Word Nerd at the Doctor’s Office

So I went to see my doctor (actually my nurse practitioner) yesterday because I’ve been having some stuff that might feel like arthritis and I’ve had a really, really, really sore throat.

I don’t wait long, the nurse calls me in, first stop the scale – yay! 40 pounds by their measure!

Onto the exam room. The nurse verifies my name and birthdate, and why I’m there. She asks me about my pain – where does it hurt? Well, I think to myself, it doesn’t really hurt. “Hurt” is not the right word to describe what I feel. “Ache” is a better word. My ankle and my knee and my hip ache. But she doesn’t ask how much it aches, she asks how much it hurts.

And then, because I’ve been having this internal conversation and have evidently been a little slow on the uptake, she shows me this handy “pain level” chart with smiley faces on it. Now I know they have to do this. I once served as a lay person on an Institutional Review Board, a group of medical and non-medical folks who review the protocols and consent forms for new drugs and devices and procedures. So I know that those things have to be written so that a person with an eighth-grade level education can understand it.

But smiley faces? Really?

I point to the smiley faces that is more of a wavy line that a curve and describe my pain as a 7.5.20130419-151237.jpg

But then I go inside my head again. My pain doesn’t look like a circle with two dots for eyes and a wavy line for a grimacing mouth. Then again, my pain does not look like Edvard Munch’s The Scream. Nor does my pain feel like what St. Teresa20130419-151304.jpg felt as the cherubim stabbed her into ecstasy in Bernini’s sculpture at the lovely little Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome. Put that on your chart.

My pain is not absent as it would be in a lovely Fragonard painting; there is no peace in my body that mimics a classic Dutch landscape.20130419-151331.jpg

If the nurse had asked, “Which painting in the great repertoire of Western art most evokes the ache you feel in your ankle, knee, and hip?” I would have been happy to ponder that and answer. “Why, thank you, Nurse Shelly. My ache is best represented by Rembrandt’s self-portrait of 1669. He’s not wincing, but there are shadows around the eyes and a set-ness to the mouth that evoke some ongoing pain and sleep-interrupted nights.” And then Nurse Shelly and I might get into a conversation about the evolving nature of Rembrandt’s self-portraits. But we don’t. She notes in my chart that I pointed to the wavy-line mouth smiley face, then tells me the nurse practitioner will be right in.rembrandt self 1669

My only consolation in all of this is that my nurse practioner asked if the symptoms in my leg started at the same time as my sore throat because the two might be related, except she didn’t say “at the same time.” She used the word “concurrently.” I was so happy, and answered her right away, because my little brain did not need to imagine synonyms or paintings that would better describe it all.

Of course, they still don’t know what’s wrong with me….

ps: If you are my mother reading this, it’s probably just a virus and nothing serious, so please don’t worry

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My Head, the Barometer

I am one of the thousands and thousands of people on this planet who suffers from migraines.  I know my triggers (sinus stuff, red wine + chocolate, not enough sleep) and I have a lovely prescription for generic Imitrex that usually takes care of the little buggers.  But now and then I get a migraine because of changes in the atmospheric pressure.  THE ATMOSPHERIC PRESSURE, for Heaven’s sake.  There is absolutely nothing I can do about it but hope I took the pill in time, and if not, crawl into bed and enjoy twenty-four hours in the cold, dark basement guest room and the porcelein god to whom I will be making my offering.

But usually it’s not that bad.

It does get me to thinking about people with chronic migraines, or people with chronic illnesses or pain, or those who contract incurable diseases (or were born with them).  As a pastor who also did her duty for a year as a hospital chaplain intern, I’ve seen some of those.  As a human being on the planet, I’ve known and loved people with ALS and cancer, women carrying babies with wonky 13th chromosomes – all of it, or at least enough of it to make me sad every single day.

My forty-year-old friend who died of breast cancer, leaving a bereft husband and six-year-old son behind.  That was a crappy one.  (And made worse by the horrific praise music sung at her funeral which made me so mad I didn’t think to cry.)  The physician who had ALS and knew exactly what was happening to him each day.  The twenty-year-old kid in the ICU whose life was finally ending after years of cystic fibrosis, surrounded by stuffed animals and family and the ICU nurses who had come to say goodbye, and me, the wet-behind-the-ears chaplain intern, unable to do anything of any help but say, “there, there” and pray my shift would be over soon.

My migraines are like little gnats in comparison- annoying but not life altering.  I don’t know how people endure all of that.  Some of them don’t, of course.  Some of them rage against the dying of the light in ways that make us breathless.  Some are so ugly about their pain and demise, a Quentin Tarentino sort of patient who vows to drag everyone down with him.  Some are beatific about it all – gracious and longsuffering and still giving of themselves even as their bodies give out.  It kills me.  It just kills me.

I guess it all comes down to our being fearfully and wonderfully made, as the psalmist says (#139, if you’re counting).  Fearful in our fragility, in these bodies with bones that can break and blood that can get cancer and these double-helixes, so elegant and mystical but also susceptible to flaws.  Wonderful, too, our bodies: these things that can dance and sing and draw and embrace and fall apart so that someone else gets to hold us together.  And really, isn’t it a fearful and wonderful thing that my head can tell the weather?  It is, unless I’m throwing up at the moment.

After we got married, my husband and I met with a fertility specialist, and got the 400-level course on the birds and the bees.  It was unbelievable, all the things and synapses that have to click in order for that little egg to get fertilized by that little sperm and for that little zygot to grow into a fetus.  Unbelievable, but it happens every day.  Unbelievable, and so much can, and sometimes does, go wrong.

As a parent, I go between fear and wonder all the time, watching my daughter grow and dance, get colds, give hugs.  I pray for her and all the children, that they won’t have to suffer.  But of course they will; we all do.  That’s the fearful part.  But I pray even more that they’ll have the joy, too.  And there’s the wonder of it all.