I’m Not a Patient Patient

Shannon Kernaghan Im-not-a-patient-400 I’m Not a Patient Patient Challenge Fashion Health Humor Lifestyle Risk

I admire my current doctor and her no-nonsense approach to my body when I haul it into her clinic for my annual check. Her quiet inspection is appreciated because any gasps, giggles or “hmms” would make me nervous.

Despite scheduling an appointment weeks in advance, I’m tolerant of the required wait time. As for the magazines, some are outdated and dog-eared.

While taking furtive glances at other long faces who share my delay, I contemplate the person who assigned the phrase “waiting room.” He/she is a genius because never did two words better describe both process and surroundings. This same brain obviously invented the word “patient,” as in who you are and how you must behave while waiting.

My only objection involves the patient gown. Did I say gown? Paper towel is more accurate. In the past, it was tough enough to sit shivering in a shapeless, backless cotton smock. At some point the shift was made to paper, which is not surprising in our budget-crunching society.

“Take everything off and use that to cover up,” the doctor’s assistant said before she closed the door.

“Cover up with what?” But she was gone and it was just me and my square of paper, neatly folded on the end of the examining table. This wasn’t a gown, this was a large serviette. I was to cover up and maintain a shred of naked dignity. When I tried to arrange myself underneath, I felt like a paper cut-out doll. And if I didn’t stay still, my serviette would slip to the floor.

Although the instruction was to take everything off, I drew the line at socks and glasses.  What if the fire alarm suddenly rings? I’ll need socks to keep my feet warm and glasses to see where I’m running. Anyone gripping a flammable paper towel should stay away from direct flames.

And knock on wood that my doctor doesn’t find anything wrong with me. On second thought, don’t bother knocking on wood. During your next doctor’s visit, you’ll be wearing a tree in the form of a paper towel. Gently rub a corner of it for the same superstitious results.

As for those vintage magazines in the waiting room, I have a suggestion: convert them into cover-ups. They’d be thicker than the cover-ups I’ve been given. More importantly, patients will have something to read while they endure that second near-naked wait for the doctor to arrive.

Did you know that Trump won the US election? Good thing I went for a check-up!

A Simple Life? Good Luck with That!

Shannon Kernaghan Simple-Life-400 A Simple Life? Good Luck with That! Deception Fashion Health Humor Lifestyle Risk

 

I choose a simple, uncomplicated life. The proof is in my medicine cabinet. That is, you won’t find much in the way of treasure. But you will find a bottle of skin lotion. Whether or not the promise of fewer wrinkles and younger looking skin will come true, I smear my face morning and night with this fragrance-free potion.

Recently, I decided to bump up my anti-aging regime by purchasing night cream from the same line, to firm my skin while I sleep. Unless there’s concrete as a base, I’m unconvinced that anything pink and slippery is tough enough to do the trick. But then as well as being simple, I’m hopeful.

What impressed me was the plastic applicator. For the $15 bottle I’d finished, my fingers were sufficient; for the $30 jar, suddenly I need a tiny tool.

The moment I applied the cream, my eyes started to burn. What was I thinking?  This version wasn’t fragrance-free and yet I slathered myself without a care. Sadly, my skin didn’t hear the message of hopefulness. Instead, it revolted. My nose plugged and within minutes, I had the rumblings of a headache. Face washing didn’t help. The goop obviously contains those advertised fast-absorbing properties.

The only chance to rectify my loss (and rationalize a wasted purchase) was with a quick and polite HOLD THE PERFUME note to the manufacturer. I wanted them to know that their faithful consumer questions the need for so much fragrance, and because of it, I can’t use their product.

Within two weeks I received a letter with a reference number: “We are concerned about your recent experience and will share your suggestions with our Product Development and Marketing Team.”

Then a check arrived for $30. That was nice; someone was responding to my three-paragraph gripe, even though I didn’t ask for a refund or include my receipt.

A week letter, another letter arrived and this time from an office in Ohio. They wanted me to fill out an Eye Incident Report on a Product Safety Surveillance form.

Incident? Surveillance?

The questionnaire’s tone was serious: how did the incident happen? Which eye was involved? What treatment was given? Was the eye rinsed and for how long? The form was so lengthy that my wrinkles were getting wrinkles and I was afraid to send it back. What’s next, a team of lawyers at my door? A news crew with mics extended?

Forget spreading fake news. Now I’m more selective about sharing a simple suggestion.

Next steps? I’m about to cross my fingers and throw salt over my shoulder for luck. I don’t want to risk hurting myself. Imagine the paperwork.

    My Bikini Drove Me to the Gym

Shannon Kernaghan Bikin-babe-pool-side-800-e1499891769101     My Bikini Drove Me to the Gym Bikini Challenge Culture Fashion Health Humor Lifestyle Relationship Tropical

 

I finally did it – I joined a gym. Years had passed since my last exercise regime, so it was time to quit stalling. My husband didn’t encourage me to join, neither did my friends. It was my bikini that did the talking, prompting me to run, not walk, to the nearest gym.

When I originally bought that itsy bitsy bikini, I was lean and confident enough to forego the matching cover-up. Now, I’d wrap myself in a quilt before wearing those revealing strips of Lycra in public. I don’t especially want to wear a bikini, nor do I have a place to wear one with regularity. But the word “option” is key.

The chant “fit the bikini, wear the bikini,” drifts through my brain while perspiring to an hour of aerobics, or fast-walking to floor 38 of the Stairmaster. This mantra calms me after scary reflections in the mirror, because I’m not sure if my eraser-pink face is the signal of a good workout or an imminent stroke.

Fortunately, fitness centers have changed through the years. My previous gym had instruments of torture from the Inquisition. One device consisted of a vibrating belt that I’d loop around my hips. If it did tone me, I never found out how or where. I was too busy reading the caution sign tacked above the noisy motor. Bold red lettering warned users not to operate the machine for longer than five minutes OR RISK INJURY.

Overzealous, I purchased a lifetime membership. Turns out “lifetime” referred not to my life, but to that of the gym. The gym was in worse shape than me because within a year, the doors closed and all I had for keepsakes was my laminated membership card and a troubling rash, no doubt from that vibrating belt.

As for my new gym, I love it – the staff, the equipment and every enthusiastic member. During my first aerobics session, I forgot my glasses and tried to follow the trainer, struggling to hear her instructions over loud music. In the wall of mirrors, I glimpsed a woman who wore the same baggy pants. I admired how she kept up with my pace . . . until realizing that woman was me!

After my inaugural workout, I returned home both motivated and famished. While standing at the kitchen counter, I ate a brick of cheese along with fistfuls of salty crackers and a big chocolate minty thing I really didn’t like. It was either that or frozen waffles and syrup to kill my sugar craving.

Sure, there’s a challenge ahead, but who knows. My future might include a hot and sunny location where I’ll be wearing nothing more than a teeny bikini as strut down a sandy beach.

Hey, it’s a lovely dream. Just get rid of all the mirrors first.

 

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Shannon Kernaghan Street-Billboard-600-4book     My Bikini Drove Me to the Gym Bikini Challenge Culture Fashion Health Humor Lifestyle Relationship Tropical

Caved In

Shannon Kernaghan Caved-In-4 Caved In Family Health Lifestyle Relationship Uncategorized

 

“He’s not waking, should we get him to Emerg?” a nurse asked.

“No, he hasn’t seized,” said another. “Give him a minute.”

Emerg? Seized? I tasted my morning coffee, now bitter.

He suddenly opened his eyes and yawned once, twice. “I was dreaming.”

“Welcome back, Mr. –” he’s out again, unconscious.

I took hold of his hand and they worked around my kneeling form.

****

From the beginning of Paul’s dance with doctors, I’ve sat next to him and squeezed his hand through the pronouncement of hemochromatosis. The first doctor said his high iron level – if left untreated – will make him sicker than he already felt, possibly kill him. Her laundry list started with cirrhosis and diabetes, moved to cancer, and ended with heart failure.

Heart failure like his mother at age 54? Bingo.

Until recently, she explained, the test for serum ferritin, the protein that stores iron, wasn’t routinely done. Worse, the complaints of fatigue and joint pain were misdiagnosed.

Listening became a struggle under her florescent office lights. I thought about how life can change in a blink. Our turn.

“Is there any medication to get rid of the excess iron?” Paul asked.

“No, only weekly bloodletting for the next six to nine months–”

“Wait,” I interrupted, “bloodletting as in removing blood?” She nodded and explained the phlebotomy procedure. Visions of a medieval barber with a sharp knife and collecting bowl were close to her description: take one 16-gauge needle, pierce into crook of arm and withdraw 500-mls of crimson. Every week, a Sweeney Todd donation.

When you give blood, you’re advised to wait a couple of months between donations yet Paul would undergo two phlebotomies in six days.

****

Because his iron levels were dangerously high, the doctor ordered another round of tests. We returned to the hospital where I sat in the lab’s waiting room. The murmur of Paul’s voice was replaced with a woman’s call for help. I jumped up and followed a second nurse through the lab door. Paul was propped on a chair, motionless, his eyelids shut and head tilted to the side. My only question: “Did he fall and hit his head?”

“No,” the nurse said as she draped a wet cloth across his forehead and pressed another with ice cubes on the back of his neck. His usual ruddy skin was translucent.

She pointed to perspiration that beaded his knuckles. I wiped them dry with my hoody sleeve. After several decades together, I’ve never seen him so vulnerable.

****

When I guide myself onto the rink, hand-over-hand along the boards, I balance on razor blades, not ice skates. Paul sits behind Plexiglas and videos my inaugural skate.

Skate to center ice, I see his mouth move as I totter past, my head fighting the urge to tip backwards. He waves his free hand, wanting me to give him something video-worthy.

No way, I mouth back. Instead, I reach for a nearby skate aid that resembles a walker, a gizmo used by many of the children. Quickly, I soar between pockets of people, even if my “training wheels” are responsible for this renewed confidence. I’m careful to avoid small bodies that race past, practiced and fearless during Family Skate afternoon at our local arena.

A toddler who grips his own skate aid slides near and extends his arm. Braden is stenciled in black across the front of his white helmet. He’s trying to help me. Then I sigh and accept his mitten-covered hand. With locked hands, Braden and I make a slow loop around the rink, his father following behind.

****

I rue the iron that overloads his system, the “Celtic Curse” genes bequeathed by ancestors on distant battlefields of lavender darkened by bloodshed, bodies hoarding iron to live another crusade. Today Paul rides into battle with a Honda Civic, not a trusty steed. His arsenal consists of leathers and a welding stinger, not a shield and sword.

He had to sign forms that allowed our health care providers to release test results and instructions to me. Otherwise, in this movement of perceived privacy, people on the other end of the phone won’t even let me set up his appointments.

It’s not that he can’t take care of these details, but I want to be supportive. The seeds of my advocacy were planted through more bouts of unconsciousness and a weekly series of painful needles, needles that poke and mine for iron-rich treasure. Needles that can’t always withdraw enough blood but leave muddy bruises, painful for days.

I have become lead researcher, studying labels to avoid buying iron-enriched products. No easy task as every staple I reach for is heavily fortified, from cereal to bread and pasta. Sayonara to the red meat he loves, and ciao to shellfish. I read bulletin boards written by my new community of iron-overload victims.

“How do you feel?” I ask after each hospital session.

“My chest feels caved in and my back has a weird ache. It’s hard to explain.” He no longer works on phleb days. After the hospital, he eyes our couch like a welcoming pair of arms.

****

In the dark of night I weep into my pillow, careful not to wake Paul. I worry about him, his future health and freedoms uncertain. Other nights I feel sorry for myself, forced to shelve our plans for a warm desert getaway. In place of travel, we brace ourselves for a grey-white winter of Alberta cold and snow. “Until we get this sorted out,” I say aloud, my mantra.

After lowering his serum ferritin level, Paul should need less frequent “maintenance” sessions and lab work. More selfish thoughts circle, buzzards: no more leisurely evenings dreaming together over a bottle of red wine as the disorder makes him susceptible to cirrhosis.

Paul is more stoic. “Whadya gonna do,” and he’ll shrug. “At least I won’t die like my mom.”

****

Paul waves me over; we have to leave for the hospital before the lab closes. He needs blood work done again, something about a significant drop in his hemoglobin.

“Dammit, I’m just starting to get the hang of this.”

“So stay, have fun. I’ll pick you up later.”

I face him through the glass. “Are you sure?” He nods. This will be the first time he’ll go on his own, whether for blood work, bloodletting or trips to specialists of hematology and gastroenterology. For ultrasounds and FibroScans.

I’ve imagined him going solo, in the event of scheduling conflicts. Cool compresses and warm blankets will envelop his fears – of needles, blood, hospitals – and a familiar face will greet him, call out, “I’m ready for you, my blood brother.” Tall and strong, he’ll walk towards that voice, that needle presented in open palms, an offering.

He leaves me on the ice, waving, and I feel unexpectedly happy, not only that I’m skating, sort of, but that he’s confident to go without me. I watch him walk through the arena door, sloughing off his own training wheels.

 

Spring 2017  Flare  – The Flagler Review

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