48. Health Scare: Selfishness and Duty

Like many people, I detest going to the doctor. Growing up in Italy, where medical care is a right and affordable, I would run into our local doctor at a grocery store or on the street, and he would say “Why don’t you grace my office with your presence sometime.”

I saw no need to do so. I felt great, I was thin but strong, with a good appetite. And from all the years when I was a little kid and my dad would take me from one m.d. to another in search of a “cure” for my undiagnosed cerebral palsy, I was convinced that most doctors knew little of the human body and were mostly useless.

Once I’ve formed an opinion about something or someone, it takes a profound shift for me to change my mind. Others have simply called me capa tosta (hard-headed).

So now I live in the U.S., married, a little paunchy, and leading a comfortable, simple life. Early on, my wife and I made a pact that preserving our health is a primary factor in continuing to enjoy our lives together well into old age. She has always insisted that I have a primary care physician (PCP) and regular checkups. My wife can be very insistent, and because I believe in “happy wife, happy life,” I have dutifully visited doctors, surrendered seemingly quarts of blood for testing, and put up with endless droning about losing weight, cutting back on salt, and getting more exercise.

There is a common heart-related condition that runs in my family. I was aware that I, too, had this condition while I was still in Italy. I never did anything about it because I hate taking medicines (see a pattern here?) and I felt fine.

For the last year or so, I have not felt so fine. The sensation that something was wrong kept growing in me. But I tried not to let my wife know. I did not want to worry her and to have her start ranting about seeing a doctor.

I did not succeed in hiding my feelings. Because most things were in lock-down due to the pandemic and my wife did not think much of the care I was getting at a medical clinic, she did not harp much on my going to a doctor. But she would roll her eyes up to heaven whenever she’d hear me ask my sister and my friends what could be causing my tiredness and headaches.

Recently, I got onto a different health insurance plan, and I went to a new PCP. My wife and I explained my symptoms to him, and he performed an EKG in office.

After looking at the results, did the PCP looked concerned! That scared me more than anything. I was tired, but I had no chest pain or shortness of breath. Otherwise, the doctor surely would have called an ambulance to take me to a hospital. He urged me to go to a hospital emergency room anyway, gave me some samples of medication – he even had me take the first pill right there in front of him – and insisted I see a cardiologist. I was also given an appointment to see the PCP again in a week’s time.

Of course, I did not go to an emergency room. I told my wife that I was fine, just a little tired. I slept really well that night, and I continued to take the pills the doctor had given me. I started to convince myself that he had scared me needlessly.

One day during a car ride, we were talking about something or other, when my wife casually tossed off the remark, “and I can’t sleep, thinking that you could soon die.” That left me speechless.

I knew my wife had been falling asleep at her regular time, then waking up after a couple of hours. In the mornings when I would get up, she would be in front of her laptop. I realized that she had less energy and was starting to look worn down.

All the time I had been cavalier about my health, I did not seriously consider the effect I has having on her. She had not been nagging me to see a doctor, to take my medication, etc. just to be annoying. My wife had been suffering anxiously, in silence. She loves me, and I was making her suffer.

Since then, I have seen a cardiologist. He listened to me carefully, calmly, and changed my medication. I am starting to do better, not just physically, but in my duty as a husband. Most likely I will stumble again, but I will not forget my wife’s words in the car.

Have you every realized the effect that your self-centeredness has on other people?

Life is an Uphill Struggle – Old Québec City, Canada courtesy of ‘Anton’

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