I sat there holding up my sad little index finger to show off its deep blood red colouring and impressive puss bubble that sat on the edge of the nail. The triage nurse at the emergency room looked at me and asked the obvious simple question, “what happened?”
My response? I burst into tears and blubbered out that I had no clue. I remember jamming it at one point, it involved wicked pain and creative cussing, but I couldn’t tell her when, where, what, why, or how. And now I was sitting there with an oozing finger, and having to face a truth I’ve been trying to avoid admitting to myself; I think I may be losing my mind.
For awhile now, I’ve found myself forgetting the simplest of words part way through a sentence, stopping mid-sentence to ask, “what am I talking about” and having pockets of complete blanks polka dotted throughout my memory. It was much more than average absentmindedness I was experiencing. I told myself that if I just left this concern alone, and didn’t voice it out loud, it would take care of itself. A classic from my wheelhouse of denial tactics.
But here I sat, unable to explain why my finger was growing a poltergeist realizing it was something I no longer could avoid addressing.
The nurse was kind and reassuring as I blubbered out my apologies, blamed cancer meds and admitted how foolish I felt being there puffed up with pus when I was dealing with the bigger issue of cancer. I had worked hard to keep myself out of the emergency ward ever since the beginning of treatment, only to end up being dragged in now by a finger that had developed its own heartbeat!
After reassuring me that I needed to be there because I have no immune system and that my family doctor was wise to send me directly to them, she asked me for a list of the medications I was on. I didn’t miss a beat jumping into my purse to grab the calendar that runs my world and then my heart dropped. I’m never without my calendar, but this one time I had left it in my car when checking other appointments before arriving there. My head fell into my hands as I once again had a mini melt down. Could I do anything right?
I did my best to remember the medication I could, but lets be honest, if I couldn’t remember how I hurt myself I wasn’t going to be able to pick words like Bisoprolol or Candesartan Cilexetil out of the recesses of my mind. I started to play a kind of verbal charades with her telling her what the different meds do, hoping that she could guess the list of drugs from my dramatic portrayal. She cut me off mid-theatrics to tell me they would access all of my medications through my hospital records and once again tried to reassure me that I was normal. Although I didn’t believe her, it was felt good to at least hear.
It took 4.5 hours,
two excruciatingly painful freezing needles into my finger joint,
listening to a doctor ‘man-splane’ to me that I didn’t understand my freezing abilities only for my body to confirm the warnings I gave him and contradict his pompous lecture,
a scalpel to slice me open so he could clean out all the gunk,
before I left with my finger wrapped up in a fancy bandage and having to forge my way to my car in an unexpected down pour.
Driving home I realized I needed to look at this with a logical lens; my brain is a muscle, and the best way to strengthen any muscle is to use it. And this would allow me to do one of my favorite things… study!
First, I began making lists words I read that I loved, were new to me, or were oldies but goodies, being sure to include a definition and synonyms for each.
Next, I’ve become a connoisseur of the crossword puzzle. Not caring if I needed a dictionary, thesaurus or my cell phone to help me find the answers; after all, the point is to strengthen, not judge.
And finally, I’ve returned to my roots, music. I decided to take violin lessons, allowing me to learn something new in an extremely familiar world. It’s freeing learning for the sole purpose of learning and enjoying for enjoyments sake.
Two weeks later I was back with my oncologist who with a confused partial laugh asked why her notes now included a visit to the emergency room. I filled her in on the unexpected sidetrack and followed it with the real concerns that lay underneath. She looked at me amused after I listed all I was doing to try to help myself as she informed me that the concern of having blackouts after chemotherapy has only ever been a concern pointed out by high functioning women. She paused to let the label of ‘high functioning’ woman attach itself to me, then simply said, “you’re doing great”.
And that’s all I needed to hear.
Avoid things only causes me stress; when I tackle something head on, no matter the outcome I always have the reassurance I did the best I could, and that is enough for me.