Pearls and Teeth and Abject Mortification

 

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

On November 3, I joined women across the United States in wearing pearls to honor Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I admired, and admire, the Justice for her intellect and her dedication to extending the rights guaranteed under the Constitution to people who had been denied them.

I was happy about the pearls, a gift from my husband, because I don’t often wear them. Sheltering in place has shrunk my social life. I could wear them to medical appointments but am afraid they’d get in the nurses’ way.

Before I posted my photo on Facebook, I cropped out my face. Then I thought, Justice Ginsburg didn’t crop her pictures. So I published the whole thing.

I have little vanity left anyway. I went around bald during chemo, and recently I became desperate enough for a haircut to submit myself to David’s new clippers, which have two settings, extra-short and scalp-showing-in-places. I chose extra-short. My hair has grown a lot since then. I look forward to the day when I no longer look so much like Hercule Poirot.

Yesterday I had a scare: a throbbing headache above my right ear. I haven’t had any headaches at all since the migraine that sent me to the emergency room in 2000. That was the best migraine I ever had. They knocked me out for forty minutes and when I woke up I felt great. All those years of twenty-four-hour migraines, and I could have gone to the ER and had them zapped.

Kathy wearing pearls

But I digress. Last year, when I was having some problems with balance, the oncologist mentioned the possibility that cancer had made it to my brain. So when yesterday’s headache suddenly blossomed, throbbed, in just that one spot above my ear, I had a choice: to report it at my appointment in December, or to call the triage nurse immediately. David called. I described the symptoms. The nurse told me to stay near the phone for a call back.

Waiting, I dredged up all the no-big-deal causes I could think of: I spend most of my time reading and writing, and I really, really need new glasses; I’d skipped lunch and was very hungry; it was the day after the presidential election. . . .

Within fifteen minutes the doctor’s nurse called and asked for details.

I recited my history of headaches, my current symptoms, and my emotional state.

In one way, it was like the Friday afternoon at 4:48, a couple of years ago, when I touched my neck and felt a lump, and panicked, and called the nurse, and she said to come in Monday morning . . . and then on Sunday night I realized the lump was part of my new port. They’d removed the malfunctioning one on the left and installed a new one on the right, and a right port sometimes feels different from a left port . . .

So on Monday morning I told the nurse practitioner I was there on false pretenses but refused to feel silly about coming in. She confirmed the false pretenses and said, “Never feel silly about calling when you suspect something’s wrong.”

Yesterday’s experience wasn’t so pleasant. Before the nurse called, I had figured out the reason for headache. I knew I had to disclose everything, and I did, but this time I felt silly. No, not silly. Mortified.

“The headache was caused by . . . I was wearing a tiara.”

Two sets of tiara teeth and the paw of one cat

The string of pearls had made me feel so dressed up, so elegant, that the next day I celebrated the democratic process by wearing my tiara. It’s a little tight. On each side, there’s a comb whose teeth–emphasis on teeth–slide into the hair to keep the tiara in place. If the wearer has no hair, they pierce the scalp.

Hearing the full story, the nurse, instead of saying, “Never feel silly¬† about calling,” said, “Hahahahahahahahaha.”

“So I took it off a few minutes ago and the headache went away.”

“Hahahahahahahahaha.”

When she caught her breath, she said she was glad I felt better. “Hahahahahahahahaha.”

We hung up. I spent the next half-hour imagining her repeating our conversation to the doctor.

Now. Some women in my position would be so embarrassed they would run out and find a new oncologist. I thought about it.

But then I remembered Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Would she be mortified ? Would she run out and find a new doctor?

Not on your tintype.

So neither will I. In December, I will don my tiara, ignore the excruciating pain, march into the doctor’s office, and show him those teeth.

Ever since I told him I can’t sleep because when I go to bed the voices in my head start talking–I meant my characters–he’s thought I’m a little crazy.

I might as well let him think I’ve gone completely around the bend.

And if he says, “Hahahahahahahahaha”–that’s good medicine.

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Someday I’ll explain why I have a tiara.

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Portrait of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Simmie Knox, under commission of the United States Supreme Court, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons