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I am mortal.

July 19th, 2005 · 9 Comments

Last night I was in the ER. A sharp pain had started in my abdomen around lunch time and when it didn’t disappear by dinner, despite extra-strength Tylenol, I decided to call my doctor. The nurse on the phone told me I should go to the emergency room since I could have appendicitis. I packed a bag of tolietries, grabbed a backpack of books for the girls and headed to the van with my family.

I had never had to go to the emergency room or seek urgent medical care, except for one incident of early labor with my second pregnancy. The possibility of appendicitis frightened me. Given the location and sensation of the pain, I could have a number of problems. Sure, I let my mind run away with me, but what if I was seriously ill? What if I needed surgery? What if something was really wrong with me?

After the girls went into the van, Ted cautioned me to be calm in front of the kids and not mention the possibility of surgery. I was trying, but he was right. They were already frightened and panicking at the mention of an operation for Mommy. I felt sorry and selfish.

As we headed down the highway to the hospital, I tried to be calm. What if these were the last moments I had with my family? Yes, I was quite possibly overreacting.

But as I watched the trees pass by the window, the lines of yellow and white on black, the signs marking miles on the highway, I realized for the first time, as I never had before, my own mortality. Someone I love was in an accident this weekend and this has also been on my mind the past few days. As we were driving, I remembered Tom Guarriello’s post on the fragility and uncertainty of human life and the sad situations he had seen. I felt surrounded by the truth of our brevity as human beings. Someday my number would be up. Someday it will be my turn to die. Someday I will say goodbye to my family, whether or not I actually get to say the words.

How do I want to spend the rest of my life? No matter how long or short it is, it is still mine to spend, until the end.

I started praying, asking God for forgiveness, asking Jesus for mercy. Ways I had failed to love God and others, mistakes made in my spiritual life, wasted time, I confessed with regrets, hoping, begging for more chances to grow.

The pain ached, as if I were in early labor. But I turned around from my seat and smiled at my girls. Sometimes smiles are superficial. But I wasn’t pretending. I was grateful for them. As a mother I had to be brave for my girls. My first duty was to my daughters. If these were my last moments as their mother, how did I want them to remember this? I needed to help them.

Our two-year old was young enough to be oblivious. She was enjoying the tape of children’s music playing in the van. I remember her big happy smile. “I like this song!” The other two seemed more affected, but I tried to talk with them, explaining that I might need an x-ray, attempting to show them by my own example that everything was all right with the world. My own faith is fragile and weak, and my emotions were a mess last night, however I know that God is in the center and at the core of all of life. Everything is all right. Always. Some way. Somehow.

I’ll fast forward the rest of the story. Ted and the girls waited for me for three hours while I sat in the exam room, staring at the gray curtain pulled around me from the ceiling. Blood and urine were tested, my body was poked and examined to eliminate various possibilities (dooce’s post yesterday was an appropriate one for me). Although the nurse on the phone had mentioned an x-ray and so did the ER nurse practitioner at first, it seemed that imaging wasn’t necessary after all. I had an IV for the first time and medicine was delivered through the tube in my arm. When the pain went away, that seemed to eliminate the serious possibilities. I was sent home with a note stating my diagnosis of Abdominal Pain of Unknown Cause.

I’m grateful! I’m thankful for my patient husband, Ted, and our daughters who waited for me. I’m glad my nurse practitioner was so helpful, explaining everything. I’m thankful nothing major was wrong. And I’m thankful for Dooce and her sense of humor again in her timely post yesterday that gave me a smile in the midst of the ER: As I lay there, feet perched in horse stirrups stamped with ZOLOFT ZOLOFT ZOLOFT, I thought to myself, please. Take your time. This, this is just so lovely.

The tests and monitoring though revealed a couple concerns that I need to pursue with my primary care physician next week. I feel frustrated. I guess I still think of myself as young. I think of myself as healthy. I eat well, for the most part. I exercise. How can I have problems?

I’ve lost a brother and others I’ve loved in life. I spent much of my childhood seeing my brother sick, watching him in the hospital, knowing he could die. Yet it was something else to meet the possibility of my own mortality for the first time face to face.

I cried last night. I was tired. I was exhausted after days of busyness and dehydration, summer weather finally arriving in Seattle. I cry easily and it is a way I react to stressful situations, my response, my release of feelings. I didn’t want to go to the ER. That evening, we had planned to take our other car to the shop. We’ve been planning to service the other car for months and we had finally made the appointment. I wanted to get that task done. However, I knew I didn’t feel well enough to drive an hour to the shop. I felt guilty that Ted and the girls had to wait for me hours and hours. I kept wondering how they were doing. I worried how much this trip to the ER would cost, and what effect it would have on our future applications for health insurance. Alone in my exam room I finally had a chance to rest and let down after intense days spent running to activities against a ticking clock.

Sure I was scared. But I think I may have also been mourning my youth. Yes, some people are sick from birth, like my brother. However, I guess I assumed I would be healthy until I was older.

Ronni at Time Goes By posted a refreshing essay last week (possibly written by Anne LaMott) that’s stayed in my mind, especially this paragraph.

And I know the truth that l am not going to live forever, and this has set me free. Eleven years ago, when my friend Pammy was dying at the age of 37 we went shopping at Macy’s. She was in a wheelchair, with a wig and three weeks to live. I tried on a short dress and came out to model it for Pammy. I asked if she thought it made me look big in the thighs, and she said, so kindly, “Annie? You just don’t have that kind of time.” I live by this story.

Recently I also discovered Rhymes with Drowning, a blog written by a man who lost the love of his life to an unusual cancer last year. She was 35. His words leave me without words and remind me of truth, perhaps especially because his family is young, like ours.

I’m not going to live forever. This morning may be my last. Or I could have another ten thousand sunrises to see. Either way, I now know I need to take better care of myself. My first duty is to my daughters. But that also means taking care of their mommy, not ignoring her needs for theirs. I don’t want my days to be overloaded with what shouldn’t be important or merit even a moment of consideration. There’s both an urgency and a peace in me. What do I want to see painted on the canvas or sung in the song that is my existence here? Who will know I loved them? What will last from my life? I’d been planning to examine myself and yesterday’s emergency room trip only intensified my desire to simplify and focus. How am I spending the hours I’ve been given? What is it I want to do before I die? What am I wasting with worry about silly things? The clock is ticking. I just don’t have that kind of time.

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9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Katherine // Jul 19, 2005 at 10:14 am

    Glad you’re okay, Julie. I love you!

  • 2 C.K. Sample, III // Jul 19, 2005 at 1:28 pm

    Good post. Glad you are okay and taking care.

  • 3 Amanda // Jul 19, 2005 at 9:40 pm

    Julie, I’m glad it doesn’t look like anything serious, and I do hope you continue to feel better.

  • 4 enoch choi // Jul 19, 2005 at 11:10 pm

    Thank God you’re ok…

  • 5 Peter // Jul 19, 2005 at 11:40 pm

    What an ordeal! Hope everything continues to go well, Julie.

    Those reminders of mortality can be sobering. I went to the memorial of a friend of mine a few years ago, who died of melanoma. What struck me was that he was the first person my age I knew who had died of an illness, rather than by accident. It made me a bit paranoid, and I had a mole on my foot removed a few weeks later.

  • 6 Steve Kirks // Jul 22, 2005 at 4:20 am


    Bless you and your family, Julie.

  • 7 Beth // Jul 22, 2005 at 9:04 am

    Julie – glad you’re okay! That quote is definitely from Anne Lamott.

  • 8 Morrie // Jul 22, 2005 at 4:23 pm

    Hang in there kiddo. Hope your Dr gives you the all clear.

  • 9 Karen Provost Riegert // May 13, 2006 at 8:15 pm

    Hi Julie!
    Just checking in…

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