From Sunset Into Sunrise: Year’s End Thoughts About What Really Matters

December 31, 2011 at 4:44 pm 2 comments

We Minnesotans, like any other geographical segment, have our expectations.  One of the more generalizable of these is that, if we have to put up with over six months’ worth of winter, we can at least count on having a greeting card-worthy layer of snow blanketing the otherwise dead and dreary landscape by Christmas eve.  Not so this year.

We did see a smattering of tiny, hard crystals on two separate days leading up to the season’s climax, almost as if Nature were responding to our grumblings by tossing us a few crumbs – or flakes, as it were.  Just a teaser, it came nowhere close to covering the brown.  But in the end this minor letdown proved to be irrelevant.  As one friend wrote, “We had a wonderful Christmas at my oldest son’s house, opening presents, eating a dinner that I didn’t have to cook, and being adored by our grandchildren.  Can’t get much better than that!”  

In my own household, we started the day by joining our church family for a celebration of Christ’s humble entrance into the world, which set the tone for a relaxed approach to cooking Christmas dinner for the eight dear relatives who later gathered around our table to honor the classic tradition of a yuletide feast shared with loved ones.  We didn’t miss that silly white stuff at all, and everyone enjoyed a safer drive home that evening as a bonus. 

Such reminders to align things in proper perspective arise from time to time, whether the nudges consist of minor disappointments or major reprieves.  Case in point:  While toweling off after a shower on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, I noticed a small, tender protrusion in an area that suggested I might be developing a hernia.  I was a bit surprised, but not too alarmed.  While I am leaner and fitter today than in years past, I thought, my father did develop a hernia at about my age; this might be part of his legacy to me.  

Like any self-respecting info addict, I hopped onto the internet for a quick search of reputable medical sites to confirm my self-diagnosis.  And like any self-respecting exercise addict, I made a mental note to substitute extra power-walks for Tae-Bo and weight-lifting until I determined what temporary limitations this condition might impose on me. 

So much for healing thyself.  A Monday visit to the Clinic yielded the disconcerting pronouncement that this was not a hernia, but a swollen lymph node; no less disturbing, blood tests revealed a white blood count of 2.8, when the normal range is 4.5-11.0.  The doctor ordered a follow-up CBC and differential for further analysis by a specialist. 

“So what,” I asked the cool, white-cloaked professional in front of me, “might be the possible implications of those numbers?”  He qualified his response with references to my tendency to register low white blood counts and the fact that I had no history of infections, but the terms that planted themselves in my consciousness were “pathologist” and “bone marrow involvement.” 

 Clearing my throat as if to unclutter my thoughts, I probed, “But you see no red flags at this point?” to which said professional replied with a reassuring, “None.”  I left the doctor’s office with a nagging tingle of anxiety threatening to disrupt the digestion of my morning oatmeal and a firm resolve not to envision the worst possibilities. 

But the imagination has a will of its own, and this glitch had rattled my sense of well-being.  “What if?” the rebellious right hemisphere of my brain kept whispering, distracting me from the “Wait and have faith!” message being issued by the left side.  

What if…this turns out to be a condition that defines my lifespan in shortened years:  How would friends and family react?  How would I choose to spend my days?  Would I watch my words more carefully, treat others with a more kind and patient attitude?  Would I pursue the same goals?  Would I have the same interest in current events, or worry about the country’s future with the same intensity?  About mankind’s destiny with even greater urgency?  Would I pray differently? 

Would I give up on the idea of not leaving this world without contributing something significant to it, or would I feel a fervor-fueled push to fulfill that dream? 

Stepping into a different pair of shoes as I waited for the expert’s review of my test results left me more tuned into certain messages from the pulpit.  Casual references to no one knowing the number of their days on earth or examples of people of faith struggling with serious disease caught my attention in arresting and novel ways.  Suddenly those commercials for Cancer Treatment Centers of America pinpointed my focus as never before. 

I also caught myself up short while saying such ridiculous things as, “I’m starving,” when in fact I am simply very hungry and not actually suffering from through an ongoing famine.  And hearing someone casually toss out the phrase, “There’s nothing worse than…” I now stiffen and bristle, with a new appreciation for how insipid that remark is in its usual context of a bad haircut or a snarl of traffic.  

Meanwhile, I keep asking no one in particular, “But I feel so good; how could my body be fighting an infection potent enough to balloon out a lymph node?”  That’s when that pesky little gelatinous nodule, still lurking where I originally discovered it, kick-starts the insidious power of suggestion, inciting me to read calamity into an ordinary muscle ache or a predictable bout of post-holiday fatigue. 

Finally, the reassuring pathologist’s opinion turns up in my mail box:  “Given the presence of reactive-appearing lymphocytes, it would be reasonable to evaluate whether this neutropenia [low white blood count] is transient and associated with an infectious-type clinical scenario.  There are no features to suggest a dysplastic [pre-cancerous] process or primary bone marrow disorder.”  Thank you, Lord. 

I am now scheduled for a follow-up blood test to determine if this mini medical mystery of mine can be resolved cleanly, but however that pans out, my view of life has been radically altered.  My heart is now in sync with my head in accepting that no matter what I do to protect and preserve my health, there will always be variables that are beyond my control. 

My prayer for 2012 is that I can be humbled by that vulnerability-confirming truth without being hobbled by it; that I can exercise emotional maturity in choosing how I respond to things; that I can go beyond my ritual of offering up thanks each morning and truly live my life “as if” each day were the cherished gift that it is; and that I can enter into the new year supremely grateful for good news, and for second chances to make a difference in an imperfect world.  I pray these things for my readers, as well. 

And speaking of perspective, Snookie’s Bold New Hair Color is news worthy of a Yahoo feature story?  Puhleeeeeeeze.  I didn’t need a blip in my confident stride toward a long life and an opportunity-filled future to reject that particular brand of idiocy!

Entry filed under: Advice For Life. Tags: , , , , , , .

Remembering Andy Rooney and Favorite Autumn Dishes Doldrum-Defeating Strategies

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. bethany  |  December 31, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    Praying you get benign results on your tests, that you heal up quickly, and that you have a fulfilling 2012!

    • 2. kirkhams  |  January 1, 2012 at 3:34 am

      Hi, Bethany – Thank you for visiting my site and for your comments, prayers, and good wishes. I appreciate having you as a new subscriber, and especially enjoyed your feedback on the Irish Farmer piece. I plan to check out your blog tomorrow, when I have a little down time to properly devote to it. Meanwhile, blessings to you and your family for 2012, and thanks again for your support. Sue Anne


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