(an entry for the On Display
collab: "Little Things")
5 April 2003
The old woman had been coming into our office for weeks. She was
stooped, grumpy, disheveled. She had a lot of problems. Her main problem was that all of
her internal organs were falling out, a common problem with older women who have given
birth to many children (I say, as a getting-older-woman who has given birth to many
children, and who is keeping her fingers crossed that all those organs stay put!)
She traveled a long distance to come here, and each time it was a
struggle getting her to come in. She has an active, intellectually-stimulating job which
keeps her busy and somehow she always complained about "having" to come in
again, though she kept coming. The problem was severe enough that she wanted it fixed.
Finally surgery was scheduled, but because of her frail health and
complicated condition (which required two different specialists to repair), the workup
prior to surgery was extensive. There were appointments with a cardiologist, with the lab,
with a couple of urologists, with the hospital to make arrangements. With each phone call,
each appointment, each new thing that came about because of something found on the prior
exam, she grumbled more. Each time she came in, she was just that much more disheveled. At
one point she told me that if I called her about one more appointment, she was just going
to cancel the whole thing. In fact, she very nearly did cancel it the day prior to surgery
when told she would have to stop at the lab for one last test.
But she didn't. She hung in there and the surgery was performed.
She came back recently for her post-op visit. I couldn't believe it.
She was a new person. She had been reborn. Her hair was combed for the first time since I
met her. What's more she was wearing make-up. She had a big smile on her face and spoke
with animation. When she went to disrobe for the post-op exam, I asked her husband, who
accompanied her, how things were going. He gave a big grin and the thumbs-up sign.
Amazing what letting little problems fester will do for you...and
amazing what a difference confronting them and working to solve them can make!
I'm thinking of the times in my life when little things began to
gnaw at me. Little physical things, or little emotional things. I'm a great one for
ignoring warning signs, for putting off dealing with things until they can no longer be
ignored. By the time I finally confront them, the little molehills in my minds have begun
to rival the Rockies in size.
Years ago I began to ignore my dental hygiene, for example--as the
result of a very negative experience with a dentist when I was pregnant with Tom. At first
it was out of anger at the dentist, and then it was out of fear for the damage I had done
to my teeth. Never one to look at things sensibly, I was too embarrassed to have the
damage fixed because it would involve admitting to another dentist that I'd let my teeth
Over the years, the condition of my teeth became the whole focus of
my thought process. During waking hours, I was worried about them on some level of my
consciousness all the time. At night I dreamed about them. There were periods of intense
pain when I couldn't push the worry to the back; I just had to tough it out until that
period of pain passed.
I put off dealing with the problem for 20 years. When I finally
reached the breaking point--I was convinced the front teeth were about ready to fall out
at any moment--I called Cindy and made my confession. She set me up for an appointment at
the end of her day, to avoid my having to deal with the embarrassment of losing my teeth
while there were other people in the office.
We discovered that while yes, I had done damage to my teeth,
miraculously it wasn't nearly as bad as I'd feared all those years and for a well-earned
fee (which I tease her probably put at least two of her children through college), I had
my teeth back--all of them, I had my smile back, and most importantly, I had my peace of
I was not unlike our patient and the obvious weight that has been
lifted from her shoulders now that her surgery has taken place and gone well.
I don't know why we torture ourselves needlessly. Things that start
out small can actually remain relatively small if we deal with them in the beginning. When
we let them sit and fester for days...weeks...years...decades... then the fear of what
will happen when we confront them becomes larger than the "thing" we are afraid
It's a truth I am constantly discovering over and over again as I
begin to face the little things in my life that I've pushed to the back for so long. This
is not to say that confrontation is painless. But it's less painful than suffering in
silence, watching the little things grow into bigger things, watching the molehills morph
I'd like to say I've learned my lesson, but I know I haven't. But
with each little thing that I face, it makes it just that little bit easier to face the
next little thing.