Apparently, It’s All Downhill From Here

Ever since I turned forty years old last October, my body has been letting me know in small, subtle ways that I am forty years old. A weird sore elbow here, a painful back twinge there, a weird bump by my eye that’s there and then not there – all random things on random days but each one noticeable and leaving me thinking, huh, I guess it’s going to be like this now.

At some point awhile back, my ears began to itch. Really itch. Not the outside part but sort of the inside part but not really deep on the inside sort of just on the inside. I explained this phenomenon just as clearly to my dermatologist and she looked in my ears and said, “Oh, sure, you have {insert name of weird skin condition that I legitimately cannot remember the name of now}.” Alarmed, I asked about a cure, possibly before I used up all of the Q-tips in all of the land, and she patiently explained my weird ear thing wasn’t curable. There’s nothing that will fix the problem. It’s just a thing I now have. “Here’s a prescription for an ointment that will only mask your symptoms but know that you’ll be itching your ear maniacally until the day you die. Good luck!” (I might be para-phrasing my doctor a bit here.)

It’s like I’ve crested some invisible mountain at forty and am now on the downslope. (Which, walking down the side of a mountain can be really tough on your knees. Ask me how I know!)

But, whatever. Fine. I can handle itchy ears. What’s harder to deal with is when something in your body just decides to stop working all together. Did you know all your parts could just do that? Randomly? Just up and not work when they’re supposed to but don’t want to? They can! Mine did!

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On one of the last days of March, after getting all of the little people in this house off to their little places, I felt a dull ache in my lower left torso that intensified throughout the morning hours. Stretching didn’t seem to relieve the uncomfortableness nor did a hot shower. The pain I was feeling was getting stronger and stronger and I was getting increasingly worried. What was fine at 8:00 a.m. became intolerable by 11:00 a.m. which is about when I decided to take myself to our local urgent care. After consulting with Bob during one highly panicked phone call, he rightly surmised that urgent care would shrug their shoulders and send me on to the emergency room. Better to just go there first. So, I drove to the ER instead. This was, in hindsight, probably an unwise decision since I was in rough shape by this point and the ER is quite a bit further than urgent care. But, you know, I’m good in a crisis so I gripped that little handle they provide above the driver’s side door and clenched my teeth and made it to the ER check-in where I writhed in pain while blindly signing whatever form the lady at the desk presented to me.

After a quick examination revealed I’d need a CT scan and a sonogram, the doctor offered me pain medication to ease my symptoms while I waited. Something in my brain that didn’t want to, I don’t know, inconvenience the staff or something made me refuse at first. So, of course I half-spoke, half-screamed, “Thank you, but I’m OKAAAAAAAY.” I was totally not okay.

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The ER doctor looked at me with equal parts sympathy and confusion and said with a surprising amount of compassion, “Look, there’s no reason to be in pain,” and ordered morphine.

Then, everything was good for a really, really long time.

When the tech working the CT scan advised that I might be uncomfortable with the contrast dye she was administering through my IV, I didn’t even flinch, didn’t even feel it. (She also told me the dye would probably make me feel like I was peeing myself but that, not to worry, I probably wasn’t actually doing that. There is just so little dignity in the hospital setting, isn’t there?)

Thanks to the graciousness of some friends and neighbors, Bob left work early and was able to join me at the ER while we waited for test results which, was quite the reversal of roles in our marriage. An irony that was not lost on Bob, who made quick work of repeatedly exclaiming in front of the staff, “Wow, Joanna, you sure have a lot of medical issues.”

By the time they transferred me to the main hospital later that evening, I was feeling no pain. Literally, no pain. Such a testament to the power of modern pharmaceuticals. I climbed into my hospital bed (which felt 100 times more comfortable than the ER bed I had just spent hours and hours upon), took a minute to organize my purse (my preferred activity in times of crisis) and settled in for the night.

Up until this emergent situation in March, my previous hospital stays had consisted of one (1) overnight observation for a concussion at the age of five and three (3) multiple-night stays for the cesarean births of my children. And, now I can say with total confidence that the labor and delivery part of the hospital is really where you want to be. I was plopped in the surgical recovery portion of the hospital since they weren’t sure if I would be recovering from surgery shortly and it was not as… cushy as the part of the hospital that cradles new mothers and their babies. I decided rather quickly that I would rather not be there.

The next couple of days passed in a bit of a haze. I know Bob and Millie spent most of Thursday at the hospital from all of the gift shop and cafeteria receipts Bob presented me with but I don’t remember conversing with them. I really wasn’t well and the doctors were divided on what actually had gone wrong. It was either something super serious (infection) or something that was less super serious (malfunction). Best to just leave me in place, pump me full of antibiotics to treat whatever was in there and hope for the best. Medicine is a very cross-your-fingers kind of a science.

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Millie discovered the “nourishment room” during one of her visits which is the small space that houses all of the drinks and snacks, like graham crackers and applesauce and ginger ale. I don’t think she’s ever been more excited in her four and half years on this earth. (I’ll let the prune juice in this photo speak for itself.)

When I was allowed to go home later that week, the first thing I did was take a hot shower and nap for two hours. Then, I scrubbed absolutely everything that had touched any part of the hospital environment, including Millie. It was so good to be home. In my absence, I had received the perfect get well card from my sister-in-law that basically read as follows: “You don’t drink enough bourbon. It kills everything.” My sister-in-law is full of excellent advice.

It’s been a bumpy month as my body recovers from both the trauma of being sick and the trauma of the hospitalization. It’s not over either. I’ve got some repeat tests coming up to see if my body is making magical progress in healing itself without surgical intervention. Which is something your body can totally do! Even at 40!

I, of course, have my fingers crossed.

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