Thursday, May 09, 2013

Tablua Rasa

White, everywhere—large expanses of pure, wet tablua rasa: on my toes, hands, plastic sheeting, and even the 18 boards I was prepping on my sunroom floor for Phase One of a summer porch remodel.  I am a messy painter.  I try to be neat—really I do—but even my best prepping efforts dissolve, midstream, into rivulets of pigment.

The project was never meant to be an indoor operation, but we were not about let plans succumb to a persistent streak of damp conditions.  Fortunately, the sun came out while the boards dried, and I was able to paint the flip side—a robust pumpkin—in the great outdoors, which was good news for our floors and fixtures, but not much help for my hands, which were quickly covered in pumpkin patina.  Nor did the outdoor staging curb my liberal use of various absorbent products on forays throughout the home, during, say, bathroom or drink breaks.  I recall a moment of vague, fleeting concern over trailing some telltale pumpkin on paper products in the kitchen and bath, but frankly, had other priorities.

The beginning of summer, is after all, the time of year my son has dubbed “art season,” as the warm weather months typically find our home strewn with sundry media, including, but certainly not limited to tile, rocks, grout, and various pigments.

So I awoke Tuesday morning to a head full of visions and plans, a bag of unopened materials—and a really disturbing discovery.

It seemed I was bleeding.  It was hard to determine exactly from where, or why, but yep, every time any tissue-like material came in contact with my person, it was sporting small streaks of fresh blood.  I gave myself a thorough self-examination for any visible wounds, and finding nothing but sealed skin, came to the grim conclusion that I was bleeding internally.

I phoned my beloved general practitioner and discovered that he was out for the day.  Then, in horror, I realized the only option left was to turn myself in at my GYN’s office.  I have been vaguely and disturbingly aware for some time that I have been AWOL from the office for—could it be?—a full six years, due to the fact that going has a history of, well, not going really well, and, honestly, nothing has happened in the past 6 years that my faithful family doctor couldn’t handle.

But now?  Now that I was bleeding internally and my regular doctor out for the day?  I remembered that the GYN was really good about saving room each day for “problem appointments,” so I called and was told to show up in an hour.

My stomach was in knots. This happens...Every. Single.Year.  I mean it, every year, the first week of summer is marred by sudden medical mayhem, well documented in just about any late May post on this blog.  How ironic!  How tragic!  And…how statistically improbable for ahypochondriac to have (albeit historically faux) crises befall the exact sameweek every year. How …wait a minute…how oddly fresh the blood on those tissues still looked.

I rummaged through my bathroom drawer and pulled out a safety pin and quickly pricked my thumb, drawing a bright red spot of blood that I dabbed on to a tissue. I immediately noted how, well, orange all the other blood spots now appeared to me by comparison.  In a sudden wave of realization, I absorbed that all of the “blood” I had been finding was the exact color of Phase One of my porch remodel, and I should have cared a little more about pawing all the household tissues with painted fingers.

Now, I realize a sane person would have just called back to cancel the appointment, but, plot considered, this is not a tale of solid thinking.  It occurred to me that I had skirted the system, that I could avoid the month-plus wait for a routine appointment—the stomach-churning wait that, for six years, kept me from picking up the phone.  I could face this thing down, swiftly, here and now, in the same way I might tackle the removal of the band aid I may have used if I actually had been bleeding.

I arrived to an empty office and a new doctor, who was obviously still trying to build a following.  I explained about the tissues, and the paint, and that nothing was really wrong at all, other than I’d been away for a few years.  She took the news in stride, asking me questions along the way to gather my history and cross referencing my answers with my file. 

She expressed surprise that the one actual, Really ScaryThing that happened to me, medically (as opposed to the steady stream of Paint Scares and routine False Alarms) had actually been detected and treated in the manner I described.  She scoured my file to see if the diagnosis I reported having 13 years ago was, indeed, accurate.  “You are fortunate,” she said.  “I just read a paper on about this issue.  Doctors often don’t take it seriously, but they are finding that the abnormality you had, if untreated, really does lead to cancer.”  She continued scanning silently, stopping only to apply an adjective I’ve never heard to an unrelated cyst I had a few years ago, giving me a double eyebrow raise and a nod which seemed to indicate that my survival was a notable marvel. 

Leaving the office, I felt not only the thankfulness one might expect after surviving a faux bleed-out and and a couple of real life maladies, but also a Saving-Private-Ryan style sense of unworthiness and wonder over why/how/if I was deserving of such a gift.  I scoured my memories, hoping to find evidence that I had  done something in the last 13 years that justified my presence here, and then realized that it wasn’t something that could just be found.  I am NOT worthy.  None of us are.  For reasons that may never be known, I am here, now, today.  And I embrace the blank, white slate that is the summer before me.

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