Friday morning. While brushing my teeth, thinking through the day ahead (must leave the house by 10:00 to get to my 11:40 annual cardiology check-up in Boston, must take my laptop with access to work files for the inevitable waiting-room doldrums), I suddenly wonder: I see my rheumatologist in two weeks, but I know he ordered a pulmonary function test to be done prior to the visit. Is it today?
My entire afternoon is now in flux. I had a lot of work planned for when I got home. Now I really need to be in full portable office mode. I check emails before I leave. One of my clients needs to discuss a consultant’s proposal. I suggest a 1:30 call. I should be out of my first appointment and waiting for the second by then, and I can park myself in the lobby outside the diagnostic lab for the conference call. Laptop, cellphone and charger stowed in my purse, I head out the door.
Fortunately, traffic is moving well, and I arrive for my first appointment ahead of time. My doc is running a bit behind. There’s an electrical outlet near one of the chairs in the waiting room. Perfect. I set up my laptop with the charger, so I won’t drain the battery later, and begin to work through emails. Of course, this magically conjures the cardiology tech, who calls me in for my appointment.
Juggling purse, coat, computer and cord, I make it through the preliminaries of weight check-in. As she records my blood pressure and oxygenation level, my mind is on my work. I sit on the edge of the exam chair, waiting for her to calibrate the EKG machine, and watch the black second-hand of the wall clock. Click-click-click-click-click.
EKG recorded, I set up my laptop and log into the WIFI. I’m about to start up with the emails, but stop myself. Oh, right. The reason I’m here is to see my cardiologist. Better make some notes about issues to discuss. I jot these down in a small notebook and go back to work. I finish typing as my cardiologist enters the room. Switch gears. This is about my health, now.
Ok, focus. The main issue of concern is a recent episode of shortness of breath. At a party in March, I had been dancing vigorously and then stopped because my knees were getting tired. As soon as I sat down, I had trouble catching my breath. This is why I have the PFT scheduled at 2:30, to get a current reading on my diffusion rate. My cardiologist reviews the details carefully. We have been working with a hypothesis of exercise-induced pulmonary hypertension, a variant of late-stage complications of scleroderma, for several years, now. It could be that, it could be something else. But the episodes are infrequent (fortunately), my echocardiogram history is consistent and my meds are all in order, so for now, he tells me, just avoid sudden, strenuous exertion, which seems to be the trigger. Keep on exercising, though. And if it happens spontaneously or more frequently, call him. He schedules a follow-up in six months. I feel reassured.
Over the next hour, I fit in lunch and search for a quiet place to work with a WIFI signal. This takes persistence. The signal is inconsistent, depending on location. But by 1:30, I’m back online, in a lobby with hardly anyone around, and am able to speak for a half-hour with my clients in NYC. I follow up with some other business, plus texts and emails with my eldest daughter. I make it to the pulmonary function lab at exactly 2:30.
More waiting. The lab tech needs to make a call, so I squeeze in another text response. Now for the tests. She reviews the procedure, which I’ve done many times, and begins instructing me to first breathe normally into the tubing attached to diagnostic equipment, then take a big breath in, push it all out and another big breathe in. It’s physically challenging for me, and requires mindful awareness of what constitutes a full breath in and a full breath out. As we’re running the test, she chats with another tech who is making a phone call.
Then a doctor—I assume, he’s wearing a white lab coat and the techs wear blue scrubs—steps into the open doorway. We’re repeating the test, the tech is waving her hand in a sine curve to indicate I should continue normal breathing, I’m trying to focus on what I’m supposed to be doing, and he’s telling her that there’s an issue with her quality scores for some research study that they’re involved in. He continues to discuss this with her as she defends herself and interjects verbal and visual cues to me—when to push out, when to breathe in.
Finally he leaves. Time for a break between tests. She realizes she forgot to set up the next test correctly and needs to recalibrate the equipment. She’s obviously flustered. I try to say something reassuring. I field another text from my daughter as we wait. We talk about our children, about texting, about staying in touch. I feel awkward for her. How humiliating, that her superior would give her critical feedback while I’m sitting there. And how uneasy it makes me feel, wondering if she knows what she’s doing, though she certainly seems to. And how ridiculous, to be conducting that conversation while we’re engaged in a diagnostic that requires concentration.
But of course, we all multitask. It’s a given, right?
Later, much later, after I’ve driven home through Friday afternoon traffic and have finished all the record-keeping, follow-up emails and return phone calls, and I can finally forget about work and relax over Shabbat dinner, I pause and notice—the pink peonies and purple irises in a blue ceramic vase, the white candles flickering, Ginger’s steady panting under the table, the smell of warm challah and sweet potatoes and baked cod. So good to slow down and just be. So good.
Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.