Every year, during the week of my birthday I give myself a present.
I go to visit my doctor for my yearly check-up. It’s not a fun day, but it’s all about my day. Not that I ever look forward to this, but this year I was dreading it for a completely different reason.
I had been diagnosed with MS and my husband was insisting I tell the doctor about the change in my health. Normally, this would not be a huge problem for anybody, but it really sent me into a tailspin. The problem was I had decided I wasn’t going to talk about it to anyone ever. I was not going to be a victim to this disease, and I hadn’t talked about it with anyone or shared the news with anyone including my kids at this point.
So I told my husband no way. I flatly refused to do it, and I added in no uncertain terms so that there was absolutely nothing he could do to make me. How quickly I forgot that when you sound like a four-year-old having a temper tantrum the adult in your life has to take control. In his “this-is-not-open-for-discussion” voice, my husband calmly but firmly said that if I wasn’t going to tell him, he was going to go with me to tell him. He told me that it’s very important that the doctor know this and this is not information that can be held back from your healthcare professional.
Now I didn’t want to tell the doctor, but I didn’t want him going to the OB/GYN with me more. The thought of him going with me to the OB/GYN was totally unacceptable. He had been there for the birth of my/ our children and that was as far as I was willing to go in sharing this experience with him.
I decided I needed to plan fast! I’m a big planner. I’ve done it a lot in my life. Sometimes it goes well: other times not so well. So I called the office and spoke to his receptionist. I told her that I needed to speak with the doctor a few minutes before going into the examination room. This was not the way it was usually done. Normally I would be in the room waiting for him and then we would talk. This particular visit, I did not wish to discuss my situation wearing nothing but a paper gown on backward.
The day I arrived for my appointment and signed in, the receptionist escorted me into his private office so that we could have a little talk just like I had requested. When I was sitting alone, waiting for him, I realized I had never been in that room before. It was beautifully decorated in a very masculine way. Three massive dark wood bookcases housing medical books, a number of journals and other anatomy books.
The desk was large and made out of the same dark wood. It was very masculine, but at the same time warm, friendly and inviting. Two chairs facing the desk looked at a large, black leather armchair that looked extremely comfortable. He had a few paintings hanging on the walls that he had painted. After many years of being friends, I was familiar with his style of painting. His favorite subjects were landscapes, specifically summer scenes of lighthouses, sailboats and marinas life. He was quite talented.
I was sitting in one of the two chairs in front of the desk when he walked into the room. He greeted me with his usual big smile, gave me a hug and sat down behind the desk. He leaned back and very casually asked with his signature reassuring smile “What’s up?” As soon as he asked me, I burst into tears. Of all the things that I am, I am not a crier. I never have been and I have no experience with this emotion. I am, however, experienced at being the recipient of other people’s meltdowns and listening. I never realized how much practice it takes to be able to speak clearly while crying or make any sense at all in that emotional state.
Had I not been so upset, the look on his face would have made me laugh. Remember, he had known me for many years in a lot of very stressful situations. He never once saw me cry. He folded his hands together, leaned over the desk and asked again “Cathy, what’s wrong?”
I tried to tell him, but even I couldn’t understand what I was saying. It sounded something like “I-I-I h-h-have M-M-M S-S-S. He gave me a reassuring smile, shook his head, and said, “You’re a mess, I’m a mess, we’re all a mess!” It took a second to register that he didn’t understand me. Apparently, he heard “I am a mess!” I shook my head no and looked at him. He quickly apologized and said, “I’m so sorry, say it again.”
Now practice may make perfect but in this case, it sounded exactly the same. He responded by quickly reassuring me that “We’re all a mess” and I shouldn’t be concerned. He followed by saying he would give me some medication and in two or three days tops, I was going to feel so much better.
At that very moment I realized this was going to be harder than I thought. I took a deep breath and by my reaction, he now realized that, once again, he didn’t get it. So he stood up, put his elbows on his desk, leaned over it and got as close to me as possible. The look on his face was truly concerned by this point. I must’ve been focusing so much on trying to communicate this to him that I had stopped crying and repeated, “I have MS.”
There was no doubt about it. He heard me loud and clear that time. He plopped down in his chair, put his hand on his chin, bit his lip with his teeth and said, “Oh…that’s a bummer.” I can only assume at that point as we were sitting there in silence that he was going over what had just happened the same way I was in my head. After a few minutes we both looked up, our eyes met and we both burst out laughing.
From that moment on, I realized that regardless of what we’re going through, life goes on. I find laughter to have amazing healing properties. If being mad or sad or yelling and screaming could change anything about my diagnosis, I could do it with the best of them. But in the end, the only person you’re really hurting is yourself.