It was only when I was at the checkout that another woman sidled up behind me and whispered, “Excuse me, but your skirt! Do you know it’s rucked up at the back?” Kindly she tugged at the fabric to pull it out from the waistband of my panties. She had a husband alongside. He was grinning from ear to ear.
After a winter of wearing nothing but leggings, jeans and trousers I had dressed for the first time this spring in something light and floaty. A dress, even! I hadn’t worn a dress for months. Let alone one in a fabric so flimsy that I detected no extra breeziness at my rear end whatever.
My wardrobe malfunction was a portent I maybe should have noticed.
For little did I know that in less than two hours I’d be sporting a real open-backed hospital gown.
I’d dropped into the supermarket for a few things on my way to see my GP. I’d had nausea and a low, grinding stomach pain for a few days. I kept waiting for it to stop, but it didn’t. I wore the dress partly so the doc could easily access my tum for a poke and prod. The pain made me yelp. “Right, it’s hospital for you,” she said. “I think that’s your appendix.”
What, at my age? How ridiculous. Isn’t that something that happens to 16-year-olds?
I wasn’t even allowed home to pick up a toothbrush. Soon my flimsy frock was swapped for the regulation bum-baring gown. And in due course I was being trundled along, watching the ceiling go by on my way to theatre.
I’m a bit alert to signs and portents now. Early this year when I was deep in breast cancer-land, I blogged about a weird warning dream I’d had soon before my lump revealed itself.
Seems I’m not alone in this.
I recently heard of a Dr Larry Burk, who has researched breast-cancer warning dreams. It may sound a bit nuts but apparently some patients report dreams that warned them of what was to come. And some even insisted to doctors and technicians to keep on testing after initial checks showed no problem. Sure enough, the cancer was there.
Some dreams have been really specific, in that either some type of ‘guide’ or even a long-departed relative has urged them to go get checked out, sometimes even pointing out or ‘touching’ the affected part of the breast.
Burk decided he’d study the phenomenon. The most common characteristics of the dreams he heard about revealed, in descending order, (1) a sense of conviction about their importance; (2) the dreams were more vivid, real or intense than ordinary; (3) an emotional sense of threat, menace or dread; (4) the use of the specific words breast cancer/tumor; and (5) the sense of physical contact with the breast.
No departed grandmas came to visit me, but if I’d been in Burk’s study I could have marked boxes 1, 2 and 3.
I had no idea then what gave rise to my vision of a witchlike hag reaching for my left side with pincerlike claws, but she sure was vivid and menacing. A year later she is still clear in my mind. And soon after her visit I was feeling twinges of pain from what would turn out to be a G3 tumour in my left breast.
Here’s a TEDx Talk by Dr Burk about warning dreams. Note that it’s overlaid with a panel saying the topic doesn’t meet TED’s guidelines – it’s altogether not scientific enough. But still, you can hear about prophetic dream stories that came from three of his friends (two of them science-trained) at about the 3:50 mark.
Burk’s research group was small, only 19 women.
TED is unimpressed. But I’m buying it.
Personal experience has a habit of trouncing scientific detachment. I’m prepared to give headspace to any portent these days, even if it’s one that just says, ‘Hey, you might like to pick up some toiletries, your phone charger and a good book to read. Just in case your next stop is a hospital…’
Of course, it wasn’t a dream, or a real warning, merely a coincidence.
I could have done without my checkout cheekiness.
But at least it brightened the day of one suburban husband.
PS Apparently you’re never too old for appendicitis. While it mostly occurs between ages 10 and 30, it can still cause trouble much later. One hospital surgeon told me they’d taken an appendix out of someone aged 102.