The Ticking Time Bomb

Hi, friends. I know it’s been a while since you heard from me. But … life. . But I’m feeling stronger, and I hope this will be the beginning of a long relationship.

I had my periodic appointment with my Primary Care Provider (PCP) at the Veterans’ Administration, and it went wonderfully.   Even my prostate appears to be in good shape (do not ask me why they run PSAs on women…).  I’m feelin’ good!!!!

A couple of months ago I started having a new sensation in my right shoulder; like the joint was separating . True to form, I waited around a while, hoping it might just go away. When it did not, I went to see my civilian PCP, who is also an orthopedist.  He decided it might be a tear in my rotator cuff, and that I probably need an MRI, but insurance being what it is, we had to start with an x-ray. So he sent me down the hall for some x-rays.

I didn’t hear back from his office after a few days, so I assumed the x-rays showed nothing worthy of note, which is what I expected.  Then, last week – about 2 weeks after my appointment – I got a call from the doctor’s office.  They had been trying to reach me about my x-rays.  Ruh-roh…

First of all, the x-rays (for my shoulder, recall) showed a stiffening of my spine, “most likely caused by muscle spasms.” Do tell! I have 10% service-connected disability for that. As an afterthought, I was also told that the x-ray showed mild arthritis in my right shoulder.

The majority of the phone conversation, however, centered around the plaque build up in my carotid artery. The nurse recommended an ultrasound. At first I was tempted to blow it off:  my first “cardiac episode” about three years ago, had found plaque in my arteries, but the cardiologist had mentioned it in an off-hand manner.  When I saw him in February, he declared me healthy and graduated me from six-month visits to annual visits. I was just about to pass on the ultrasound, but decided a second opinion never hurts.

The internet is a both a wonderful and evil place. It can give you just enough information to scare the bejeezoobs out of you.  And that is what it did. I already knew, from high school science class, that the carotid artery is pretty significant.  I knew from my cardiologist that plaque in an artery weakens the wall of the artery and can cause it to “blow out.” But what I found on the internet was far more chilling.  Apparently, I have what is called Carotid Artery Disease. The build up of plaque there can significantly reduce the blood flow to the brain, causing dementia, or the plaque can break off, go to the brain and cause a stroke. Or, the wall of my carotid cause just cave under the pressure of the plaque and I could bleed out.

So now, not only am I at risk for heart attack based on my family history, me of the historically low blood pressure, am now at risk of a stroke or bleeding out via an erupted carotid.

I had my ultrasound on Tuesday, so now there is the wait for the results, and most likely a visit to a cardiologist. Meanwhile, I’m walking around carrying this possibly deadly secret. Do I continue to go about my life as if I do not know this?  Do I sit quietly on my sofa munching on carrots, drinking distilled water, and double-dosing my pravastatin and low-dose aspirin because I stopped taking them … how long ago?  Perhaps I should just start chugging olive oil: after all the Greeks swear by its ability to support longevity. Do I finally fill out all those beneficiary-type forms that are suddenly missing from my personnel file – you know, just in case? Do I finally fill out that living will form the VA has been giving  me for the past four years and have it notarized? Do I cruise on over to Legal Zoom and do that will I’ve been thinking I need to do for so long and never quite seem to remember when I’m at home doing nothing of value? Do I laugh because I am still alive, or cry that soon I may not be? Maybe I should start attending Mass again on a regular basis…

I’ve been well aware of my mortality since I reached my 40s, because both of my parents died at 49.  On the one hand, I see every year I live past that as a sort of “bonus round.” But then my sister died suddenly of a heart attack at age 56, so – at 53 – I now have an additional hurdle to cross before I consider myself “out of the woods.”  Never mind that my oldest sister will be 64 on Saturday and appears to be in perfectly good health. In my mind, she could well be the anomaly, like my father’s youngest sister, who  celebrated her 88th birthday on Monday (and by the way she ate when I was there earlier this year. shows no signs of imminent decline). None of her siblings or either of her parents lived to see 88.  I may very well be like her, as the “baby” of my family, but my mind won’t let me go there.  In my mind, there is this ticking time bomb inside of me, toying with me; knowing exactly the day and the hour when it will detonate. And no matter how nicely I talk to it, or how much I pray about it, it will never reveal its plan to me.

And so, I will continue to kiss my children every night, and tell them I love them, in case I slip away in the night like so many of my loved ones before me.

Tick … tock … tick … tock. …

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