03/14/2013 03:22 pm ET Updated May 14, 2013

To Thine Own Body Be True

I must state at the beginning of this little story that I am not a hypochondriac, have never been and hope to God I never will be. I have always pushed away most of my ailments, convincing myself I'll feel better in the morning, or being very grateful that whatever has ailed me has never been known to be fatal.

I, who have tumbled down an entire flight of subway steps, reached the bottom totally conscious and then tried to smile and assure the witnesses to my clumsiness that I was fine. The fact that as I made my way down those 16 steps I heard my head clang on each step as I fought to stop the fall yet could not. I refused the offer of an ambulance and somehow got on the subway train back to Queens. I admit that when I walked into my apartment and saw my daughter looking at me I burst out crying. She patched up the bruise on the top of my head, and I on my own decided to sit up all night just in case I did have a concussion. I was fine. A week later I did go to my local internist, who could not believe I waited a week to tell him about my little adventure down the steps. He sent me for an X-ray of my screwy head, and all was right with the world. I obviously have a very hard head.

Last year, I tripped over a girl's duffle bag in LaGuardia Airport on my way to New Orleans. I really went flying and this time landed on my hip. I lay there a moment and immediately proclaimed to be fine. A year later I'm still going to physical therapy, but I got on the plane, went to New Orleans and for some God-awful reason did not break my hip -- just badly, very badly bruised it. I only tell you these stories to reiterate that I am in no way rushing to doctors with complaints, real or otherwise.

Now if you know me, you know I am quite thin. I have always been thin, but for some reason the past few years I've lost some weight and now I'm very thin. Of course everyone kept asking me if I had seen a doctor. I could see the concern in their faces and they probably thought I was dying. I finally went to my GP. He suggested I go to a nutritionist. I did, and honestly, I didn't gain a pound.

Recently I have found that walking up a flight of steps can cause me to become breathless. I know that as an ex-smoker my lung capacity isn't what it used to be, but lately I found little things other than steps causing my breathlessness to concern me.

My GP could find nothing wrong with me. He thinks I'm amazing for a woman my age, and wants to know my secret. Ha! Hard work, lots of years of turmoil, mixed with lot of years of happiness is my answer. Mix them all up and you get me.

I wasn't satisfied with his lack of concern, which is again not usually like me. I decided to go to a cardiologist. I keep hearing on the news that one of the symptoms of heart problems is shortness of breath. Also, the fact that my mother, my father my brother, my mother's eight siblings and my father's two siblings all died of heart disease should tell you that I could be a likely candidate for heart problems.

The doctor did an echocardiogram and made me take a stress test. All the tests looked fine. He also took a chest X-ray and that was fine. He had no answer for my breathlessness.

As I was getting ready to leave his office I asked if perhaps I should go to a pulmonary doctor. He thought about it for a moment and then agreed it was worth a visit. Why did I have to be the one to suggest a pulmonary doctor, why hadn't he gone the next step? What if I didn't know what "pulmonary" means? If a patient who you've known for years and only comes in once a year for a yearly checkup and never complains, finally does, don't you advise her/him to seek another opinion?

Push came to shove, he gave me the recommendation. Today I had my four-hour visit with a little old man who seems to really know his job. I blew into more tubes than I can count. I had oxygen blown into my lungs. I have never had my breath analyzed in so many different ways. And now I know that my rib cage is pressing together, which doesn't allow as much air into my lungs as I should be getting. It's not horrific and hopefully it will never get worse. Next step is a CT scan of my lungs and to learn how to properly use the little inhaler I'm supposed to use twice a day.

At least I now know what I'm dealing with, and since I understand my body, I just won't get upset when I have to walk up a flight of steps like the "mature" person I've become and not the teenager I sometimes still think I am. Time for me to grow up.

I don't ever want to preach to people. But for anyone who still smokes, please try to stop. I was a two-packs-a-day lady for years, and I am very lucky this is as bad as it gets. I know how hard it is to quit. It took me many tries, but it's 18 years now that I'm free. At the beginning I would say that if a doctor told me I had a short time to live, the first thing I'd do would be to buy a pack of cigarettes. Now it would be to hug everyone I love and tell them how much they mean to me.

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