Why do I expect bad news from medical tests?

Something has to be wrong; I Googled my weird symptoms.

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Two or three of us have cups of barium contrast liquid which we must drink over the next hour. (It tastes as bad as it sounds)

The imaging waiting area of my hospital is half full. Most of us don’t look sick, but why would we be here if not? (This was a week or so pre-coronavirus cautions)

Why did I think this was a good idea? Shaun, The Good Doctor, saw a hospital housekeeping man burping several times and said he probably had pancreatic cancer. Sometimes I do that. So, I have cancer.

Ok, I hear you being skeptical of my self-diagnosis but, after all, Shaun Murphy, a young autistic savant surgical resident in a California hospital, was so perfect on his various insights that I couldn’t resist.

Fortunately, you can’t just walk in and order your own CT scan, so I had to go to a real doctor. I like her; she takes me seriously. (I didn’t mention the TV doctor — I still had some dignity)

She set me up for imaging of my abdomen, adding that pancreatic cancer never has symptoms until it is far advanced. Good grief, now I am worried.

The scan itself is not a big deal. It’s nowhere near as claustrophobic as an MRI and only takes less than 15 or 20 minutes.

It is necessary sometimes to have a needle inserted in a vein for more contrast liquid to be injected. The technician, kindly, explained the warm flush that would occur briefly.

A little voice says, “Take a deep breath and hold it.” Then in a few seconds, “Breathe.” After three or four of these quick images, I am all done.

Now comes the waiting. My father used to say, “Good things come to those who wait.” What the hell did he know? These results could be terrible.

I now start a routine of checking my online health account every half-hour to see if the results are available. After a day or two, I move into “no news is good news” mode and only look at it every few hours.

Finally, I just give up. That is progress and, like the watched pot, the results come through.

Some of the medical jargon was a bit worrisome but as my wise spouse pointed out, nothing you wouldn’t expect in an eighty-year-old man.

The final line, designed, I am sure, to highlight my silliness about results, was the best of all:

IMPRESSION: No acute inflammatory process in the abdomen or pelvis.

Of course, future tests and procedures are still going to worry me. I know that, right? Maybe I ought to consider letting such unnecessary anxiety go. What do you think?

On Being 80 in the Time of Coronavirus

Sheltering at home is easier at my age but the challenge is other people.

Photo by Jilbert Ebrahimi on Unsplash

Over the last year, because of surgeries, I have had to stay home, often confined to my recliner. So, this pandemic hasn’t caused me to change my daily routine that much.

What it has done is demand a new perspective, or at the very least, a reframing.

Normally, there is not much I have to do, except brush my teeth and, every so often, shower.

So, I can sit in front of my iMac to flip between Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Then when I feel more ambitious, check out the front pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Boston Globe.

By this time, I usually start feeling hungry and shut down the computer to wander into the kitchen. Big decisions await. Cereal and toast? Eggs? Maybe just a bologna and cheese sandwich, to carry with me to my recliner.

And so on, and so on.

Now, that routine has been disrupted, not necessarily physically but emotionally, by the Coronavirus pandemic.

In a state of what amounts to self-indulgent hibernation, I often let quirks of my family annoy me. Clearly, it really shouldn’t take a pandemic to change that waste of emotional energy.

More importantly, the big question remains, can I continue sitting in my chair focusing inward when there are things I can do for others facing this pandemic?

That is a rhetorical query, of course, because there are ways to reach out.

Here are some:


Careful not to be mean spirited, I can attempt to interject light-heartedness when needed. I say ‘attempt’ because some of my “being funny” can be very annoying.


Sometimes, I am not pleasant because I’m not thinking. If I did, it would be easy enough to stop and wonder if that is how I would like to be treated.

Connection (1)

As much as we sometimes rue “screen time” and are insulted by trolls, the Internet is a valuable tool to reach out to an unlimited number of others.

Connection (2)

Remember talking with someone on the phone? Texts and emails are important but calling someone and actually speaking with them can make a huge difference.

Taking these approaches can be tricky and won’t always work. Thus as counterintuitive as it might be, we might have to stop trying so hard. We’ve done enough. Sheltering in place is a big challenge so give yourself permission to slack off some of the time.

The challenge of this crisis has so many national and global aspects that it can be overwhelming. We need to narrow it down for us in our home. The above suggestions are a way of doing that. Try them.

begin here

a different order of time

“I had learned so much, I just had to think about it all for a while.”
Lynda Blackmon Lowery

It began three years ago, when the women’s ensemble I had sung with for almost 20 years took itself apart.  After the Women’s March on Washington in 2017, we had stumbled into some difficult conversations about race.  Powerful words, not carefully chosen, resulted in painful injury and broken relationships.  Two members of the group left.  Six remained.  In the months that followed, it was unclear whether we would be able to learn from our mistakes, find our way through the mess, grow in intellectual and emotional honesty and repair the damage.

For me, one of the consequences of this experience was the clear awareness that, as a white woman, I needed to learn more.

Waking Up White

A starting place was Debbie Irving’s book, Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of…

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