The List

May 27, 2006 at 2:24 pm (Uncategorized)

Lately we’ve been reading a lot of Frog and Toad around here. Andrew has fallen in love with these stories, and has even chosen them as his special potty books, which means that he only gets to read them when he’s sitting on his pint-sized potty trying to poop. Enough. I have to remind myself that those without toddlers aren’t as interested in the constant talk of excrement that seems to define parenthood at this stage.

I’m glad that Andrew has chosen the adventures of Frog and Toad for constant rereading. I remember most of the stories from when I was a kid, and perusing them again only sharpens my appreciation for them, though I’m not sure what it says about my life when I catch myself deconstructing Frog and Toad.

Be that as it may, I especially like the character of Toad. For those of you unfortunate enough to have never read these books (or even worse, to have forgotten them), Frog and Toad are a sort of Mutt and Jeff of the amphibious world. Toad is plump and lazy, given to fits of brooding; Frog is tall and lean, and eternally (and infernally) cheerful.
You can see where this is going. I have accused Jay of being like Frog on those all too frequent mornings when he is sickeningly peppy. Like Toad, in “Spring,” I pull the covers over my head and say “Blah” and “Go away. I am not here.”

As of late, Toad and I share a certain lumpiness about the waist and thighs; neither of us wants to be seen in our bathing suits. Also we both are often fretful and impatient. In “The Garden,” Toad plants some seeds Frog has given him and is outraged and saddened when they don’t sprout immediately. “Grow!” he bellows to the ground, five minutes after he’s buried the seeds. Those of you who have seen our weed patch (er, yard), will agree that while Toad and I have a zeal for beautiful plants, we lack the requisite persistence to make them happen on our watch. And then there’s the matter of our common sweet tooth. In “Cookies,” Toad eggs Frog on in eating enormous quantities of his homemade cookies and thwarts Frog’s plans to instill willpower in them. In my opinion, the ability to eat just one or two cookies is a character defect.

But the story that has caught my fancy – and Andrew’s – lately is “The List.” In it, Toad draws up a list of planned activities for the day and then proceeds to stick to it compulsively. When he is out on a walk with Frog (item number four), his list blows away in the wind. Since running after a piece of paper is not included on his list, Toad is paralyzed and cannot chase after it. Frog (always so damn helpful and perky) dashes after the list, but can’t find it. Toad falls into a deep funk, unable to budge without guidance from his lost list. It is only when he remembers the last item on it – go to sleep – that he can end his day.

Like Toad, I am a compulsive list maker and feel naked without one. I have been know to construct to-do lists that span three pages and are so complicated I have to rewrite them and break them into subcategories. (Rereading these lists months later provides bizarre snapshots into the epistemology of the self. How did “get the cat’s vaccines” end up under the heading “Correspondence?”) I can’t pack for a weekend trip without compiling a comprehensive list of everything we might need, ranging from children’s Tylenol to a heart rate monitor. We have running lists of items we need from three different grocery stores stuck on the refrigerator, as well as lists of who has borrowed what books. I’m thinking of starting a list to keep track of all my lists.

Toad and I part ways when it comes to enacting our lists, though. Once I have created a list, I feel oddly liberated, almost as though the task I have detailed is completed simply in the writing of it. This is bad, because I am enough of a procrastinator without adding highly developed psychological ploys to enhance my worst trait. For instance, I don’t really want to deal with my upcoming trip to Philadelphia to determine the course of my treatment. I need to compile some medical records to bring along to my appointments. Have I done this yet? No, but I wrote it on my list, so now I can blithely avoid it. Sometimes, I don’t even read my lists after I have made them. This vexes Jay, who studiously scribbles items on our shopping lists, in the misguided belief that I will bring them along to the store. I usually go shopping with the list still neatly stuck on the refrigerator and return home with a weird assortment of items I seem to have drawn from the recesses of my subconscious. “Marshmallows,” he’ll say incredulously. “Why did you buy marshmallows? And olives? We already have three full jars.”

However, there is one list I need to work hard on, review, and actually use. This is the list of questions about my condition and treatment I’m going to bring to my appointments next week with my pulmonologist and cardiologist. I am a firm believer that a patients should never enter a doctor’s office without a detailed list of questions. There is something hypnotic about those white coats physicians wear – without a piece of paper to anchor you to your concerns, you’ll end up dumbstruck while the doctors breeze in and out of the exam room in the fifteen seconds they allot each patient and only remember everything you wanted to ask when you’re trying to find your car in the parking lot. Most doctors hate my lists. They sigh audibly when I pull one out of my pocket and start asking things. Doctors all say they like a prepared patient, one who is informed and involved in her treatment – but they are lying. What they want is a patient who follows orders and doesn’t take up much time trying to understand something or, God forbid, question some doctorly dictate.

The upcoming appointments are critical – both for my physical health and my sanity. While I was at the gym this afternoon, I was able to crystalize my nebulous anxiety about these visits. What came to me was the realization that I can’t go on like this for much longer. Not that my life is bad. I need to be clear that my goal with this blog is not to have my own personal pity party every day. It’s just that I can’t drop below 20 mg. per day of prednisone, the dose I’ve been stuck at for about a year, without my heart problems flaring up, and 20 mg. a day is too much predinsone to be taking long-term. I keep gaining weight, no matter hard I try to reverse this trend, and I am constantly sick because of prednisone’s immunosuppressive qualities. I’ve been off strong antibiotics for a sinus infection for only a week, but already I am getting sick again. My throat is sore; my temperature is rising. I practically bathe in hand sanitizer after I touch a doorknob or shake someone’s hand, and I am compulsive about trying to minimize our contact with germs. But I can’t live in a bubble. My doctors need to decide whether to try a prednisone taper one more time or begin another drug instead.

“Enough fence sitting,” I feel like yelling. “Make up your mind and get me well.” But I’ll never do that. I’m pretty polite in doctor’s offices. I will go in armed with my list, though, and like Toad, I won’t deviate from the items on it. If they try to make me, I’ll just say “Blah” and keep plodding along.

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