When I first realized I had a disease that could destroy my life, and then kill me, I was afraid.
Sleepless nights were spent fretting about what direction my illness would take and whether I would live to be .... whatever. I come from a long line of people who live to be very, very old. I intended to continue that trend for another generation.
After endless doctor visits, tests and consultations the worries waned. My disease became familiar. My condition stabilized mostly. A year went by and then another and although I was in pain all the time, none of my organs were being compromised. Fear slid into a separate compartment of my psyche, more of a dull ache I had to look for than a sharp jab that demanded immediate attention.
The one medical test I never had was an MRI. My insurance doesn't cover it until I've met the annual deductible of approximately $1 million. OK, that's an exaggeration. But the deductible is high enough that I haven't met it in either of the last two years, even with my frequent medical visits.
As a result, nobody has any idea what is going on in my brain. No pun intended. The episodes of vertigo are put off to inner ear inflammation. Cycles of lousy balance -- the same. Or maybe I'm metabolizing meds differently for a while.
But always, in the back of my mind, has been the niggling fear that my growing list of nervous system complaints might be caused by something even worse than what I know I have.
I have a good friend who was told she had lupus and Sjogren's Syndrome years ago and opted never to take treatment. Although she was horribly sick for a period, through the years her worst symptoms eased a bit.
Then a couple months ago her symptoms worsened. She and I shared numb and tingling hands and feet, dizzy spells and weird balance. The symptoms that are eased by my medications went untreated in my friend. She just shrugged it all off.
Until the day she fell down the stairs. Headfirst. Backwards. Reluctantly she started the cycle of testing again. One doctor visit led to another. Last week she got the news: her physician suspects Muscular Sclerosis. An MRI is scheduled to find out for sure. My friend was shaken by the news; her husband is afraid. MS is a nasty disease, one that strikes fear in almost any one's heart.
After all, who in our generation could forget those terrifying television public service ads from the 60s and 70s? Some personality would describe horrid symptoms and then as the screen faded to gray, a solemn voice would intone 'MS, the great crippler of young adults.'
My friend told me she may have MS on the same day my husband brought a newspaper article to me and told me I needed to read it.
'These are your symptoms,' he said. I explained that there is no way to find out whether or not my symptoms are MS without an MRI, and that we just can't afford to pay out of pocket for such a high-end medical test. Those kinds of diagnostics are priced exorbitantly because insurance companies will pay the fees. As a result, people like me who don't have insurance coverage are up a creek with no brain scan.
I know I'm lucky to have the insurance coverage I do. Millions of Americans have no coverage. But I still burn with anger when I think what it will take to manage an MRI, paying in cash. There will be the test, the technician who performs the test, the physician who reads the test and the neurologist who tells me the result. The cost will be in the thousands of dollars. If I have the test.
The good Dr. B says it's not necessary. I'm 90 percent sure he's right. It's that other 10 percent that haunts my mind in the night, and sometimes even in the day. I'm trying not to let it push me around.
Somewhere down the road I think I will have to find out for sure. Because knowing, even the worst, is better than the fear of what might be.
Peace be with you, and may you always be free of fear.