The novelist Catherine Aird is probably less noted for her novels than for her pithy barbs, one of which stated, “If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to serve as a horrible warning.” Oh, how I yuk-yukked at that one, cutting it out of the paper and hanging it on the door of one particularly recalcitrant and generally uncooperative male child.
I was reminded of this recently when, after a few months of feeling generally low-energy and listless, I was finally convinced by my savvy husband to get a blood test. This isn’t to say that my regular physician, Quasimodo Birnbaum, wasn’t frequently ordering tests for me as a matter of sound medical practice; I’m a crummy patient and kept losing the prescriptions, forgetting my appointments, postponing and wishing away any routine health care. Also, just the phrase “stool sample” makes me turn green, and I’ve had some bad experiences with storing little jars of yellow liquid in the fridge alongside the Tabasco sauce and anchovies.
When I could barely comb my hair last week and only put lipstick on the right side of my mouth, my husband pushed me into the car and drove me to the blood lab. He’d already made an appointment for me with my doctor for the next evening to discuss the results.
Well, lo and behold, a full day before the dreaded post-bloodletting appointment, Dr. Quasimodo B. called my office and asked me how I was feeling. When I said, “Fine, thank you,” he responded, “Like hell you are. Get over to the hospital. I haven’t gotten back all of the results, but you have a hemoglobin count of 6.7 and need an immediate blood transfusion.” He may have said some other “crappola” but the phrase “blood transfusion” did the trick; I called my much-better half to pick me up from the office, bolted out the door and prayed that my underwear was adequately clean for the probable battery of tests that lay ahead.
The words “I told you so” were unnecessary; upon entering the ER, my blood pressure was 86/44 and between the blood tests, electrocardiogram, repetitive questionnaires and beeping machines that guarantee sleepless nights for any Jew in a four mile radius, I felt duly chastised. My husband’s mood became greatly uplifted, however, when he observed me dive under an examination table before a prophylactic rectal exam. Oh, the mirth! The gaiety! The lighthearted fun!
Only 24 hours after arriving in the emergency room, I was moved to the wards. In the interim I received several liters of life-saving blood, listened to curses in several indigenous Middle Eastern languages and enjoyed an upper endoscopy under superior sedation. Twenty-four hours later came the requisite colonoscopy. Gosh darn it, no malformations and no sign, yet, of the indicated slow-bleed that was sapping my energy and responsible for this acute anemia. In fact, each invasive exam and blood test indicated that the initial reports were correct; a healthy 58-year-old woman with no sign of blood disease who has, obviously, a shoddy gasket somewhere in her lithe and stunning body. (I made up the lithe and stunning part.)
With only a minor breakdown or two, prayers to my late father and a few targeted supplications to our God in Heaven, my spirits remained high. My two sons spent Shabbos with me and I relished watching them make kiddush over wine, eat egg-and-honey challah and dine on roast chicken and kugel while I ingested a sumptuous meal of clear Jell-O®, chicken broth and weak tea.
Our traditional Melave Malke, celebrating the departure of the Sabbath, had me readying for a CT scan. It was only at the last moment I decided that pearls were, perhaps, a tad formal. And when, again, they found nothing, it was decided that I could continue treatment as an outpatient, monitor my hemoglobin and blood pressure, take it easy at work and see a gastroenterologist pronto. There is talk about capsule endoscopy – the infamous “Pill Cam,” which merrily circumnavigates the innards in yet another endeavor at finding this sucker.
While I’m not exactly jubilant these days, my numbers are gently elevated, and I’m both alive and loved. I feel confident and protected by the excellent treatment I’ve received from my doctor and the entire Shaarei Tzedek Medical Center. Odd as this may sound, it has been a gift to experience what real lovingkindness is all about from the “patient side” of the hospital experience. Young men with guitars dancing in and out of the rooms during the pre-Shabbos lulls while singing lively Shlomo Carlbach zmirot. Adorable women volunteers, both young and old, distributed cakes, reading materials and, when needed, Shabbos hugs completely free of charge. And a Bozo-the-Clown look-alike, replete with red nose and glued-on pink Hasidic earlocks (payes), made me a balloon sculpture and plastered my unflattering hospital PJs with glow-in-the-dark stickers. Shaarei Tzedek is a massive operation, a twenty-four-hour life-saving machine that mirrors the best of Israel and is staffed by – and serves – at least as many Arabs as Jews. Israel as an apartheid state? My sides hurt when I laugh. On an additional bright note, I’ve discovered that anemia, enemas and Jell-O fasts provide a helpful boost to the Weight Watchers Quick Start Program. The results are impressive.
I’ve already promised the doctor, the husband, the children and the new boss that I’ll keep my appointments, take the meds, rest when tired and stop trying to personally cure all of the world’s ills. And what am I looking forward to more than anything?
Getting on the scale at the next Weight Watchers meeting!