Friday, August 24, 2007

small pictures of the big picture

Ultrasound images have always reminded me of blurred weather maps. On occasions when I witness this "look under the hood", I take the doctor or technician's word for whatever the hell they point out and accept it as medical fact. It's not like I see or even think about ultrasounds on any sort of regular basis, but the topic is really on the brain lately since this procedure intersected my life three times this week, on three separate but consecutive days.

They say things, good or bad, come in threes, and I suppose I can roll with that cute but worthless explanation. What has me grinding my teeth in my sleep this week is how these three things paint the big picture of my life.

Ultrasound 1: Tuesday

For the past year or so, I've experienced an irritating pain downstairs in my groin area. Being a hand-wringing fatalist, especially when it comes to my health, I assumed it was testicular cancer. It has been a good 17 years since I touched myself down there as much as I did the past year. I even cleared the "typical guy" hurdle of denial and paid a visit to my general practitioner so he could lay his hands on my junk. No lumps or signs of cancer. No apparent signs of hernia either.

Doctor: You have an infection. I'm prescribing Cippro. Take it for 10 days; it should clear up.

A quick Google search told me Cippro is commonly prescribed to treat VD. Wonderful, I thought. This guy thinks I'm an adulterer. He probably knows I lied about how much I drink and that I occasionally smoke too.

The Cippro didn't seem to cure it, but then again, I did drink and smoke during the regimen, so I didn't exactly adhere to the plan. The pain did ebb, though, to the point where I could ignore it for a few months. After those few months passed, I was back in a gown getting my netherworld checked out again. This time he sent me to the lab for blood work and urinalysis. A week later the lab work came back clean. No cancer! Still, this annoying pain downstairs. WTF?

My doc deduced that it has to be a hernia and finally referred me to a general surgeon, which finally brings me to Tuesday. After walking me through the concept of hernias and surgical procedures to treat them, he ushered me to the exam room.

Surgeon: Take off your shoes and pants, leave your underwear on, I'll be back in a minute.

Me: Um, yeah...I'm not wearing underwear.

Clearly I forgot the cardinal rule about always wearing underwear when visiting a doctor, so this was sort of awkward. I wanted to explain my reasoning -- that I don't wear underwear with this particular pair of jeans because underwear tend to crowd my junk -- but that would only add to the awkwardness of the moment, so I just stared at the floor while he pulled a napkin the size of bath towel out of some drawer and handed it to me to use as a cover-up.

After poking and prodding me to the point where I almost puked and passed out with a ringing in my ears, he told me to lay back so he could do an ultrasound. The precursory application of that cold jelly on my stomach shocked and left me empathizing with all pregnant women who go through this regularly.

The ultrasound itself was nothing special -- same old fuzzy imagery. For a split second I think I saw the tear in my abdominal muscle that he pointed out, which confirmed the hernia.

So the long and short of it -- I need surgery sometime in the next 6 to 12 months and my situation is not so critical after all. Well, any kind of surgery is no fun, but I can stop fretting for now about death, or at least my own.

Ultrasound 2: Wednesday

I am ashamed to admit that my siblings and I don't stay in touch regularly. Certain factors can be cited for this: geography, age gaps, different priorities, etc. That's not to say I consider them valid excuses, but they certainly create buffers. I sometimes shiver with dread at the notion of some family tragedy becoming the magnetic force that bonds us together. It's very common.

I remember the death of my grandparents five years ago and how it created this magnetic force within the confines of the family. There were aunts and uncles I had not seen in many years crying on shoulders, going on about how family is the most important thing, especially during such times of sorrow and loss. These things magnify the big picture and lead people to take inventory of what matters and what's petty. Strange as it sounds, tragedy can often cleanse the soul. (Unfortunately, as we all witnessed eventually in the aftermath of 9/11, those big picture vibes tend to fizzle with time, and we can find ourselves scowling at some guy in traffic because he had the nerve to cut us off, but that's not the point here really...)

Wednesday my cell phone rings out and I see it's my youngest sister (12 years younger), E, calling. I won't deny that the call stirred some butterflies in my stomach. Like I said, we don't keep in touch so much, so a call in the middle of the work day isn't exactly commonplace. My fears were confirmed when I answered and immediately heard sobs.

E: Have you heard from mom?

Me: No, what's going on?

E: She's in the hospital...with a blood clot in her lung!

Me: Jesus! Where's dad? I need to call him...I'll call you back.

A lump lodges itself firmly in my throat by the time I reach my parents on my dad's cell phone at the hospital, and I regret forgetting to close my office door before calling them, as tears already stream down my face. I turn to face the window and catch the news from my mother, who seems completely calm and collected. Here's the funny thing about my mother -- she can let the most inane things get under her skin in day-to-day life, but when there's a crisis, she has ice in her veins and keeps it together.

The gist of it is that she happened to be at a doctor's appointment, after feeling crummy for a week, and some test revealed this blood clot in her lungs. Apparently it originated in her leg,took the scenic route through her body, including her heart, and parked itself in her lung. It's practically a miracle that she did not have a stroke.

That afternoon she had an ultrasound examination to determine where the clot was born and whether it had any siblings anywhere else in her blood stream. Obviously I have not seen any of the images, but I can imagine that they were hazy and impressionistic to the naked and untrained eye. When it was all said and done, the ultrasound provided positive news -- no other clots.

My mother remains in the hospital for observation and further tests, and I remain at the ready, in case I need to board a plane. The latest news is that she is going to be completely fine, so I am breathing a little easier at the moment.

Ultrasound 3: Thursday

This one was scheduled and something we've been anticipating for many weeks. My wife recently passed the 20 week point in her pregnancy, meaning the time had come for calling out this unborn child on its sexuality.

Thursday morning my jaws, ear drums, and head ached terribly due to me grinding the hell out of my teeth in my sleep the night before. Clearly I experienced plenty of tension the previous day and night, given the situation with my mother, so it's a relief to report that no dramatic back story comes with this ultrasound experience, which is a good thing because my bigger picture could use some light-hearted hues.

So, I'm elated to announce that the Jackal has a brother on the way!!!

The ultrasound images of this little guy, oddly enough, were crystal clear to me. Maybe I'm beginning to see the forest for the trees? Possibly, but I can say for sure that all the less-than-mediocre sentiments I expressed last week about this pregnancy being a drag were washed away as I soaked up this experience. He's beautiful and I can't wait to meet him.

The big picture is getting bigger, so naturally it makes sense that my insurance agent called me this morning (how the hell did he know???) to discuss expanding my life insurance policy. I'm meeting him next week, then I might have to do something shallow and petty just to balance these scales a bit. I mean, a little symmetry is not such a bad thing, right?

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