Dealing with medical uncertainty

April 2020
Phyllis Shragge

I was injured one dark October night. It wasn’t my fault. I blame an exterior wall for the mishap. True, I was walking and simultaneously writing a text, but the wall should have been paying more attention to its surroundings.

I scraped my arm on the stucco and blood gushed from my wound. I gasped. I swore. Then I decided a mature response was warranted, so I rinsed my arm with running water, applied a topical antibiotic ointment and put on a Band-Aid. 

I thought that was that, but the scrape bled for a week. And when it eventually stopped bleeding, it looked weird. 

What were those tiny yellowish bumps?  And why did it hurt more now that it did before? Was it infected?

I did some research on Google. I was more confused after my research than before. For an entire weekend, I debated the pros and cons of making a doctor’s appointment. I was worried that if there was no infection, I would be embarrassed for making a big deal out of nothing. Finally, on Monday morning, I made an appointment. The doctor would see me at 10:15 a.m.

As I drove to the office, I realized that I wanted to have an infection. I really did. Had my injury affected my thinking process? Was I that desperate for validation? 

If my car windshield has a tiny crack, I race to get it repaired. If my toilet plugs, I call the plumber. If my dining room light flickers on and off, I don’t hesitate to call an electrician. But when it comes to seeking medical help, I worry about looking stupid. I don’t take my health for granted. I know I’m lucky to have no major medical issues. But don’t minor problems need attention? Why was I feeling guilty about bothering the doctor?  

I arrived at the doctor’s office a few minutes before the scheduled appointment. As I sat on a chair in the waiting room, I realized that I was glad that my scrape was stinging. Yes, I was glad. And when I saw the doctor and he confirmed the scrape was infected, I was relieved. I wonder about my sanity.

Perhaps my concern about medical validation is a reaction to losing a buffer, my own personal expert on health. My husband Bill, a cardiac surgeon, and I were married for 37 years until his death in 2012. He was my family’s rock in so many ways, especially in matters concerning health. If anyone in the family had a medical issue, we would turn to him. Most of the time, he would reassure us that there was nothing to worry about, but occasionally, he would make sure we consulted our family doctor or a specialist.  

Bill’s passing meant I lost not only my best friend and confidant, but suddenly I was thrust into a sphere of medical uncertainty. I realize that when Bill was my medical resource, I was in a privileged position, and I was lucky. Should I feel guilty? Or should there have been some benefit to all those long, long days at the hospital and all those weekends on call? 

Now, I deal with medical problems the old-fashioned way, by looking online.

I guess I could have worse problems than worrying about whether my medical issues are bad enough to warrant a doctor’s appointment.  I know that someday there won’t be any question about it. 

In the meantime, I promise to avoid wayward walls while I’m texting.

Phyllis Shragge is a local writer, mother of five, and grandmother of four.