I Ran and I Ran. I’m Still Running Away.

Last week was the appointment I have been afraid of for two, almost three years. The specter of my medical trauma, my anesthesia awareness cast a long shadow over every minute, including the drive in, the parking, the check-in and the waiting. The defense of my mortality and humanity was already being deployed by my sub-conscious. I was irritable with everyone and everything I encountered. I slammed the door in the stairwell as hard as I could muster. I tried very hard to not be nasty with the humans who were obligated to interact with me, so I was short instead. It was the best I could do.

I was nicer when the gastroenterologist entered the room, like that matters. I told her about the issue, that it started during my last bout with hypothyroidism, which was caused by the Levoxyl recall, a sub-optimal dose of Synthroid, and an endocrinologist who refused to test my TSH after switching brands (they are not all the same). I told her about my cousin’s cancer. I eventually worked my way up to disclosing why I had put this appointment off for so long and my fear of having a colonoscopy. Dr. Gastro asked me what happened. She seemed alarmed and asked, “What hospital was this?”  Don’t worry, it wasn’t this one!

Dr. Gastro ordered a smorgasbord of tests, including a “recommended” colonoscopy that would be attended by an anesthesiologist, which means a likely drug combination of propofol and fentanyl. I was almost okay with this, until I had the ordered abdominal CT scan that required IV administration of contrast. Now I am less okay with it.

The CT scan took place late that same night during LA’s first major rainstorm of the season. The parking garage was closed for the night, so I was forced to park in the street and walk two blocks, maneuvering  gutters overflowing and overwhelmed by the steadily falling rain. I was so tired. I had already cried in the car, sobbed on the 405, then again at home. All I did all day was cry out of fear and fatigue and loneliness. I checked in and of course, on this night, there was a man in the waiting room lacking social graces. He played music on his cell phone, games, took phone calls, stretched and groaned, burped loudly. I wanted to tell him to shut the fuck up, then I wanted to punch him in his gross, unshaven face. Welcome to the Night Circus, I thought. His name was eventually called after forty-five minutes of grinding my teeth. I finished my barium drink. I wasn’t thinking about an IV as I hadn’t been explicitly told I was getting one. But I knew both types of contrast are used for abdominal CTs. It didn’t occur to me that this might be a trigger.

To bystanders, I handled it wonderfully. But in reality, I hung on to that appearance of normalcy by the tips of my ragged fingernails. The placement of it didn’t bother me. I didn’t look at it. It hurt, as they do. It hurt as the rad tech taped it down. It hurt when I put my arms over my head. Then the panic swooped in and grabbed me by the throat as soon as I felt the contrast hit my veins and that warm feeling swept over my body. Feelings of terrified helplessness reverberated through me. The thought, what if they kill me? went through my head. I felt like I was choking. Tears. I bit my lip. I had heart palpitations. I tried to give myself a pep talk in my head, just hold on. It was over quickly. I felt shaky as the tech had my sit up. He asked if I was okay and I simply said that the contrast caused a choking sensation. He mentioned that happens sometimes and commented on my looking away from my arm with the IV. I mentioned I’d had a bad experience in the past with general anesthesia.  I told my story for the second time that day, watching the shock register on his face, his eyes big.

This reminded me of the moments before my surgery. I had a gut feeling something was wrong when I met the anesthesiologist, but I didn’t act on it. I thought about the sensation of that first wave of benzos hitting my bloodstream, followed by the sensation of my consciousness slipping away, my eyes again filling with tears, and then waking up to horror and this massive rupture that has existed in my world ever since.

As it turns out, the CT didn’t show anything pathological and Dr. Gastro continues to recommend I have the colonoscopy. I have other lab tests to complete and if all that turns up fine, then I will likely schedule it. I guess. I will need to send a message to Dr. Gastro about IV drugs being a trigger so she knows ahead of time. I’m trying to find the balance between protecting myself emotionally and performing due diligence on this body. It would be incredibly reckless for me not to do this, given my history and now the family history. I’m just tired. So tired of trying to keep myself in check all of the time and grappling with this nearly every time I seek medical care.

This also prompts me to question my own story, the plot lines that I tell myself. I do not like my story thus far. I don’t want my health problems and PTSD to be my central storyline. I find myself angry more often than not. I want to leave this place better than I found out, to be loving, to be open. Sometimes I am able to chill, give people the benefit of the doubt, smile at the person who is in my way, but it never lasts before I swing back the other way. I cannot help but think of my upbringing, the coldness of both my parents, the lack of affection, and I see where my frozen core comes from. It’s also why I am alone. I need to start an outline that will change my story.

via Daily Prompt: Moody

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Midwinter Graces

December, such as it is in Southern California, is a minefield of hazy, dreamy, tainted memories and a sense of my hope and potential being lost. It was early in December 2009 when I underwent radioactive iodine treatment. It was the last time I ever saw Dr. Overinvolved. I was so happy. I was barely 30 years old and I had, in my mind, this wonderful doctor at my side who wanted to protect me, was reliable, and thought I was special. I had this other man in my life, though far away, who adored me, who made me feel good, made me laugh, who cared about me. I had colleagues I genuinely liked who genuinely liked me. The future seemed bright. I had completed treatment. I was young, bright, and full of energy.

Tori Amos had just released a seasonal album of reworked standards and hymns , part Christmas, part winter solstice, and I listened non-stop. Candle: Coventry Carol, invoked a dark sense of safety with threat lurking under the surface. The song itself harkens back to the Massacre of the Innocents from the Gospel of Matthew. Traditionally sung by the mothers of the lost male infants, I always felt myself physically entwined in a complicated slow dance, hands clasped, movements deliberate and lingering. Star of Wonder was the soaring of my heart at all of these men bringing me to life. Finally, I had their approval. I was real. I was good enough. As the lyrics go, “Some say we have been in exile. What we need is solar fire.” I was no longer in exile. I was allowed to come home, into the minds and fantasies and lives of these men. Reborn. The Tori version refers to Three Kings, and the third, well, would be the original misogynist at the root of my story: my father, who hated me, abused me and ignored me until I became pretty.

Every December I take out the Midwinter Graces CD and play it nonstop in my car, driving around with a grin, my mind filled with those dreamy, shadowy recollections of that month in 2009. Today, as I repeated the ritual for a sixth year, I realized this was not a happy activity. That the dreamy memories were tainted and that hazy state where I am consumed by memories of being in the basement of the clinic with Dr. Overinvolved was a trauma response, not an enjoyable, fond trip down memory lane.

It was on the back of this revelation that I finally understood the only thing keeping me grounded was my cancer, my permanent reliance on prescription medicine, my non-negotiable need for health insurance. The straight life, as I call it, where I go to work each day in an office and reduce every possible risk to my financial life, has made me so risk adverse and anxiety-ridden, even a day trip to a museum fifteen miles away feels like an overwhelming undertaking. I engage in an endless debate with myself as to whether I should go or not, and I never do, once the debate starts. I did not used to be this way. I fantasize about not being this way; about getting out of here and going everywhere and doing everything. Specifically, writing for a living, making jewelry for a living, baking for a living, being able to go hike or workout whenever I want, living abroad and overall, living a life that doesn’t revolve around what time I have to install myself at a grey metal desk in a grey office with no windows. I feel stifled, held down, and trapped, which I know is something I say over and over again. Nothing will change. I only know how to follow the rules.

via Daily Prompt: Conundrum