It’s long been established that I am the boy who cries wolf, except for the “boy” part. A visit to the dentist yesterday revealed that I am not going to die of an abscessed tooth. My low platelets simply stooped to a new low, resulting in bleeding in the tooth. No sign of infection. I am absolutely fine, and I have already embraced my mauve-tinged tooth. The dentist was fascinated by the unusual phenomenon and sent a picture to all his dentist friends. Then he nicely told me to leave so he could get on with his real patients, who pay him for teeth cleanings, cavity fillings, and other procedures forbidden to me.
Was I overreacting on the weekend? No, I don’t think so, but I always question whether a symptom warrants a call to the doctor, even now that I am palliative. I hate to bug doctors unless I’m really sick. But as a dying person, how do I define “really sick”? When a new symptom arises, I’ve always been a wait-and-see kind of gal, for fear of anyone viewing me as a hypochondriac. I’d like to give up that label once and for all–I am dying here–but I’ve always tried so hard not to cry wolf that sometimes I’ve swung too far in the laissez-faire direction.
In recent weeks, I am overwhelmed with new symptoms, some minor discomforts, but others causing disabling pain. My legs have been swelling lately, and I’m overwhelmed with intense muscle cramping that hits me at the same time each day. My neck is still swollen, and although the doctor may not be concerned, it may be aggravating a nighttime cough. Dying people need their sleep, and I’m not getting much. And I’m losing weight even though I’m making a deliberate effort to eat, appetite or not. Are any of these symptoms worthy of concern?
Maybe these bodily changes are par for the course of a dying person, yet I’m not sure I want to know. They could also be side effects of the new medications I’m on to manage other symptoms. Wouldn’t that be ironic? Take a drug to fix one problem, and create another one–or two, or three–in its stead.
I could always ask the doctor whether these changes are signs that I am dying, but do I really want to know? No, I don’t. I want to eliminate the symptoms so I can get on with living, rather than fret about my body’s decline. If you were in my shoes, would you ask for clarification? Would you want to know the answer? If so, you’re a braver person than I am.
Nonetheless, I’ve decided that in my dying weeks, or months, or whatever time I have left, I’m going to practice informing the doctor of symptoms I might have without apologizing for wasting his time. Oh, and my days of enduring pain without painkillers are over. I took two Tylenol yesterday! I’m going to go a little easier on myself if my symptom is benign, and the word “hypochondriac” will never again pass these lips. I may drive the doctor crazy, but so be it. He’ll get over it.