The thing about breathing is that it’s essential for living on this planet, so when you start having problems with breathing, everyone freaks out.
It was small at first. I could run and breathe just fine, but I’d feel a tightness in my chest when I was drifting off to sleep. I’d be okay when I was teaching, but the moment I sat down to write I felt like I couldn’t take a full breath. I told my dad about it, and he listened to my heart and my lungs. “It’s nothing,” he said.
My dad always says, “it’s nothing.” One of the few times he said otherwise was just before Shawn was diagnosed with cancer.
But my issues with breathing continued, so I finally went and saw my doctor. She’s one of those awesome people that I feel like would be my regular friend if we had met in another way, and I trust her judgement. I told her about my inability to sometimes catch my breath, and she recommended a few different tests and scans. “I’m sure it’s nothing,” I said.
She said she hoped that it was stress-induced, but that it was important to be cautious because heart problems are often under-diagnosed in women. (Take note, widows!)
In any case, I got the tests. As I waited for the results, I thought, “what if something is really wrong? Who is going to take care of me?”
I realize this is an issue that many single people face, not just widows. I guess the difference for widows is that we’re used to someone taking care of us. We’re used to having a back-up. So when you wake up one morning and find yourself in pain, or slice your finger so badly it won’t stop bleeding all over your cutting board, or come home from work and realize that you are seeing double – well, when that happens you think, “shit, what am I going to do now?“
Of course, I have my dad. He’s so wonderful. And I have my friends and my extended family who would do anything for me. But of course it’s not the same as having a partner. Not even close.
Here’s what made it all so hard – each time I found myself needing to sit down, count to 10 and say to myself, “breathe,” I was reminded of one thing:
How alone I am in this world.
I am lucky that all the tests showed that I am merely under a lot of stress. I strategized with a lot of people about how to do a better job at relaxing, I planned some trips to take, and I thought about the ways that I could de-stress my daily life.
But really, it was my dad who provided probably the best instruction about how to survive health problems after widowhood.
I was away for New Years, soaking up the sun, and my dad was home alone with the kids. Each time I’d text him to ask how things were going, he’d text back, “everything is fine.”
When I actually got home, he answered the door and I about fell over. He had a massive 2-inch gash that ran from the middle of his eyebrows to the top of his forehead. “What happened?” I almost screamed at him.
“Oh, I tripped on the steps outside,” he said, “and hit my head on the concrete. The kids were at school so it was no big deal.”
“Did you go to the hospital?” I asked him.
“Hell, no,” he said. “I just super-glued it.”
“Wait – what? You super-glued your head back together?”
“Yes,” he said. “It wasn’t that bad. I washed it off in the sink and held the wound together as the glue dried. No big deal.”
I looked at the cut. It was truly terrible-looking. “People at the kids’ school must have freaked out when they saw that,” I said. “You should have gotten stitches.”
“Luckily it’s cold, so I always have on a hat,” he said, “but really, it’s nothing that I couldn’t deal with myself. Sometimes things like this happen, Marjorie. Sometimes you have to go to the ER. But sometimes, you can just super-glue it.”
I laughed. “Well, it’s a good thing you don’t care about cosmetic issues,” I teased him, and he smiled. But it made me think. Maybe the best cure for my physical ailments is just a bit more of this mentality – the one that says that things will be okay, and that every little thing isn’t cause for alarm.
My dad should know. He’s been figuring out how to handle things like this by himself for over two decades.
Sometimes when you find yourself sliced open, you just super-glue it.