my finger and started checking my blood pressure. The number was there and gone faster than the number on the scale and we were on to the next thing. My blood pressure was the thing I could always count on to be just right. The shock of the numbers… it didn’t even have time to sink in. The nurse said my heart rate was high, so I had to get undressed and get a quick EKG done. While she put the electrodes on, she asked about my kids and talked to me about how she put her son through college as a single mom. She was amazing.
After the EKG, she went back to taking my medical history. She asked how many pregnancies I’d had… “4.” Then how many kids I had… “3.” I’d never said it out loud before. It had always been “3… 3.” She didn’t ask for an explanation, but in those few seconds I wondered if she was ever surprised by the answer to those questions. I wondered if she ever did the math in her head and secretly judged the patients. She didn’t seem like that kind of person at all. She moved on quickly.
Related: Once Upon a Time, There Were Four.
“My dad just had a stroke,” another first confession in the doctor’s office.
That family history thing will make you rethink every decision you’ve ever made for your life. One day my kids will be answering these family history questions, and I pray that they can just say, “no” to everything on the list when it comes to their dad and I. Heart disease, no. Diabetes, no. Stroke, no. Glaucoma, no. High blood pressure, no. I had said “yes” more times than I cared to, and I instantly felt like a jerk for not going to the doctor regularly. Healthwise, my parents were flashing warning signs that should have kept me out of every drive through and inside of every gym. My dad has always been very fit despite his ankylosing, but he had a stroke in October.
When we talked on his 76th birthday he said, “You have two parents who’ve had strokes now. Your grandmother too. You have to take care of yourself.”
By the time the doctor came in, I was worn out emotionally. She reviewed everything with me, and talked to me about how to get back on track. She said it was great that I was taking some time to get myself back together after such a hectic few years. I agreed. I felt anxious as she listed all of the tests that would have to be done. I hadn’t been to a gynecologist since my last visit years ago when she said, “so you should have a one year old by now.” She didn’t read the chart. She’d delivered my last two kids, you’d think she’d wonder why she didn’t deliver that one. That gynecologist has since passed away – another excuse I used not to get checked out. The doctor didn’t make me find one. She did the pap smear right there in the office. I think she could tell that I was a flight risk, and wanted to get as much done in that visit on the premises as possible.
They did everything they could do on site including urinalysis and taking many, many vials of blood. When it was all done, I had a referral for physical therapy, prescriptions, orders for sonograms and a mammogram, and what felt like a book to read about what to do next.
So this is how I am going into 42. Okay.
I sat in the car and made all of the appointments because I knew if I went into the house and forgot the trauma, it might never happen.
When I got home, it was right back into mommy mode. My daughter had a practice competition in the afternoon, two kids were sick, one was studying for an exam, folk needed to eat, things needed cleaning and washing… I had joined a gym earlier in the month to take advantage of the time that my daughter was doing her training, but with the competition, that wasn’t happening. I started to wonder if I really was going to take care of myself this time, or if it was just another false start.
Wednesday: Mommy things. All the mommy things.
Thursday: I started off my series of appointments with a trip to physical therapy that ended with no work being done… they had the wrong year for my birthday on the insurance. I sat and wondered what to do. I was dressed for a workout, they weren’t expecting me back right away, so why not go to the gym for half an hour? I knew that I wouldn’t be able to do more than that considering that getting from the parking lot to the building would likely have me winded.
I did it. I felt great. Then the doctor called.
“Some of your results came back. Your iron is dangerously low. Like…. blood transfusion low. I know you didn’t bleed out somewhere, but that is what it looks like.”
Oh. So this is how I am going into 42. Okay.
She said that I could just take my iron, and they would check again in a few months to see how it is progressing. I still had plenty of the tablets I stopped taking from my first trip to the hospital – I had already started taking them.
Friday: I had a sonogram appointment for my thyroid, and my husband went with me. They found things. Yay. After any sort of… well anything… he wants to feed me. He sat next to me in the car on the way home struggling to not offer me cake or cookies or something to “make me feel better.” Passing all that great food in DC was nothing. That night was going to be the real test.
It was my cousin’s company Christmas party, and my cousin, the amazing chef, was cooking. There was bread pudding, cheese sandwich, jerk chicken, pilau, white rice, fish, curry chicken, curry channa, buss up shut, curry mango, 3 kinds of cake, baked chicken, vegetarian curry (soy crumbles)… So. Much. Food. That wasn’t even everything! That was all I took in as I averted my eyes and tried to manage my struggle. I stayed far away from the buffet table. Finally I got a bit of spinach, cabbage, curry channa, a cheese sandwich triangle, and the smallest piece of buss up. My plate looked like a shadow of what it usually is when she cooks. I chugged a bottle of water and spent the rest of the time chatting with other guests.
I didn’t even do a takeaway plate. I left feeling like a winner.
Saturday: I wanted to go to the gym, but Li’l Bit wanted to go Christmas shopping. I went ahead and took her, and got McDonald’s for the family to eat. I didn’t order anything. Kids offered me fries and I didn’t accept. It was basically a Christmas miracle.
My dad called. I hadn’t talked to him since I went to the doctor, and I wanted to figure out how to tell him that I was back on track, without having him worried during his recovery. He was very happy to hear that I was eating better and back in the gym. He had his usual great advice, and told me that whenever I felt like I was struggling, to look at a certain photo of the two of us and remember that he was 50 in that photo.
Sunday: It is officially my birthday. I started off with church, went home and changed my clothes, and went to the gym. I found a leftover spring roll in the fridge and ate it. It is my birthday, so… I had a fruit smoothie made with just fruit blended with sparkling water to wash it down, so I basically won.
On the way back from church, I suggested that they get all kinds of pasta and mix ins and sauces for a “Christmas Eve Pasta Bar.” The kids said, “But Mommy, why would you suggest something that you can’t even eat?” I didn’t really have an answer.
My husband says, “she’ll just taste it.” Right. That sounds about right. I will taste test things, sort my shoes for the new year, and watch Netflix. I might even take a crack at another future bio…
“Eva Greene Wilson is a 43 year old mother of three, fitness enthusiast, and runner, who enjoys time with her kids doing yoga and playing tennis…”
Let’s see how this goes. This is 42. Happy Birthday to me.
Thank you for all the birthday wishes, I appreciate it everyone! Happy holidays!