A Lesson in Gratitude

A little over a month ago, just prior to Christmas break, I went out to the Bloodmobile parked in our school parking lot to give blood.  They are usually thrilled to pieces to have O- walk in the door, but this time they turned me away.  After passing my iron test, I flunked my blood pressure big time.  160/120.  I, quite naturally, had a pounding headache (that I’d had for 3 days) and my heart was racing.  This isn’t normal for me, so I chalked it up to stress, but made a mental note to call my doctor.

Later that day, I had yet another person make a comment about me needing to buy some more clothes from “all that weight” I was losing.  I kept telling people that I wasn’t on a diet, and may have lost just a few pounds due to being so busy.

During Christmas break, my back went out and just didn’t seem to be able to get it back to normal.  Right about that time, I also began to have intermittent pain in my right side.  And then two days before returning from Christmas break I came down with what I thought was just another case of bronchitis.  I returned to school on a Tuesday, stayed two hours, and went home to crawl in bed.

The next day, I had a scheduled doctor’s appointment (that I had made following that blood pressure incident).  Imagine my surprise when the nurse weighed me and told me I had lost 29 pounds in just a few months.  And I hadn’t been on a diet.  The doctor walks in and starts asking about the weight loss, the blood pressure, the abdominal pain, etc.  And then he discovered that I was tachycardic, with a heart rate of 122.  After taking in this assortment of symptoms, listening to my lungs, doing an EKG, and hearing me confess to being terrified of pancreatic cancer (following the death of my stepmother), he ordered up a mess of tests.  At 38, cancer isn’t the first thing a doctor worries about in a patient, but, with my symptoms, he spent a lot of time with me and patiently detailed a long list of possible concerns.  Among them were lupus, adrenal tumor, cancer, thyroid problems, and plain old-fashioned stress.  Having watched someone I love die of pancreatic cancer, that possible diagnosis is a real terror for me.  This somewhat irrational phobia combined with the doctor being clearly concerned about me, I must have had the deer in the headlights look about me.  He offered me a few days of Xanax to keep calm until the tests returned.  Not being one to normally like pain killers or sedatives, it’s a statement to say I readily accepted them.

I thought I was being relatively calm until I approached the front desk.  That’s when the nurse informed me that the doctor was referring me to *Dr. Smith.  At that point, I heard no more and reason flew out the window.  *Dr. Smith had been my stepmother’s oncologist prior to her death.  I walked out to the car where my husband and kids were waiting, petrified my children might not remember their mother.  I called my best friend, a physician in Vermont, who proceeded to tell me to calm the heck down and assured me over and over again that it doesn’t work that way.  “We diagnose cancer first.  We don’t send patients to oncologists out of suspicion.  You heard wrong.  Call back.”  The next morning, after receiving a call from *Dr. Smith’s office setting up an appointment and panicking all over again, we called my doctor — only to discover that there are TWO *Dr. Smiths in our small town and that I would be going to see the gastrointerologist, not the oncologist.  Feeling stupid and enormously relieved, I went to do my blood tests and get my chest x-ray.

I had calmed down again and was lying in bed the next morning when the nurse calls and informs me that my chest x-ray looked a little funny and that the radiologist was concerned that he might have seen a blood clot in my lung.  I know what a pulmonary embolism is — and it ain’t good.  She then tells me to leave the house immediately and go to the imaging center for a CT scan of my lungs.  Well, 2 1/2 hours later, my veins won’t stop collapsing and they can’t get a scan.  So I go home to wait on some other test that can also inform the doctor of a blood clot.  He called me all weekend (a most wonderful doctor).  When my chest began to get worse a couple of days later, they sent me to the hospital for a second attempt at a CT scan.  It revealed no blood clot, but a hidden case of pneumonia.  By this point, my other tests had come back.  Everything but a test possibly indicating lupus came back with good results.  My six days of abject terror were over.  I still have to see a rheumatology team and return to the gastrointerologist for possible kidney and liver ultrasounds, but cancer is not their worry at this time.

It was the most terrifying experience of my life.  A few years ago, worrying about being so ill would have terrified me for other reasons.  I would have worried about the countries on my bucket list I haven’t visited, that I might never publish my novel (that has yet to be written), that my soul might not be right with my Maker, etc.  But the only thing I obsessed over during those days was my children.  Being 4 and 2, the odds of them remembering much about me had I died were slim.  I worried about my daughter not having a mother’s influence.  And I was terrified that I wouldn’t be here to advocate for my autistic son.  It killed me to think I might have to leave him behind, never knowing how much progress he might make.  I could hardly look at them without tearing up.  For the first time in my life, I understood what real fear was all about.

I’ve learned some important lessons over the past few weeks.  They are:

1.  Life is way more fragile than we think it is when everything is going well.

2.  It’s so easy to get caught up in worrying and complaining about what you don’t have.  It takes only thinking about what awful things you could have on your hands to give you some perspective.

3.  Stress really does kill.  When you allow yourself to get run down and overwhelmed and suffer chronic sleep loss, your body will take note and force you to pay attention.

4.  It is important to learn how to say “no”.  If you keep saying yes to everything people ask of you, it will catch up to you.

5.  Things are rarely as bad as you think they are in the witching hours of worry in the middle of the night.  Calm down and breathe.

I realize that I didn’t dodge any literal bullets, but I sure feel like I did.  It was scary enough to me at the time that I plan to make some positive changes in my life and health.  And one of them is the realization that the only thing that is really worth worrying about is my children.  Yearbooks, book fairs, projects, web sites, and autism cannot be given the power to make me sick.  If I give them that power, I risk depriving my children of me.  So, it’s time to suck it up and think about my world and my worries just a little differently.

So, though I still have pneumonia and feel like I’ve been run over by a bus, I am unbelievably grateful for my blessings.  I wasn’t going to make a New Year’s Resolution, but found I ended up with some after all.  Namely to worry less, take better care of myself, and focus on gratitude.  Feeling thankful today for wake up calls – the kind that turn out to be nothing, but mean everything.   :)

Looking forward to posting reviews in the next couple of days of two books I want to share with you.  What I Wish I’d Known About Raising a Child With Autism by Bobbi Sheahan and Kathy DeOrnellas, PH.D.  and In His Shoes: A Short Journey Through Autism by Joanna L. Keating-Valasco.  Stay tuned.  

27 thoughts on “A Lesson in Gratitude

  1. Nonna

    I know this fear… Have you read Ann Voskamp’s book “One Thousand Gifts”? If you want to learn about gratitude in a practical way – want to really let it change your life… this is the book you need to read… You won’t regret it… :)

  2. momof2cubs

    Wow. I can relate in so many ways. I am so glad that you can share this with us. I have kids that same age of yours. And I still look at them sometimes and wonder what would happen to them if I didn’t catch my health problem when I did. My son also has Autism and since I am 41 and he is 4 1/2, I wonder about how he could live without me. Without my advocacy for him and for other children and adults with disabilities. My daughter is 2 and I don’t think she’d remember much about me. I’m tearing up thinking about this.

    Thank you for sharing this today. I am glad that you know what the problem is and are getting help for it. I hope your having a blessed day.

  3. AspieStreams

    Wow, what a very shocking post in some ways, I do hope that you are taking it easy and not doing too much. You need to have a period of proper rest and recuperation, with everybody pitching in to help out.

    I totally understand your final points about gratitude and perspective, it is so awful to look at your children and imagine how they would get on without you. And so rewarding to have that deep knowledge that your priorities are right, family and friends first, and everything else after.

    The health anxiety is something I’m also familiar with – your whole post seriously resonated!

    Sending you all my best wishes, and hope that you will be feeling better really soon.

    C xx

    1. Profile photo of FlappinessIsFlappinessIs Post author

      Thanks AspieStreams! I’m going easy. Had a really good first day at work and have wonderful bosses who offered to find me some help putting the library back together. (It had been re-carpeted and painted over Christmas, so I came back to a mess and 5,000 out of place!) But, again, perspective is a good thing and books can be put back in order!

  4. ylewis

    So glad to read a post of yours again and glad you are going to be okay. I, like you, struggle with (probably irrational) fears of getting sick and dying, leaving my children without a mother. Both of my grandmothers died of cancer, and though they were not young women, I know young moms die, too. I sometimes pray to God for five more years (though of course I want to live longer!) to be around for my younger son, who is only 4, but is developmentally more like a young 3, thinking surely by then he will be able to verbalize his needs better. In addition to SPD and a speech disorder, he has multiple allergies, some life-threatening, and I feed him a very careful diet that takes time and effort every day. My husband, though he’s awesome, has no idea of half of what I do or how I do it to keep my son regulated, supplemented, fed and safe–and my son cannot tell him.

    When I have these moments of sheer terror at the thought of leaving my family, I pray for protection and good health and for God’s mercy, but know that prayer alone is no guarantee. So inevitably my fear shoves me up against the wall of my faith and I have to choose: stay worried and stressed over what I have little or no control over, or surrender my fear to God and accept that He knows how long I will live and He knows what my family needs. If the worst happened, He would take care of them and I would see them again one day. I think most parents of kids with special needs must have these fears. Like you, I’m grateful I’m here today and determined to take care of myself and my family, and stay focused on what’s most important!

    1. Profile photo of FlappinessIsFlappinessIs Post author

      You’re right. It’s bad enough worrying about leaving your kids behind, but special needs just compound that fear. It was so bad for me that I just couldn’t write much over the past couple of weeks. I tend to be an emotional writer, and I just couldn’t bring myself to get any more emotional than I already was.

      Looking forward to getting back to normal. :)

  5. Kelly

    Sending you hugs for your posting. It is so great for many reasons. I think I wrote you that I went through a bit of a scare earlier this year. Thinking the worst, I wondered the same too…who would take care of my two boys with autism. Would they remember me. Would they be accepted and loved the way I loved and accepted them.

    Now the scared is mostly over and no I don’t have a brain tumor or anything like that, I can go back to my 24/7 mother that loves, teaches, helps, and accepts her boys. While some people think that an autistic child is an unfortunate thing to happen to someone, I feel having my two boys is the greatest gift. They show me the true meaning of life and isn’t it true when we are sick we worry about our children, but like you, I worry about my children all the time…it just is more difficult when we are worried something is wrong with us.

    For now, we need to be thankful we are healthy and can be with our children. We have time to create the memories we want to create with them…and while your “bucket list” might be to see new places around the world, I don’t seem to have one… Perhaps I need one. I guess I worry about my boys too much to create a bucket list…but we always have to remember to take care of ourselves too, so we can be here to take care of them.

    Take care of yourself and thanks for sharing.


    1. Profile photo of FlappinessIsFlappinessIs Post author

      My bucket list has changed an awful lot in the past couple of years, to be sure. In fact, it’s on hold altogether. Right now, I just have two things I want before I kick the bucket- 2 happy (and grown!) children. Then I’ll get back to traveling. Though I am glad I got quite a bit of traveling under my belt already. Having your kids a little later can sometimes be a good thing. You get to enjoy just being yourself for a while. :)

  6. Joanna K-V

    I was worried about you when I hadn’t seen a blog in a while. Glad you are on top of these medical issues. I had a breast biopsy over Winter Break and it’s a bit nerve wracking waiting for results. We women need to keep on top of our health issues so we can continue to take care of others. Take care of you! :)

    1. Profile photo of FlappinessIsFlappinessIs Post author

      And, you know, I just couldn’t seem to focus enough to write. Circular obsessive thinking and all that. Looking forward to doing some writing.

  7. Blogbiscuit

    i comprehend the fear of cancer due to my sister recently passing, i check moles i check my breasts i worry when i have to grab for my inhaler (which isnt often but due to the grieving process it seems more often at the moment) so glad its not a clot or cancer but sorry to hear about the pneumonia, get better soon xx

    1. Profile photo of FlappinessIsFlappinessIs Post author

      The nurses said I was the happiest pneumonia patient they’d ever met, when I came out so happy about the other tests coming back negative! lol

  8. yoongz

    Oh sorry to hear that you have had such an awful week. Glad to hear those tests came back negative. Do try (i know it’s very hard) but do try to rest & get better soon. Here’s a little something to cheer u up – I’ve nominated your blog for The Versatile Blogger Award. Please visit http://trippingdifferently.com for details.

  9. Ann Burt

    You are one strong cookie, I’m sending great vibes your way for your continued good health. Keep posting!

  10. Rachel

    Hugs, Thanks for sharing…Very good message and get well!! Good thing you listened to your body….Take care of Mom so you can be there for those that love and need you..

  11. just another s-a-h-mother

    Red Vines sent me … well, I sent myself but she pointed me in your direction. I am smiling reading about how well this turned out for you. Hope the pneumonia clears up quickly and that the lessons stay fresh in your mind. I am glad that you shared this because those 5 lessons are important for all of us.

    hugs to you.

  12. tenaciouscee

    I’m so glad that it’s “just” pneumonia. As I was reading, my heart was racing for you and for your children. I had major surgery about 18 months ago to remove a tumor. It ended up being benign but I know that terror you felt all too well. The what ifs. The god forbids. And the enormous relief that you get another chance. I am so, SO happy that you will be ok. I truly believe that these little wake up calls are actually blessings in disguise. I also realized how to say the word “no” unapologetically after my scare. No. I can’t organize the graduation committee. No I can’t set up for the Halloween party. No I can’t help with the PTA bake sale. Just…. No. Our health, our lives are important. Our families are important. Stuff like that? It’s nonsense. It’s irrelevant. Life is too precious and too short to deal with unimportant things. Two of my brillliant friends are organizing something called The Oxygen Mask Project. The basic premise is we have to learn to take care of ourselves before we can care for our lived ones. Like the announcement on an airline- secure your mask first, then secure your child’s mask. You – we, all of us have to learn to make ourselves a priority in our own lives before it’s too late. I’m so glad that this was not cancer for you. Take care and get healthy. It will take some time but you will get your strength back and heal. Remember that fear when the mundane tries to creep it’s way back into your life and keep yourself as a priority. All the best to you. All the best. XO

  13. aefountain

    I actually wondered where you had been, as it wasn’t like you not to post.

    I remember when my body broke down, it was a huge wake up call and put in the trajectory I have been on for the past 10 years. I have been forever grateful for that experience and havent forgotten it.

    I try to remind people to slow down when I see that their bodies are breaking down. It’s definitely a sign that it can fight all of it at that moment.

    Care for yourselves and the kids end up taking care of themselves.
    huge to you my bloggy friend.

  14. Katherine Gordy Levine

    Sigh. Stress kills, too. So easy to say, and so hard to do anything about when the real world keeps at you. Don’t think I can say much that hasn’t already been said. Marsha Linehan talks about radical acceptance; Here is a link to a post about living with horrors you can’t change. . http://www.dbtselfhelp.com/html/radical_acceptance_part_1.html

    We can’t change when we are going to die. Just isn’t in our power. We might take some steps to improve our chances, of living a longer life but that is different. Nor can we change having a challenging and challenged child. You have done an amazing job accepting that, so I have faith in your ability to do with whatever comes down the road.

    Good thoughts are coming your way.

  15. cblondie

    *hugs* It sounds like a terrible week, but it is wonderful that you are making the most of the experience, rather than letting it bring you down

  16. Lisa | Renovating Italy

    as I was reading I was thinking Pneumonia, I’ve had it twice now. Once at the drs for tingly feet I was told it was most likely MS and I should see a specialist ( who told me it wasn’t MS and to get another GP). It got me thinking along the same lines as you, what would happen to our children without me? This is real fear as you say, take care and look after yourself, you can get pneumonia more than once. sending love x

  17. Storm Dweller

    I had a similar scare last year when a breast lump was found, although I had far fewer symptoms to worry about. As a single mom it’s a terrifying prospect as to what will happen to the children if something happens to me. Thank you so much for sharing what you learned.

  18. Chandra

    I am relieved to hear you know what it is now. What a powerful lesson that must have been. In the end all we can do is love our kids, right?
    Please feel better soon.

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