He pulls the stethoscope from his ears and thumbs through my chart.
“Have I ever told you that you have a heart murmur?”
“No,” I answer slowly, almost in the form of a question.
“Well, I hear one today. I’m going to have Sherry set you up for an echocardiogram. And it’s time for another bone density scan.”
I sigh. “I need a mammogram, too.”
I had blood work done before my visit, and he scans the results.
“Your TSH is still a bit elevated, but to put you on medication now could do more harm than good. Your cholesterol is good, but your lipids are still a little high. And your vitamin D is quite low.”
Yeah, I’m not surprised. It’s winter.
And I have been eating a lot of M&Ms.
Sherry manages to get all the tests set up on Friday morning.
The letter from the mammography department arrives first. I barely look at it. Every year the same.
No change. Repeat in a year.
I set the letter aside but then glance back and notice the words at the bottom:
“Category 3–probably benign finding. Short interval followup suggested.”
I call the doctor’s office, and Sue tells me they will put me in the tickler file (well, my name anyway) and that I need to have a mammogram repeated in six months. She tells me that they are using a new machine and that a lot of women are getting call-backs because some things (like my calcifications) are being seen more clearly.
I shrug it off.
I call the hospital and ask them to also forward a copy to my gynecologist whom I’m going to see in a couple of days. When I see her, she wags her finger at me and sternly tells me not to take it too lightly. Nor, she says, should I take my diverticular attacks lightly. Even without a fever.
The echo is kind of fun. I can see the heart chambers and the valves and the color flow with each heart throb. The tech and I talk about how I used to work in the operating room and how I always marveled at the miracle of seeing the heart beat strong again after being stilled in the surgeon’s hands.
“It’s the aortic valve that’s leaking,” she says.
I don’t know if she’s supposed to tell me that.
But I’m not surprised.
And a couple of days later, I get the call.
“You have a little bit of sclerosis and a moderate amount of aortic valve insufficiency.”
Actually, there’s more. This I know because I’ve already picked up copies of all my reports.
And so I get to see a cardiologist the end of this month.
The bone density results aren’t back yet. I guess we’ll address that and the vitamin D later. I already take bone medicine.
So how much of this is genetic or aging or simple lack of self-care?
But it’s a wake-up call that I can no longer always put everyone’s needs before my own.
But Parker Palmer says this, “Self-care is never a selfish act–it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others.” ~L.L. Barkat in God in the Yard, p. 97
If I don’t take care of myself, I risk dying early–or at the very least risk becoming so weak that I can’t carry out my gift.
I will have lost any opportunity to truly care for others. ~L.L. Barkat in God in the Yard, p. 97
And so I stop.
I pour a cup of green tea, head outside, and sit on the top porch step. I wrap my white robe around my bare legs and blend with white siding behind and snow in front.
I breathe in the damp cool air.
I watch and listen to the world melt.
I see the goldfinches snap at each other at the feeder. Juncos play tag in the stark branches. A sparrow lands on a branch just overhead. A downy woodpecker nearly grazes my forehead on its way to the hanging suet cake.
A mourning dove perches on a branch. Alone. I read that they mate for life, and that if you see one alone, its partner has probably died.
I don’t want to leave my partner alone.
And besides, I have a lot of things I want to do and see. I’m not that ready to see Jesus.
And so, with so much to do, I sit.
And later I’ll hit the treadmill.
What will you do to care for yourself this weekend?
Or didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body. ~1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (Message)