Trick or Treatment
Halloween may be over, but here’s something that could scare the wits out of you — or into you: Doubt can be dangerous, at least when it comes to your own hunches and intuition.
Shelley had gone to see her doctor last July because she was having frightening cardiac symptoms, and he sent her to the hospital, where she got an angeogram and a new stent, her fifth, in one of her arteries. That should have made her better, but it didn’t, and the symptoms persisted.
Every couple of weeks, she’d go for a follow up to her doctor and also to her new cardiologist who had inserted that stent, to tell them of her chest pressure and pain. And each time they’d introduce a new medication or up the dosage of the old. Which would work…for about 3 or 4 days, and then her symptoms would return.
And every now and then I’d think – This is nuts. Maybe her cardiologist missed something during that treatment. Or maybe his new stent had somehow created another problem…? I hope Shelley’s doctor suggests she have another Angeogram, because if they find another blockage and then open it up, it would explain and resolve all of this.
But that’s when my inner goblin of negation would kick in. I seem to be haunted by a constant critic who’s like some vampire that sucks the lifeblood out of my self-trust.
You see, I believe it’s what we tell ourselves about what we see or sense that’s at least as important as what we perceive. I mean, you could take a camera into the park on a spring day, with bluebirds and blue skies and blossoms all around. But if your lens is yellowed, everything is just going to turn out looking jaundiced.
Likewise, you could see something clearly, but if your inner lens is one of self-doubt, you’re going to doubt what you see.
So I’d let these thoughts about Shelley go. I knew she had no yen to return to the hospital, and who was I to push for this? She was under the care of two doctors who seemed to agree with each other. So I brushed my hunches away.
In the meantime, Shelley was going through her own process.
She too has an inner critic, and sometimes doubts her own experience, as we all do. So when two doctors kept telling her to just rest and take her pills, she did. And when she’d keep returning to their offices with her complaints, their attitude seemed to be — Get used to it, and if you’re having strong chest pressure, just pop another nitroglycerin. And a month ago, when one of them, seeming exasperated at seeing her again, told her that if she keeps feeling anxious, she should go see a psychiatrist and get some pills for that, she did. But she was also getting pissed off.
“Am I imagining all this stuff?” She’d say, half in self-doubt but with a growing frustration. “I don’t think I am.”
Here’s a Halloween scare: Experts with titles and authority. They put on white coat costumes and we get spooked. And we think — certainly they must know what they’re talking about.
Then, when Shelley and I were down at Occupy Wall Street, and she had symptoms simply from standing there, she’d had enough. “Something’s just not right”. Her body was telling her something — that the treatment she was getting was just not good enough — and she chose to listen.
So last Monday, she marched back to her doctor’s office and demanded a second opinion, from a different cardiologist.
Dr. Hong, the new Cardiologist, upon listening to her doctor’s briefing over the phone, didn’t hesitate.
“Have her call me.”
When she did, he said, “Let’s do an Angeogram. Can you make it in tomorrow?”
Twenty four hours later, Hong is done. He walks out of the Catheterization Lab, which he runs there at St. Lukes Roosevelt, and tells me the news about Shelley.
Part of an artery, right below where she’d had a stent inserted, was 90-95% blocked. And he was able to open it up.
I gasped a tear of relief.
So my hunch had been right! But what if Shelley had continued to doubt herself, and me myself along with her?
When it comes to your own experience, or hunches, doubt can be dangerous.
As can hospitals: Later that night, Shelley was in a bed in the Cardiac unit, suffering from persistent chest pressure. Why? Was it just an echo of the work Hong had done a few hours earlier? The nurse offered her Morphine. Suddenly Shelley realized, Wait a minute! I haven’t had my (heart) medication in 24 hours! Give me my Imdur!
Why hadn’t anyone else there thought of this? Like the floor nurse, or the doctor who had told her to fast and refrain from her meds that morning?
(Later I look it up on Drugs.com: “Do not stop taking Imdur suddenly. Stopping suddenly could cause a severe angina attack.” When Shelley, a nurse herself, later told her peers at her old job what had happened, they were aghast).
A half hour after receiving her medication, she felt almost completely better, and could finally sleep. The next day, she came home.
Last night, Shelley went out to walk through our neighborhood, happily handing out candy to little kids in cute costumes in tow with their parents. Infants dressed as angels floated by in their carriages.
“What a great costume!” She exclaimed to a dog, with no costume, on a leash. The dog just looked big eyed at this spunky little woman with the wild and free hair and soul who just might not have made it to Halloween had she not listened to her own body.
And come to think of it, the scariest costume one might ever wear may be this: A cloak of self-doubt.