Monday, April 27, 2009

Memento mori

Two weeks ago, I was worried that I might have a detached retina. Last week, I thought I was having a heart attack.

Neither fear was wholly unprovoked: I'm quite nearsighted and I have floaters in both eyes, which means I'm at a higher risk for detachment. The day after Easter I saw two quick flashes of light in one eye. Nothing else seemed wrong, so I forgot about it until a couple of days later when my peripheral vision seemed oddly blurry in that same eye. Granted, it was late and dark and at a bar, and the experience wasn't repeated. But those two events were enough to make me intermittently hysterical until I could get to my eye doctor a few days later.

Then last week I hopped into my car after a long day on campus. My left arm and shoulder felt uncomfortable, as if I had pulled a muscle, so I stretched around a bit at first one stoplight and then another as I headed for the highway. Then my chest started feeling tight, and then my other arm felt tight and a little tingly--and it seemed that first my right and then my left legs were becoming similarly tingly, as if they were falling asleep. I kept driving, trying to decide what to do, but by the time I got to the highway 10 minutes later I concluded that, eh: if I hadn't passed out yet, I probably wasn't going to.

I don't think I have a tendency toward hypochondria, but it's also true that I rarely have things to be a hypochondriac about: I've had maybe one cold in the past two years and nothing more serious. So maybe it's the unusualness of these two episodes that alarmed me.

Or maybe it's this: my grandmother has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. My father just turned 70. I'm dating someone new and thinking about how people always say that they want to find the person they'll grow old with--which is to say, the person we will watch die, as they will watch us.

That's not a terrible thing, necessarily. But it's still the best-case scenario.


Dr. Crazy said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your grandma, Flavia. That kind of news is hard, and it does get one thinking about the future (and present) in some ways that can feel unusual. Sending good thoughts your way....

MountainLaurel said...

I had a similar eye thing happen to me last year. I was certain that the retina was detaching. Two eye specialists later, I was diagnosed with a visual migraine (I didn't even have a headache!). I hope your scenario is similar.

Prayers for your grandma.

medieval woman said...

I, too, am sorry to hear about your Grandmother. Did you go to the doc to check out the eye and the chest pain? It might have been a panic attack...but I think we're at the age where we start thinking about the things that happen to us as things we'll deal with for the rest of our lives rather than temporary setbacks (i.e., the arthritis in my left knee. It ain't going anywhere) - and the same realization holds true for those we love.

But I'm happy you're dating someone where you're thinking about those things - it's better to crumble away with someone.

Bardiac said...

I'm sorry to hear about your grandma.

I hope you're feeling better.

Thoroughly Educated said...

Prayers and good wishes for your grandma and the rest of the family. It does seem to be that time of life for meminisse mori. There's a sense in which grandparents provide a psychic buffer: if I still have a grandparent around, I don't have to worry about my parents yet, and it's still my parents' problem to be the sandwich generation. And then...not so much. Honestly, I spend much of this winter convinced I was dying, on no very good evidence, except that there was a rash of scary diagnoses among people I knew and mortality seemed to be in the air.

That's not very cheering, is it? But you are definitely not alone.

(And MW, I have arthritis in my right knee. We should enter a three-legged race together and lose.)

Doctor Cleveland said...

I'm sorry to hear about your grandmother. My thoughts will be with her.

I hope your father is healthy, and has many more years and birthdays ahead.

As for your new fella: what can I say? It's a shame that we all die, and a shame that, even in the best case, we can only choose the company we do our dying in. But I hope that your new beau is inspired to great feats of longevity, or at least of lifestyle, and switches to egg whites and multivitamins and bran for as long as you will have him. Or, at least, that he crumbles picturesquely. (I hope he has a nice craggy Mount Snowden profile.)

Susan said...

I'm so sorry about your grandmother. It's always sad to lose those connectors to our past.

As for growing old together, my husband is older than I, and has cancer. He's also just out of the hospital from a mostly unrelated problem. And I've been thinking about that "sickness and health" bit a lot. Health is easy. . . sickness takes more patience from both of you. I know it's almost as hard to be sick as it is to be caregiving.

Flavia said...

Thanks, guys.

And I should add that my father is in ridiculously good health (as is my mother, who's 8 years younger); I know plenty of men my own age who are less fit. For that matter, my grandmother has had remarkably good health for almost her entire 88 years. But such things do make one think about one's own mortality.

(Um, my captcha is "winces." Now I'm getting secret messages from Blogger? Senility really is nigh.)

Flavia said...

Oh, and Dr. Cleve: I did not say that I'll be growing old with this particular fella--just that starting a relationship at this age makes me think more about what "long-term" might actually mean, if it came to pass with him or anyone.

scr said...

Ugh. I had a miserable migraine last night, probably only the third I've ever had in my life. Even though I thought I knew what it was, it was unsettling, to say the least, and massively painful of course. It also crossed my mind that we never really know for sure what might be wrong with us. You might think it's "just a headache" but really it could be anything, right? This wasn't helped by the fact that I had a procedure done last friday, and even though I couldn't think of any possible complication that might cause headaches, I was feeling very uneasy and shuffled thru my paperwork in the dark to try to read any bits that might caution about headaches.

As I stumbled around my room, emptying my pockets, I decided to keep my phone on me. I couldn't help but feel that it was best to keep my phone within arm's reach.. just in case.

Sisyphus said...

Ah, Flavia. Memento mori indeed.

Spring and Fall:

to a Young Child

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

Flavia said...

Sis: I've been thinking of that poem all week! I thought it was my excitement about spring finally getting it together around these parts (Goldengrove is leaving, at present), but you're probably right that it's the unleaving I was subconsciously meditating on.

And bro: totally. Whenever I have a headache that sticks around unusually long, or feels in some way different from my usual two or three varieties, it briefly crosses my mind that it could be a brain tumor. Or something.

Maybe we've got a family disposition for hypochondria AND headaches.

Flavia said...

Oh, and Susan: I meant to say how sorry I am to hear about your husband--and how much sympathy I have for you and all my other readers who are either suffering from actual illnesses or injuries (in contrast to my imaginary ones), or who are supporting or taking care of people who are.

TE is right that mortality does seem to be in the air, and I'm with the Bittersweet Girl in hoping that perhaps it will lift with May. (Y'all should follow that link for many reasons, but especially for the St. Vincent Millay poem she appends.)

What Now? said...

I think MW is onto something that we now may be of an age in which aches and pains suddenly seem like something we'll live with rather than temporary inconveniences.

When I went to the hospital with D a few weeks ago for her gallbladder issues, I was struck by the thought that this new experience -- being by her beside in the hospital -- would probably be something that would happen again at some point, which scared me. But of course, if she's ever going to be in the hospital again, then I certainly want to be there beside her. (And a big ol' knocking on wood with all of this, of course.)

I'm sorry to hear about your grandmother's diagnosis and glad that she's had a hale and hearty 88 years.