The Fears of a Person With Chronic Illness Who's Dealing With a New Health Problem

Tomorrow I have to have a CAT scan. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t my first time at the rodeo. I have had more MRIs and CAT scans than I can count. My mother once jokingly suggested that we could’ve saved money if we had just bought our own MRI machine. And every time a tech asks if this is my first scan, I joke about needing a punchcard — “buy nine, get the 10th free!”

But this time I’m nervous. This one is out of bounds for my illness. You see, since I started this journey back in late 1999, I have become accustomed to the testing and procedures associated with my disease. I can’t say I love 24-hour urine collections or closed MRIs of the brain (with contrast for that extra kick), but I am comfortable enough with them and I know what the outcomes mean, regardless of which way they fall. It’s the newness that scares me.

You see, if you are sick long enough (here’s where the chronic part comes into play), it is highly likely that your original illness is just the first line you fill out on the new doctor’s form. And, after a while, you might just need to ask for an extra sheet of paper as an addendum to your health history.

This is the part that scares me. The new problem. The unintended effects of something used to treat one thing at some time that would magically cure me of my ills. The magic pill that will never exist, no matter how hard I wish it so.

It’s the reason I cannot sleep before I am scheduled to see a new provider. I am used to the constant anxiety buzzing in my brain: Will she believe me? Will he scoff at who I am and what I have been through, believing instead that his specialty is the only one that matters? Refusing to veer off a predetermined course to see me as a whole? These questions seem to be an unfortunate side effect of being chronically unhealthy in the 21st century, but there is a familiarity in this anxiety. A recognition of uncomfortable knowledge settles uneasily in my stomach.

It is these fears that I will mask with a smile and a quip as the technician places a pillow under my knees and another speaks to me from the booth, his voice tinny and crackling from the speaker above. I will press down my new fears of “what if” and “why” until they become something tangible and real. I tell myself, don’t worry about anything until there is something to worry about. They say there is strength in knowledge and I believe that to be true, but in the case of my health I also must remember to deal with what is in front me in the present, not what may be coming later. I cannot allow my fears to run away to WebMD and imagine all of the bad things that could happen if…

So I will breath. As I stare up at the pictures of palm trees painstakingly illuminated above the giant humming machine, I will breathe.

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