The Violin String

April 18, 2007 at 5:48 pm (Uncategorized)

toothache.jpgI have a toothache. The specifics of the dentistry drama I’ve been enjoying– root canals, roots cracking, crowns not crowning– aren’t important. Suffice it to say that I’ve spent much of the last few nights awake, feeling my tooth throb in time with my heartbeat. I have to wait one more week before I can go to the endodontist and have them either fix this thing or extract it.

Having a toothache is a drag, but it certainly isn’t the end of the world. Unfortunately, even though I keep reminding myself of this fact, my toothache feels like the end of the world. I feel personally persecuted to have a mouthful of lousy teeth that resist any kind of dental interference; I feel as though it is unfair to have yet another part of my body malfunction and cause me time, expense, and pain. I want to follow the dentist home and have him install a morphine drip. Really, that’s how much I am over-reacting.

I used to not be quite so hysterical about all things medical– and painful. Just a few years ago when we were living in Palau, I had minor foot surgery performed without any type of anesthetic. “Let’s just get this done,” I thought. I used to go routinely to the gym, teach an aerobics class, or bike a few dozen miles– when I had bronchitis. After major ankle surgery, I set my bike up on its stationary trainer two days after surgery and rode for an hour. Pain? No problem.

I’d like to think that sarcoidosis hasn’t changed my personality along with my organs, and that I haven’t devolved into the world’s foremost whining wimp. What the illness has done, though, is sap me of my resiliency. Like an overzealous tuner of a guitar or violin string, sarcoidosis has tightened me to the point of what sometimes feels like breakage. There is no more “give” in my life. Thus, everyday obstacles, when they are plucked on the taut violin string of my life, seem as though they could shatter me.

Not only do minor obstacles feel much more significant when you have a chronic illness, they often are more serious. When you take a handful of immune suppressants every day, and also have an underlying disease that takes up most of your body’s energy, chances are that something that should be insignificant usually ends up being fairly dramatic. Most of the people I know with serious chronic illnesses don’t get things like colds or bladder infections; instead, minor issues rapidly escalate into major ones– pneumonia, kidney problems, etc. Just as our emotional wires are a little too tight, so are our physical ones. There is simply no room for error in chronic town.

I’m not alone in this. For instance, last week, Nancy, a faithful reader of this blog, wrote: “I have had the 24 hour flu/cold everyone else had….this whole week! and am experiencing the mouth sores and stiffness that everyone “handles” with Tylenol. Feeling like a slacker – know that every time I deal with what everyone gets, my symptoms are louder, longer, stranger…”

What’s doubly troubling about the over-tightened violin string phenomenon of chronic illness is that it makes me look and feel like a hypochondriac. Every sniffle I contract makes me want to run to the doctor and get a course of antibiotics. There is some rationality in this, given that for the past three years, every time I get a cold, within four days, it has indeed turned into a sinus infection, bronchitis, or pneumonia. But, still, I don’t like being so attuned to my body and its vicissitudes. I hate having to take my health so seriously all the time. I want to feel tougher again, instead of thinking perhaps I need to seek medical attention when I get a splinter.

The truth is that I am progressing through life in emotional and physical overdrive. I think it’s part of having a chronic, potentially fatal disease that requires constant check-ups and new medications. Sometimes it’s easier, like when my health is relatively stable, my treatment isn’t changing, and I can stay away from all thoughts medical. But there are other times–like now– when I am feeling lousy, when I’m about to start getting infused with a new (and scary) drug, and thus must spend more time with physicians, thinking about my health. This doesn’t make me a pansy, or a hypochondriac– I hope. It is merely yet another side effect of living in chronic town. The trick is to loosen the violin string just a little, to remind myself that a toothache is just a toothache, and to move on from there.

1 Comment

  1. Nancy said,

    I am STILL fighting this flu with swollen glands – ear aches and now….sleeping the days away. Send me some karma/mojo/prayers/ to get up and move….the family is coming in two weeks and some have not seen where we live in MD (6 years) and my Chris is getting excited about the wedding – so sweet, I heard the voice about standing up for spelling tests and standing up for wedding vows – they both sound giggly and fresh. Miss Emily sat up and cried for two hours because the leaves on the trees are not out and he was perplexed. Young love is great – thanks for listening….I am giggly too….owww!

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