Good Vibrations

September 18, 2006 at 9:11 am (Uncategorized)

I had a good feeling about my health the other day. Perplexed at first by this unknown sensation, I wondered if I had indigestion. Or perhaps I had pulled a stomach muscle? But, no, the fluttering in my gut persisted, until it occurred to me that I was about to leave for my quarterly round of testing and doctors’ visits in Philadelphia, and I felt optimistic.

Ever since I was diagnosed with sarcoidosis in 2004, it often seems as if I’ve gotten nothing but bad medical news. I know that in many ways I have been incredibly fortunate because my particular manifestations of the disease are far less deadly than many others: my lungs have not been scarred badly, and the prednisone seems to have arrested the disease’s progression in my heart. Still, for a couple of years it felt as though every time I went to a doctor, which was frequently, I got slammed with some bit of crummy news or some dire prophecy from a physician: I might have some weird kind of cancer in addition to the sarcoidosis, or I had some heart condition of unknown origins in addition to the sarcoidosis; I’d have to have a defibrillator implanted, or I’d have to have a leaky valve replaced. On and on and on.

But three months ago, my doctors initiated a more calculated prednisone taper. And for the first time since I got this disease, I was able to drop down on my prednisone dose without having palpitations and feeling as though my heart was ready to do the jitterbug and was perfectly willing to hop out of my chest to find a new and more exciting dance partner than me. Also promising was the fact that I had two bouts of serious respiratory infections in three months, but my body was able to fight back without me needing to be hospitalized.

Then, last week, I met with an orthopedist to see if I would need surgery to repair the shoulder I injured in a car accident in June. The doctor was fairly gloomy the first time I saw him. In his opinion, he said, it looked as though I had torn my rotator cuff, especially since I’d been on so much prednisone for so long and the drug weakens tendons and ligaments. He scheduled an MRI to be sure, but I walked out of his office mulling over the best dates to have yet another operation.

The doctor smiled when he reviewed my MRI. It’s been a long time since a white coat has smiled at me in anything but a studiously sympathetic way. “Frankly, I’m shocked,” he said. “Your rotator cuff is perfect.” Perfect. Untorn. Not needing to be sliced and diced and stitched back together. The pain ands weakness in my arm stemmed from the torn triceps muscle, which needs nothing but time and rehab to heal.

It may seem like a stretch to extrapolate the good news from the orthopedist to my upcoming sarcoidosis visit. But I sense a turning within me. My internal fortifications held. The marauding army came to my own personal Maginot Line, and the line did not crumble. Nor did the invaders circumvent my defenses, as the Germans did (maybe Stalingrad is a slightly better analogy). For the first time in a long time, I feel as if my body did what it was intended to do – not what the sarcoidosis makes it do.

I am not by nature an optimist. “Expect the worst, and you might be pleasantly surprised,” has been my unspoken motto. Anticipating good news feels like nothing short of a jinx. The reptile part of my brain worries that by writing this, I am dooming our plane to plummeting from the sky, or to learning that sarcoidosis has riddled every organ in my body.

But, in some ways, no matter how vociferously I’ll tell you otherwise, sarcoidosis has made me a better person. It has left me no choice but to be optimistic when I feel the weird rumblings of positivism in my stomach and my soul. So many truly dark days – so many days of seeing nothing but blackness in the future – have left me with an appreciation for this glimmering that is akin to a wine enthusiast sniffing a 1965 Château Margaux. There are countless cliches about hope. And I’m starting to see that many of them are true. Wish me luck, please.

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