Hot water pelted my back that stunning, late summer morning. I stretched my neck toward my chest and sighed in pleasure. I adore hot water. My soapy fingertips slid down my neck then stopped at a bump a few inches under my left jaw. I pressed at it. Hard and painless. A jab of fear made me frown. What is it?
Nothing clearly, just a swollen lymph gland that will quickly disappear.
Placing a hand over my obstinate, rounded belly, I pushed it in; it popped right out. Despite sporadic dieting and occasionally resisting that second—or third—glass of wine, the tummy bulge had moved in, loved the location, and wasn’t going anywhere. Good God, Dan, my husband, thought it was sexy. It made me feel tubby and old. Add to the waist creep, “noun droppage”: the charming inability to remember names of Presidents, books, countries…. Who was the President after Ford? Ford? He was a President, wasn’t he?
Like my chubby belly, noun droppage, and now this thing on my neck that had a shape and size, a location and a hard feel under my fingertips, I’d have to learn to live with it. Still, I was not comatose and—a couple of months after first noticing the lump—I mentioned it to my gynecologist.
“I have a thing, like a knot, on the side of my neck.”
“I have a lump. It might be getting bigger.”
Without a glance, he waved his hand. “You’re just fighting a virus, or something. Don’t worry about it.”
Granted, necks were not his area of expertise, so I accepted—was even relieved at—his latex-glove brush off and continued to ignore the little nuisance, With my hair down—the way I always wore it—the lump was hardly visible.
It’s now a year later, September, 2005, and other symptoms—that I can no longer ignore—indicate that something is very wrong.
Like shortness of breath.
On a recent Sunday, Dan and I begin a two-mile walk. I’d hiked this slight but steady uphill trail dozens of times with little effort. But after less than twenty minutes, gasping for breath, I have to stop. Not just to rest, I’ve already done that twice, but to turn around and go home. This is like Pavarotti pushing himself away from the table without finishing his Primi course. It just doesn’t happen. I rationalize that my fatigue is the result of the pesky little virus, “diagnosed” by my gynecologist; or menopause (boy is that a catchall!); or a funky biorhythm day.
Besides the inability to breathe with any activity, I have night sweats. That symptom gets handily dumped into the menopause bucket. I attribute agonizing leg and foot cramps to too much exertion. (Which is ridiculous since I can’t exercise.)
On the morning of September 15, I wake in damp, tangled sheets. Turning to dislodge my leg, a searing pain shoots up my back. I gasp, breathe, then ease my feet onto the carpeted floor. Dan has already left for work. Wincing as I stand and holding tight to the bannister, I make my cautious way downstairs. In the kitchen, I brew a cappuccino and head to my home office.
Along with the back pain, I type my other oddball symptoms into Google. In a nanosecond, the results flash onto my computer screen: a kidney infection. A quick trip to the doctor, a bottle of antibiotics, and I’ll be fine. I down three aspirin and call to make a same-day appointment.