Taking a Vacation from My Vacation

cruiseship stamp fotolia

The past week was supposed to bring rest and rejuvenation, but, you know, best laid plans. The goal for today, therefore, is as simple as it is ambitious: shake off the past week, and return to business as usual. And so, I blog. This post won’t be especially elegant, nor will it prove especially inspiring. Honestly, this post isn’t for you. It’s for me.

Last week, I flew to South Florida to meet up with my mother and brother, with whom I was taking a four-day-long cruise to Mexico. This was our Christmas present, and—in my case—an early Spring Break. Seeing my family is always wonderful, and we were very excited for our vacation, but we also had a lot on our minds. There were many shoes in the air, so to speak, and waiting for them to drop cast something of a pall on the skies over the Liberty of the Seas.

Those shoes did indeed drop. And how.

On day three of the cruise—the day we docked in Cozumel—we came home from a wonderful day of sun, shopping, and dolphin encounters, only to find out that my paternal grandmother had died. She was ninety-seven, and had entered hospice earlier that week, so we were all prepared—indeed, anxious—for her passing. But, of course, being on a ship at the time of her death, we had almost no internet access, and no cell phone service. We couldn’t plan her memorial, we couldn’t notify relatives… we couldn’t do much of anything.

My Nana and I on my birthday, three years ago. She'd been in frighteningly good health--like, travelling cross-country alone and tap-dancing good health--until a fall at age 94. This picture was taken shortly after that fall, when my mother, my brother and I flew to Florida to surprise her at the rehab center.

My Nana and I on my birthday, three years ago. She’d been in frighteningly good health–like, travelling cross-country alone and tap-dancing good health–until a fall at age 94. This picture was taken shortly after that fall, when my mother, my brother and I flew to Florida to surprise her at the rehab center.

To be clear: I am glad my grandmother is gone. The past three years of her life have been challenging; this past year, well, it’s been simply awful. Her death is a blessing and a relief. While I’m not grieving my grandmother, it was difficult to be so utterly disconnected from the reality of her passing. So we sat there, in the casino, playing the slots and sipping on virgin piña coladas, because what the hell else were we going to do? It was a strange feeling, to put it mildly.

Our cruise ended yesterday. We disembarked in the morning and drove three hours back to our home, making calls to the nursing home, the hospice facility, etc. on the way. Things were getting back to normal. We picked up three ecstatic dogs—and one very grumpy cat—from the kennel. And then, when we got home, all hell broke loose.

Sadie was bleeding.

We used to always joke that Sadie acted more like a reindeer than a dog. In 2012, we made it official with a pair of ears. We thought it would freak her out, but she took to them immediately.

We used to always joke that Sadie acted more like a reindeer than a dog. In 2012, we made it official with a pair of ears. We thought it would freak her out, but she took to them immediately.

Sadie had cancer that, while not impacting her appetite or her sunny disposition, had badly disfigured her. She had a tumor (at least) the size of a softball on her leg, and another baseball-sized tumor on her stomach. We all considered it a miracle that she’d survived to celebrate Christmas with us again; it seemed like the only one who wasn’t holding their breath was Sadie. It’s a strange thing to see a dog who looks so sick dancing for her dinner, wiggling her stump, and running to the sliding-glass door to bark at passersby. We were always worried that we might let her go too long, that we’d miss a warning sign, that she’d be in pain and we’d inadvertently allow that pain to continue. We took her to the vet over and over again, only to hear the same thing over and over again: not yet.

When my mother and brother dropped her off last week, the tumor on her leg was oozing slightly, but all seemed well. She was still a happy dog. She was a happy dog when we picked her up. But by the time we got home with her yesterday, all was definitely not well. In the span of about thirty minutes, everything changed.

When she got out of the car, blood started spurting out of her tumor. Our garage was covered in droplets of blood. We looked at her leg, and realized the skin had finally ripped open. We tried to bandage her, but the shape of the tumor being what it was, the bandage came off within minutes. There was nothing we could do. Sadie didn’t seem terribly distressed by her condition, but we knew that it would only get worse. And so, within twenty minutes of arriving home with our menagerie, my mother and I packed Sadie into the car and returned to the vet. As my mom put it to me, it felt like we were playing a dirty trick on her, taking her back like that. Timing’s a bitch.

When we arrived at the vet’s office, we were met by a staff that seemed almost as devastated as we were. As one nurse put it to us “We knew this day was coming, but we’d all hoped she had a little while longer, because she’s such a special dog.” Dogs are tremendously empathetic, so it’s possible she was responding to the emotions flooding the room, but Sadie’s attitude gradually changed. Her usual vet-visit jitters seemed to melt away, replaced by resignation. After a lot of kisses and tears, Sadie laid herself down in-between my mother and I, and quietly, peacefully, passed away.

Sadie and her sister, Maya. We rescued them, and when we realized that adopting them out would mean splitting them up, we decided to keep them. Maya passed away a couple years ago. I can only imagine the fun they're having together right now.

Sadie and her sister, Maya. We rescued them back in 2004. When we realized that adopting them out would mean splitting them up, we decided to keep them. Maya passed away a couple years ago. I can only imagine the fun the girls are having together right now.

To summarize: I took a four day long vacation. In that time, I lost both my grandmother and my dog.

I would say that I was still numb, but I’m not numb at all. I wish I was numb. If I could get right back on that ship and sail away from this situation, I would. As every co-worker you’ve ever had has said at least once: I need a vacation from my vacation. The idea of getting back to my academic work—to steeping myself in other people’s loss—seems impossible. And yet, I desperately need to get back to my routine.

I shouldn’t feel bad about my lack of grief at my Nana’s passing, but—now that Sadie’s gone—I do feel bad about it. I’m struggling with the knowledge that I’ve cried, repeatedly, over Sadie, and not once for my grandmother. It actually makes a lot of sense that I feel that way. Sadie was happy and dancing on the day she died; if it weren’t for the giant bleeding tumor on her leg, she’d have had at least a few happy months ahead of her. My grandmother, on the other hand, was gone months before she died.

Feeling guilty about grief is as stupid as it is inevitable (in my case, anyway). The only way to make those feelings fade is to acknowledge them… to let them stretch out a little, announce themselves, and enjoy their moment.

That’s why I wrote this post. It’s for me, not for you. The guilt and sorrow I’m carrying right now is heavy, so I’m offloading it onto the Internet. Those feelings can run free all over my blog, but their time in my head has come to an end.

 

 “The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.

The Academic in Pain, or, Why I Want to Have Surgery

Tomorrow afternoon I’m going to be meeting with my surgeon to discuss the results of my MRA, and next steps. If said next step doesn’t involve surgery, I’ll be shocked… and not in a good way.

Nobody likes being cut up, but—in my world, anyway—it’s far preferable to managing symptoms. As any academic living with chronic pain will tell you, managing one’s work and one’s body takes a serious toll. I’d rather spend a few weeks out of the academic game now than working for years with a divided brain.

I’m not being literary when I use the term “divided brain.” When one lives with chronic pain, their brain is always partially occupied by processing that pain. Neurologists can explain the science of pain better than I can, but I’m intimately familiar with its results: fogginess, forgetfulness, and fatigue. It’s one of the world’s crappier alliterative triple threats.

My grandmother always used to say "If I had a brain I'd be dangerous." I concur.

My grandmother always used to say “If I had a brain I’d be dangerous.” I concur.

I lived with chronic pain through all four years of college. During my freshman year I was recovering from major surgery. Sophomore year was spent managing pain in an attempt to hold off yet another surgery. The first half of my junior year was spent walking with crutches, and the latter half on medical leave, recovering from the surgery I’d been trying to avoid. Senior year—circle of life style—was spent recovering from major surgery.

Did I do well at Bryn Mawr? Yes, I did exceedingly well. Could I have done better? Yes. Maybe not much better, but better. I also could have been happier. I missed out on everything from dance parties to studying abroad to trips into Philadelphia with friends, because pain made those experiences more upsetting than enjoyable. To quote one of my favorite 1950’s PSAs, “Perhaps a diagram will help!”

Now that I am again struggling with chronic pain, I’m finding myself operating much the same way I did in college:

  • I planned to get a good eight hours of sleep last night, but my body overruled me and I got twelve hours instead. And yes, I still laid down for an hour during the day. I’ll be in bed within the next hour, meaning that I’ll have spent more than half of the past day asleep.
  • My desk is littered with sticky notes to help keep me from forgetting all the things I’m supposed to be doing, and everything in my iPhone calendar has an alert attached to it. Everything.
  • I schedule my academic work around my pain medication,
  • Simple things like shopping and laundry require strategic planning to maximize efficiency and minimize the number of times I have to climb the forty stairs to my apartment.
  • Spending time with me means you’re coming to my apartment. I love all of the people in my life, but—as I put it to one friend—these days I’ll only leave the apartment for money, food, and medicine.

I’m pretty good at managing with a divided brain, but it’s not ideal. As we all know, college is one thing… graduate school and beyond is another thing entirely.

I’ve been lucky up to this point in my life, because I’ve always known that at some point I wouldn’t be working with a divided brain anymore. That’s a luxury that many people do not have, and one for which I have always been very grateful. It’s a huge part of the reason I decided to spend my life studying patient advocacy.

That’s why tomorrow afternoon, I’m going to have my fingers crossed for an aggressive, invasive, painful procedure. The sooner I can get back to thinking with my “whole” brain, the sooner I can get back to the business of making the academy a more accessible place for all of us.

Radiologists: There’s More Than One Way to be Stabby!

Never again, Radiologists. Never Again.

Never again, Radiologist friends. Never again.

I woke up at two PM today after a very long day yesterday. Long, but also more pleasant than I’d anticipated, all things considered. I did, after all, have a date with a humongous needle.

The following post is a public-service announcement for radiologists, as well as anyone and everyone who needs to have an MRI Arthrogram on their hip in the near future, be you athletic, arthritic, or accident prone. My radiologist took a very different approach to the procedure. Instead of entering vertically, he went in horizontally. While I was initially skeptical (read: ready to bolt out of the room), his technique was much less painful than the standard method. I never want to have a “normal” hip MRA again.

I am NOT a radiologist, and I'm sure I have the angle wrong, but I also pay VERY close attention during these procedures. This is my best approximation of the approach that my Radiologist took.

I am NOT a radiologist, and I’m sure I have the angle wrong, but I also pay VERY close attention during these procedures. The blue line is my best approximation of the approach that my Radiologist took.

As I mentioned in my last post, the standard operating procedure for performing an MRA on the hip involves sticking a really big needle into the patient’s groin. This sucks for several reasons.

Even though your radiologist has magical x-ray vision to guide you, because she or he is entering vertically, their margin for error goes up. I once had a radiologist wiggle a needle that was a good six inches inside of me because he realized he hadn’t quite hit the spot he needed to.

By entering horizontally, the radiologist was able to do that guess work ahead of time. He had me lay on a “pointer.” Instead on manipulating a needle, he manipulated that pointer, until the x-ray showed that he’d found the right angle to get where he needed to go. After that, all he had to do was match the angle of entry laid out for him.

Standard hip MRAs also suck because…. you’re sticking a needle in a human being’s groin. If you had to stick yourself with a needle, would you rather stick it in your stomach or your arm? Answer’s pretty simple right?

I was worried at first that going in from the side of my hip would mean travelling through more muscle, and—since the tear they’re looking for is on the groin side of the hip—reduce the likelihood  of the dye actually illuminating the part of the acetabulum that needed seeing. The latter concern won’t be fully assuaged until I get my results, but the former… that was pretty instantaneous. A giant needle in the side of your hip is less painful than a giant needle in your groin, period.

Now that I’ve had this procedure done both ways, I can say with certainty that it takes longer to recover from the MRA if you enter through the groin. While this new approach caused a different kind of pain (a pain with which I was unfamiliar, and therefore unprepared for) it was easier to walk immediately following the procedure. Today, instead of feeling like I have a water balloon in my groin, I feel a soreness that, if unpleasant, is certainly more bearable. It just feels like my side is a little tender, a little swollen. It’s pain, sure, but it’s not exactly going to ruin my day.

I was terrified when I first realized I was going to be worked on by a “rogue radiologist,” so I asked him why he opted for this non-traditional approach. His response was very heartening. To paraphrase, when he began practicing, he realized that he’d only ever been taught by radiologists, and that there may just be other doctors out there who knew things he didn’t. So he sought out orthopedic surgeons and asked them at what point of entry patients feel the least pain, and changed his approach accordingly.

THIS. SHOULD. NOT. BE. AN. EXTRAORDINARY. STORY.

And yet it is.

No radiologist in their right mind is going to change the way they perform a hip MRA because their patient walks in holding a copy of my blog post, but I want to encourage people to circulate this post to their doctor friends, and especially their radiologist friends. If even one doctor finds themselves moved to have a conversation based on this story, than this post was 100% worth my time.

 

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.

The Archive is Open

Secret archives of the Vatican

I walk a difficult tightrope on this blog. I want to be as authentic as humanly possible, but I’m also a professor-in-training; I don’t want to put anything out into the world that I would have trouble explaining to a hiring committee, to my colleagues, or to my students. So I often find myself debating the merits of a post. The problem with this particular brand of censorship is that it’s entirely too fuzzy. That’s because I haven’t articulated to myself what constitutes fair game.

Just now I found myself sitting in front of my computer for a good ten minutes, contemplating the merits of writing a deeply personal post. While this kind of introspection is a good thing generally, SMDS is first and foremost a personal blog. My logic is simple: teaching difficult material is often the best way to learn that material. I blog about becoming the best scholar and person one possibly can because it’s something I want for myself, something that requires daily work and a willingness to open oneself up to new possibilities.

That’s why—after much hemming and hawing—I’ve decided to talk about what’s happening tomorrow. It’s a routine procedure, but as with most medical procedures, there’s nothing routine about it for me, the patient.

Tomorrow I am going to go to an imaging center, where a complete stranger is going to jab a very large needle into my hip, large enough that it needs to be guided by an X-ray. She or he will then inject contrast fluid into said hip, which—in addition to making abnormalities in the tissue easier to see—will actually push the ball and socket further apart. This is good for imaging purposes, but it feels pretty darned uncomfortable. Imagine a basketball getting filled with air… in your groin. It feels about as odd as that simile reads.

Since the giant needle’s is already positioned, and my mobility has been been seriously compromised by pain over the past few months, my surgeon’s decided that the dye injected into my leg should be followed by a cortisone chaser. He hasn’t diagnosed me yet (he needs to gaze deep into my basketball groin to do that) so we don’t know that cortisone will actually make a difference. It’s worth a shot. It also means, however, that by the time I waddle into the room with the MRI, I’ll be a human water balloon.

That, friends, is all considered “prep.” But take it from me, after that kind of prep, an MRI is decidedly anti-climactic. A claustrophobic metal tube that yells it’s strange language at you for an hour? Yawn.

I was seventeen the first time I had an MRI Arthrogram. I cried after the doctors injected the contrast not because I was in pain (which I was) but because I felt violated.

Not only had my personal space been invaded in a pretty epic way, with an equally epic needle, but in a matter of a minute or so I experienced a new and foreign kind of pain, in a part of my body where pain had never before existed. I’ve had two MRAs in my life, and as best I can tell, that extreme sense of dislocation from one’s own body is something that one only experiences once in their life. After that, your relationship with your body changes. I can’t quite articulate how it changes, but it does.

Tonight, I’m scared. It’s a very routine procedure, I’ve been through much worse, and I’ll be completely fine once I’m on the table, but tonight, I’m scared. I know exactly what’s going to happen to me, and I know that, in a couple of days, the chances are good I’ll feel a little better. But—because I know exactly what’s going to happen to me—I also know that it’s going to feel worse before it feels better. My hip hurts more today than it has in weeks; I can almost feel the basketball inflating.

I’ve long suggested, as have others, that the body is an archive that historians can, and should, read. This is not a unique opinion. In moments like this, though, I realize the body’s archival potential anew. Certainly part of the fear I’m experiencing comes from anticipating pain, from knowing all the ways the procedure could potentially go wrong, and from the fact that ahead of me lies a diagnosis and treatment plan that, for once, I can’t discern ahead of time. While I can’t conquer those fears, I can suppress them, because my rational self is aware that nothing that happens to me now will be as difficult or as painful as the surgeries I’ve already endured.

What I can’t do is close the archive. I became an historian of patient advocacy because it was the best and most fulfilling way to instrumentalize difficult memories, to use them as tools to better our understanding of the human condition. Pain is not so easily harnessed. Narcotic medication is no match for the narrative unfurling inside of me at this moment. Tonight, I have no choice but to bear witness to sensations I filed away years and years ago, hoping never to revisit again. For these few short hours, my archive gets to speak.

I am an historian, and so—to the best of my ability—I’m listening.

 

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.

 

I’m Shrinking, and So Are My Bills!

Last month I made a promise to myself to lose twenty pounds by Thanksgiving.

Before I say anything else, I want to be super clear that this isn’t going to be a “thinspirational” blog post. I promise. This is NOT the place to go for fat-shaming rhetoric. Fact is, I was actually *quite* happy with the person I saw in the mirror a month ago.

In the past several months, however, an old medical problem has resurfaced—albeit in a new way—and my mobility has been severely compromised. I’m heading to surgical consult number two this week, so needless to say, the process of getting better is going to take a while. Until then, I just have to make it work, which means limiting my activity, and taking pain medicine. The only other thing that I can do for myself right now… is lose weight.

Makes sense right? When you’re carrying extra weight your joints are carrying it too, and—right now anyway—mine can’t afford any extra strain.

I promised to lose twenty pounds by Thanksgiving as an act of radical self-care, knowing full well that it was going to be a major uphill battle given my inability to exercise like I used to. Good news folks: I’m about seven pounds lighter today than I was this time a month ago! Hooray for me!

Actually, there’s more than one reason to be proud of me. Here’s reason number two: I didn’t anticipate that this would happen, but in adjusting my diet, I’ve also started saving a TON of money. Like, my grocery bill for the week has been halved, and then some.

THAT, my friends, is knowledge I feel a genuine obligation to share.

In the past I’ve been surprisingly successful using SlimFast shakes to lose weight, but there was NO chance of me trying that again, because it turns out I’m a little on the lactose intolerant side. I’ve significantly cut my dairy intake, and never drink milk anymore. I know meal replacement (“drinking your breakfast” of a different sort) works for me, so instead of buying shakes, I’ve started making my own smoothies.

Poor graduate students everywhere: you do NOT need a Vitamix or a fancy pants juicer to make a decent smoothie. A regular blender does the job just fine. That first shopping trip—the one in which you acquire bag upon bag of frozen fruit—is a little painful, but after that, your weekly shopping bill will go through the floor. MY GROCERIES FOR THIS WEEK COST ME UNDER $40. That’s fourteen plus smoothies, ingredients for a giant batch of homemade Santa Fe style Beans n’ Rice, and the staple foods I needed to replenish.

NB: I cook and freeze meals en masse about eight times a year, so I always have a variety of dinner options despite only cooking one big meal a week. If you’re cooking all of your meals the week you eat them, your grocery bills are always going to be big. Sorry.

High protein smoothies are not inherently diet-friendly—in fact, you have to craft your recipes very carefully if you ARE trying to lose weight with them—so replacing one to two meals with this stuff isn’t just a tip for grad students to lose weight. Nope. It’s a tip for folks like me who (1) desperately need to save money, (2) can fill up on a “liquid lunch.” and (3) won’t get too bored with the “smoothie experience.” I’m pretty easy to please when it comes to food (really, I just want to be full), so, provided I get to have different kinds of blended fruit beverages whenever I want, I’m perfectly happy to drink two a day while counting my imaginary money.

I knew "The Incredible Shrinking Woman" was an actual movie, but never realized that  Lily Tomlin starred in it. Onto the to-do list it goes!

I knew “The Incredible Shrinking Woman” was an actual movie, but never realized that Lily Tomlin starred in it. Onto the to-do list it goes!

So there you go folks. A quick and painless way to save at the supermarket and stay healthy at the same time, brought to you by the Incredible Shrinking Scholar. Hit me up in the comments section if you’d like some recipes, or have some of your own that you’d like to share with the rest of the class!

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.

 

 

The Tale of the Giant Bed

Bed1This past week I bought a mattress—like, a real mattress—for the very first time. In the five plus years since I graduated college, I’ve been through two $100ish dollar pieces of IKEA foam nested less-than-comfortably on wooden IKEA bed slats. They creaked and groaned with every move, and each night’s sleep was slightly more uncomfortable than the last.

So why wait five years to invest in a decent bed? My rationale was simple: grad students don’t have nice things. Grad students are poor. If I manage to get a PhD AND a job, I’ll have earned a comfortable mattress. Until then, to quote Dan Savage: “Suffer, bitch.”

This is a fairly accurate representation of how huge my new bed is.

This is a fairly accurate representation of how huge my new bed is.

So how is it that I am writing to you now, perched atop a tower (no kidding, an actual tower) of coils, latex, and foam? How is it that I’ve joined the ranks of the elite, with their fancy box springs and ten year warranties? I didn’t get my PhD, nor did I get a job, and I most definitely did not get rich overnight. Far from it.

I wish I could say I came to the decision to toss my crap bed and invest (with the help of my beloved mother) in a real mattress through meditation and a careful reframing of my self-image. Alas and alack, that would be a lie. I came to the decision because I’m in pain. Like, I’m-going-to-need-surgery level pain.

In a slightly bizarre twist, this is the second time I’m writing about mattresses this month. In a previous post about attending college with a physical disability, I wrote the following:

 [I]t can be really hard to know what you’re going to need to get through college, and how exactly to go about getting it. Because college is a new life experience, it necessarily brings up new issues for which one is unprepared. The most important accommodation I had in the course of my undergraduate career wasn’t about where my classes were or attendance policies, or even being excused from classes during inclement weather. No… turned out I really needed a new mattress every year. Can’t say I’d seen that coming when I was getting myself ready to go to college. What your students need may surprise you, but keep in mind that it may also surprise them.

Realizing I needed a new mattress now, almost ten years after I originally marched (okay, limped) to Bryn Mawr’s Disability Services office and requested the same was admittedly a little demoralizing. What was more demoralizing, though, was realizing that it took yet another instance of physical impairment to get me to prioritize my wellbeing over my credit card balance.

The moral of the story here is simple: think about how you would treat yourself if you’d just returned from a trip to the hospital. If you’re anything like me, you’ve found—or imagine you would find—that in the moments where your health hangs in the balance, you speak up, make demands, and advocate for yourself. You can’t afford not to! Why oh why don’t we treat ourselves that way all the time?

Gee... if I'd realized adjustable beds were THIS much fun...

Gee… if I’d realized adjustable beds were THIS much fun…

You know that adjustable bed commercial where the middle aged woman says something to the effect of “I’m glad I didn’t wait until I’m too old to enjoy this!” Well, that’s basically what I’m saying, only in a “hindsight is 20/20” kind of way. At this particular moment my fancy new mattress isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. It’s a necessity because I waited until I WAS in too much pain to view it as anything else. Yes, I am enjoying my new bed, but I’d definitely enjoy it more if I’d bought it earlier, and for the right reasons.

I can think of nothing more important for quality of life than a good place to sleep. And yet, for four long years I let (a) sticker shock, and (b) the cockamamie notion that grad students aren’t supposed to be comfortable, keep me from having my gigantic miracle bed. Lesson learned. From here on out, I’m going to expect better of myself. I’ll always find the money for the things I need: the more difficult task is remembering that I deserve to have the things I need.

So yeah. The new office chair’s being delivered tomorrow.

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.

A Week-Long “I Told You So!”

listen1

I’m back from my unscheduled hiatus with a message: listen to your body, or it will make itself heard.

I’ve been the recipient of this very message three times over the course of the past week. I’m hoping evangelizing is all I need to do to allow my subconscious, or the universe, or whatever it is that’s brought me the aforementioned message to move on, and start beating another dead horse.

I took a break from posting to SMDS because I woke up on Friday with the beginning of a cold. In retrospect, this shouldn’t have been surprising. I had been experiencing the emotional and cognitive impacts of pain management for a week already. The more I told myself I was going to be okay, the less okay I got, until I was no longer sleeping. My doctor finally convinced me to make the switch to a narcotic pain killer. That my body was eventually going to tire of being on red alert 24/7 is kind of a no-brainer. We’re talking multiple layers of denial, here, folks.

Nevertheless, when I felt that oh-so-familiar tickle in my throat, I responded much the same way I responded to the realization that my pain had become unmanageable: I tried to think my way out of it.

Writing this post is an exercise in 20/20 hindsight. Thinking through the past week, the difference between positive thinking and willful ignorance seems really obvious. Looking at that tweet now, I feel like kind of a boob.

And I should. That Friday, I kept all my appointments, added some new ones to the docket (because why not?) and declared that if indeed I was to become sick, I would meet my virus head on! When I wasn’t out and about, overdoing it in every conceivable way, I was at home, cleaning my bedroom furiously… because who wants to board oneself up in a dirty room? I did all of this in spite of the fact that my doctor had already ordered me to stay in bed. By the time I went to bed Friday night, I was sick, tired, and hurting like crazy.

Four days and many medications later, I was on the mend, enough so that I felt I needed to keep my appointment with my dentist.

I have always prided myself on having great teeth. I’m almost thirty, but I’ve never had a cavity, despite a pretty epic diet soda addiction and chronic acid reflux. In a family where trips to the dentist are almost always accompanied by bad news, I’ve always been the golden child. Until a few weeks ago.

Yesterday morning, I went in to the dentist’s office to get the first two of three—count ‘em, three!—cavities filled. Interestingly enough, that’s a cavity for every year I blew off going to the dentist, on account of being far too busy being a graduate student. What a boob.

When it comes to going to the dentist I am a model patient, and getting these cavities filled was no exception. It was neither painful, upsetting, nor particularly inconvenient—the whole experience was actually kind of interesting. That said, walking out today with my lopsided smile, writing a check for a dental procedure I could have easily prevented… it was my own private walk of shame. A walk of shame accompanied by lots of sniffles, and a bit of a limp.

I’m really happy to (slowly) return to life as usual. That said, I’ve realized I need to make a really serious effort to pay closer attention to my body. Listen to your body, or it will make itself heard.  The price I’ve paid for denial has been a steep one, and I’m too stingy to pay it again.

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.