Waiting for Medical Results and Momento Mori

A few weeks ago I had something of a medical concern. I am usually one to take a wait and see if it goes away approach, but this caught my attention in a way that I thought would be best not to wait and see. I’m sure you’re curious what it was. Don’t worry, it wasn’t something weird or gross. Just some blood in my urine. If it turns out that actually is weird and gross for you to read, imagine how I felt.

Upon noticing this symptom, I naturally immediately assumed I had cancer. Maybe prostate, maybe bladder, maybe kidney, maybe all of the above. Wanting to give myself the opportunity to catch it early, I made a doctor’s appointment. I tried to anyway.

After initially being told it would be several weeks until the doctor could see me, I was told to go get blood work and a urine test done and they would schedule something from there. Clearly the scheduler at the doctor’s office did not have the same sense of urgency to find out why my insides were bleeding that I did. The next day I went and filled the cup and got my blood drawn. They told me the results would be available within a day. The wonders of modern medicine! However, there is a big difference between results being available and results being understandable. The wonders of modern medicine.

As soon as I got the notification email that my results were in I went to my patient portal to see the news. Most of the results were normal, but a few things on the list had a big yellow caution icon next to them. My white blood cells were low, my bilirubin was high, and the specific gravity of my urine was low. I’m no doctor, but I have seen every episode of ER, and know that low white count is bad and high bilirubin means your liver isn’t working. I have no idea what specific gravity of urine means, but having piss that defies gravity actually seems kind of cool.

Even though I knew I shouldn’t, I Googled what that combination of results couldn’t mean. Even though I knew a medical professional is more reliable than WebMD, I was now convinced my liver was failing.

A few hours after the results were available, I got another notification. A message from the doctor – “Call my office to make an appointment so we can discuss the results.” I couldn’t help but notice she didn’t say anything about not having liver cancer. The soonest I could get an appointment was in two weeks. You can sure do a lot of thinking in two weeks.

Naturally, my first thought was how soon would be too soon to take the once in a lifetime trip for my kids to Disney World? Am I too old to qualify for Make-a-Wish? Do I go now while I am still feeling healthy, or wait until I’m more sickly and and use a wheelchair to skip to the front of the line at Space Mountain?

My second thought was I need to be more intentional with the time I spend with my family. Have I been wasting my time? Have I been spending it rather than investing it? Is this whar Tim McGraw was singing about? Should have been living like I was dying for my next thirty years instead of still getting down on the farm? Mostly I thought how strange it is that we only start to look at our time critically once we realize we might not have as much of it as we thought.

Why do we wait for some huge news or some major life event to look more critically at what we do with our time? I get that it seems completely depressing if you were constantly aware of the fact each day of your life is more day closer to your death, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore it. I am sure on some level our minds purposely block those thoughts for us as a way to keep us happy, and we shouldn’t dwell on the fact we are all going to die someday. However, should thinking about our mortality depress us or motivate us? Deflate us or inspire us? Momento mori the Stoics say – remember you must die. Not to make you sad about dying, but to make you excited about living.

I tried not to dwell on anything until I talked to the doctor, and over the passing days I found myself not thinking about what might be wrong with me, but about what kind of life I want to live. I thought about how to focus on the things that matter (even started reading a book about it), about job fulfillment beyond a paycheck, about about what I really wanted to do with my time, and yes, about how long could it possibly take to tell me what my test results mean.

After waiting slightly less than patiently for my appointment to come, the day arrived and I went to talk to the doctor. Thankfully, the first thing she said was that while some things where high and some things were low, nothing was too far from normal to indicate something serious. No cancer. No liver failure. While it was good to hear that, I feel like that she could have just told me that in the comments she left in the test results. Or at any point in the last two weeks. We can talk about whatever else we need to talk about in the appointment, but leaving a quick voicemail to let somebody know they don’t have cancer should be standard practice. Hell, shoot me a quick text – “No prostate cancer *eggplant emoji*” would have been great.

Turns out my body is breaking down red blood cells faster than my liver can filter them out. It is exercise induced and mostly harmless. Runner’s bladder they call it. I always loved the quote from Steve Prefontaine, “Somebody may beat me, but they’re going to have to bleed to do it,” but I never thought I would take it so literally. I guess that’s the price I pay for the “free” t-shirt that comes with running a 10k.

I can relax my mind and not think about the worse case scenario anymore. Or at least what the worst case scenario was at the time. Now I know the worst thing I can do is waste my time. My talents. My energy. My life. Apologies to Tim McGraw, but I am still not going to live like I was dying. Rather, I’m going to live like I’m living.

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