I have, as is my unfortunate pattern, been lax in maintaining this blog, so I’m writing tonight, since I’m fresh out of excuses why I shouldn’t. The first month of 2016 is at an end as of tomorrow, and it’s been a pretty good one thus far for me.
My annual aneurysm check was in mid-December, and the cardiologist was quite pleased. The bulge in my thoracic aorta has actually contracted. Had it dilated any further, this would have warranted additional monitoring, but he told me that if it continues to get smaller. It is now at 3.9 cm, which is 0.3 less than it was in December of 2014. If it continues this way, I can go for monitoring every two years instead of annually.
Those birthdays that end with 0 are the ones where you start thinking about mortality, and having a condition like an aneurysm–even though it doesn’t seem to be life-threatening at the moment–helps to drive home the point that I statistically have more years behind me than I do ahead of me. (Many of the relatives on my mother’s side of the family lived very long lives, but what they experienced during those many years made me realize that it’s the quality of the years, not the number of years, that make the difference.)
I know that I can take some credit for the improvement in the aneurysm. I have been trying to monitor and log my calorie intake on My Fitness Pal, and I am piling on the walking miles daily. (Even when the temperature has dipped into the teens, which has been rarely thus far in ’16, I’ve been walking outside. The Convention Center is undergoing major repairs at the moment, and walking around sawhorses, dropcloths, power tool cords, and lumber is a pain.)
Almost two weeks ago, I bought a Fitbit Flex at Target, and, except for when I’ve been in the shower, it has been on my right wrist constantly, counting the number of steps I take, and even how much (or little, as is usually the case with me) I sleep. I am still getting accustomed to wearing it, even though I habitually wore at least one bracelet on my right wrist for most of my teens. Based on my height and weight, the Fitbit recommends 10 thousand steps daily and I have reached that goal every day except once. On Thursday, I learned that I earned the Penguin March Badge for having logged 70 miles. (This award’s name comes from the distance of the March of the Penguins, walked by emperor pigeons to their breeding grounds. I could make an editorial comment here about the lengths to which males will go to get sex, but I’m reining myself in for once.)
Long ago, I stopped wondering about what would happen if I died. This was because I realized that plenty would happen–it’s just that none of it would involve me.
I don’t consider myself a morbid person, but one thing the aneurysm did teach me was to no longer take for granted that I am youthful and will always emerge unscathed from any physical or emotional crisis I might experience. I think back to when I slipped on the ice and waited two weeks before I accepted the fact that the wrist might be broken, and not just bruised. When I reread A. Conan Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, for the first time since high school, I paid closer attention to the character Jefferson Hope because he, like I, had an aortic aneurysm. (Conan Doyle, a physician, described it as a ticking time bomb that could explode at any moment, and, in true late 19th-century dramatic fashion, it did just that.)
I try to steer away from reading mortality into any anomaly that I find in my body. Middle age is the time when physicians start telling you to look for all the dangers–that mole that is changing shape and color, that twinge in the left side of the chest that is becoming more than a mere annoyance, getting up from the toilet and seeing a bowl full of blood–and it is key (I keep telling myself) to stop expecting them.
This is a far cry from the immortality that all of us took for granted as children and teenagers. When we look back on it, the familiar refrain of “It’s a wonder we didn’t get our damn fool selves killed” is the first thing to spring to mind.