Friday, March 30, 2007

Becoming Interesting

I've been meaning to post but have been busy, exhausted, lazy, and/or all of the above. I wrote this piece for Bay Windows, our local gay paper. More to come:

Becoming Interesting

Judah Leblang/2007
Word count: 770

I’ve reached the age, and the stage (of growth? decay?), in which I’ve become interesting to medical professionals. But this hasn’t always been the case. Back in my thirties, I was consumed with fear that I would follow in my father’s footsteps and have an early heart attack. At the time, I was dismissed as a hypochondriac, “overly concerned,” according to my long-suffering internist, “with the functions of your own body.” Now, that I’m no longer obsessed with my heart, other systems have taken over, so that I’m no longer classed as a member of the “worried well.”
Today, though I do my best to avoid the folks in white coats, I’m suddenly in demand. The physicians’ fascination with my maladies is inversely proportional to the interest shown by available men and prospective dates. This thought (I may be a slow learner), occurred to me as I sat in another generic waiting room, as my solo tour of Greater Boston hospitals rolled on; this time it was Beth Israel, before that, Mount Auburn, Mass General, Emerson, etc, etc.
The upside, if there is one, is that I’m getting almost blasé at the thought of undergoing medical procedures, especially if they’re non-invasive. Last summer, which feels like eons ago, I seized up at the thought of an MRI, of thirty or forty minutes marooned in a buzzing plastic tube. I was able to plead mild claustrophobia, and had an open scan instead of a closed one. Last August, after a week of nervous waiting, I learned that I didn’t have a tumor at the base of my brain, and that my dramatic hearing loss just “happened,” for no discernable reason.
But six months later, after a CAT scan, another doctor discovered I did have a tumor behind my left kidney. An MRI was needed—the next step before the doctors went in for a look/see, but an open MRI wasn’t an option. Instead, I had to submit to a closed tube for an abdominal scan. So I did, and other than the grating noises and the need to hold my breath off and on for 45 minutes, the procedure wasn’t bad. (The half tab of Lorazepam, a mild sedative, which I popped before arriving at the hospital didn’t hurt).
As I suspected, the MRI didn’t reveal the exact nature of the growth, but did give me hope that I didn’t have cancer. A week later I was laid out on my stomach, sliding in and out of another cylinder, so that the “intervening radiologist” could pinpoint my tumor and stick a long slim needle into its center. I felt a jolt, and heard the sound of a staple gun as he flicked off four or five samples of this latest reminder of my mortality.
Another week, another set of waiting and praying to the god I don’t fully believe in. Then, thankfully, deliverance arrived in the form of an email from my doctor, and the gift of a benign tumor. Still, I face more tests, more uncertainty, as to what the surgeons will want to do or not do, cut or not cut out of my ever more interesting physique.
Despite my ongoing doctor visits, (which feel much like a part-time job and are equally time-consuming), I’m uncovering another benefit of coming through illness, combined with the hard-earned wisdom of middle age. The name Judah, I discovered a year after adopting the name in my early 40s, means “gratitude” in Hebrew. Lately I’ve been connecting with that emotion, as I look around and realize that my life is full of choices, and if I’m open to it, full of wonder.
Celebrating my birthday last week, surrounded by friends from different chapters of my life, reminded me of how fortunate I am. My apartment filled with warmth, literally and figuratively, from bodies eating, talking, dancing. Somehow, while I wasn’t paying attention, someone turned the speed dial of time from medium to high. But my friends were with me to mark my rite of passage, and some, based on their own experiences, could report that, “Fifty is not so bad.”
Strangely enough, I’m starting to believe them. It’s true that I don’t hear, in one ear, as well as I used to. It’s also true that I carry a collection of scars on my body, reminders of a childhood accident and the “accident” of skin cancer, scars that have healed. Their pink snaky lines attest to the strength of my physical form, as well as to its weakness.

Isn’t that what being human is all about—perfection in our imperfection?


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