Next month marks the 8-year anniversary of my dad’s passing, and as some of you know, he died less than 6 months after being diagnosed with liver disease. I always dread the approach of May 12, mostly because certain folks seem to want me to fall apart when all I want to do is think of something else and not conjure up old feelings or engage in a pointless sobfest. That’s harsh, but I have no interest in being sad for the sake of being sad. Just because an anniversary comes up doesn’t mean I’m going to squander an entire day to drown in sorrow. It doesn’t help me in any way.
That said, I’d be lying if I claimed what happened to him doesn’t color the way I live my own life. He got sick partly because he made poor health choices, and listening to the advice of medical professionals could have given him some extra years with me. He could have met my amazing boyfriend and been there for my wedding. He could have been a wonderful grandfather to my future kids, and it kills me to know he’ll be nothing more than a redheaded guy in digital photos to them. Things might have turned out differently had he eaten better, exercised, and prioritized his health, but by the time he identified his problem, it was too late to fix.
One might think I’d be a health nut to avoid my dad’s tragic fate. Following his death in 2006, I certainly was. It was also my first year of college, and while my roommate and her sorority friends were out drinking at Anything But Clothes parties, I was reading the student newspaper in our dorm, obsessing over whatever widespread illness was being reported in the Health section. At the beginning of second semester, I saw an article about a student getting MRSA from the university’s gym equipment, and the listed symptom was having patchy, red skin. Sure enough, I’d been to the rec center and noticed some red spots by my ankles, so I rushed to the student health center that week and begged to be examined. The nurse took one look at me and said I was fine. She cursed the paper for instilling unnecessary fear in readers, but I’m fairly certain I was the only one crazy enough to actually go to the doctor after reading a 300-word clip on MRSA by a novice journalist.
I also had some unusual stomach issues during that time, so I spent much of my first year at UA visiting doctors all over Arizona. I saw a couple
specialists in Tucson and also traveled up to the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale on a few occasions. It turned out I was in good shape and didn’t have what my father suffered from, but behaving like a hypochondriac and worrying about sicknesses I didn’t actually have ruined the first year of college for me. What should have been a fun time before the workload got insane revolved around hospital appointments, invasive procedures, and making small talk with sickly old people in waiting rooms. I should have been socializing on campus and growing into my adult self, but instead I was sobbing on the phone to my concerned mom and saying I didn’t want to end up like dad.
I was burned out by my fears towards the end of freshman year, so in fall 2007, I chose to take a break from doctors and enjoy college like a teenager should. I’d previously gone to a jaw specialist for my severe TMJ, but the bi-weekly physical therapy became exhausting, time-consuming, and pricey, not just for me but my family as well. I was ready for a break, which I’ve indulged until this week.
It’s been about seven years since I last addressed my jaw problems and visited a primary physician. I see a lady doctor every year, and as you can probably gather, this isn’t a lovely experience. Seeing a doctor is never something to look forward to, but taking care of one’s health is essential to life.
This conversation came up with my boyfriend two days ago, when I admitted I hadn’t had a physical since middle school. The last time I went in for one, I was 13. That was half my life ago, a fact he rightfully deemed unacceptable.
“It’s bad enough that women have to get annual pap smears,” I said, “but physicals too? Hell no. I really hate how they force me to repeat my problems over and over again to nurses and various doctors. It just makes me feel worse about whatever’s going on.”
“Laura, no one is forcing you to do anything,” he said. “It’s your life, and it’s a privilege to be able to go to a doctor. I want you around a long time.”
He was spot on, and I’m not simply living for myself and my relatives anymore. I have him to live for, and if I’m going to schedule a slew of checkups at once, I’ll do it for him.
I’m just afraid to meet with all the doctors I’m planning on seeing in the next week because I can’t take the negative. After watching a parent die for nearly half a year, I can’t take another doctor telling me that my TMJ/TMD is “severe” and awful, I can’t take another doctor telling me to stop being such a nervous person and chill out, I can’t take another conversation about how my love for junk food might make me feel crummy and lethargic at times. I’m not thrilled about the uncomfortable chats of the next 14 days, but like Ian said, this is my life, and it’s better to know about all of the things that might need fixing than remain blissfully ignorant until the damage becomes irreparable.
We’ll see if I can stomach the physical on Thursday, but that’s only the beginning. Next week I’m seeing an eye doctor as well as a TMJ/TMD specialist, who will surely spout something along the lines of, “Holy crap, your jaw clicks too much and it’s destroying your cartilage.” Like my late dad, I’m not in perfect health, but it’s time to acknowledge that in a smart, non-obsessive manner, and I see no harm in meeting with them a few times a year. Without my health, I’m nothing, and I won’t let my body suffer because my mind can’t deal with reality.