Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Why I’m Not a Numbers Girl

“You have a 75 percent chance of not being able to have children on your own,” the fertility specialist told me matter-of-factly, barely looking up from the computer screen where she was clicking through research studies on the topic.

Instantly, I disliked her. Usually, I appreciate a no-frills approach to medical information. I know enough about terminology and facts to converse with the most technical of physicians by now, and prefer cutting through translations. But this terrain was unfamiliar to me. Suddenly I wasn’t confident, unflappable me; I was reduced to a number, and it wasn’t even a number either of us could quantify one way or another.

I barely heard the “on your own” portion of her assessment, so taken aback by the odds. I’d known women with my condition (primary ciliary dyskinesia, or PCD) have trouble with fertility, but I hadn’t realized exactly what “trouble” translated to mathematically.

The specialist launched into an overview of my options should I fall into that 75 percent—surrogacy, IVF, and medications, as well as their prices—but I wasn’t ready to hear my options yet, never mind process them. I wasn’t willing to abandon the chance I could be in that fortunate 25 percent.

The shock of that particular doctor's appointment reinforced how much I hate numbers. I always have. I slogged grudgingly through geometry and calculus in high school, doing well enough but spending more time on math class than I did on my other eight classes combined. In between journalism internships, working on the school paper, and writing papers for English class in college, I took computer science and marine biology courses just to escape math class. When I entered a graduate program for writing, I figured the verbal part of my brain that had carried me for so long would finally be allowed complete domination.

But if I wanted them to, numbers could define my daily life in all sorts of ways:

1,000 is the number of documented cases of PCD in the United States (though up to 25,000 people are thought to have it but have not been diagnosed). 20+ is the number of surgeries I’ve had, though we stopped counting so I cannot be sure. My medications now number 8 a day, a two-year low, but with winter coming I expect those to increase. I have 7 different medical conditions, a number that fluctuates when temporary problems flare.

I get chest PT 1 time a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, but my insurance will only cover 3 visits from my physical therapist per week so I need to improvise. 5 is the number of health insurance plans I have switched to in the past 12 months, and 3 is the number of said companies that have denied coverage of the very preventative care that allows me to stay out of the hospital. 4 is the average number of days per week where I have notable difficulty breathing. 26 is the number of years I have been sick.

There are certainly a lot of statistics, but little that jumps out and describes my life, my motivations, or, in the case of my 75 percent odds, my possibilities.

When I look at such a sampling of numbers, I am reminded why I am not and never will be a numbers girl. I cannot add all those parts up and get a whole me.

And on rough days when all the English degrees in the world cannot help me find the words I need, it’s important to remember that I cannot start speaking the language of numbers--they will always fail to capture what is both intangible and essential: hope.


Audrey said...

Don't make me cry!!!! Your last sentence is beautiful.

(and on a different note, i can barely add the scores when I play scrabble.)

Lyrehca said...

This is a beautifully written post. Keep us posted on your efforts to stay in the 25th percent.

Kj said...

Numbers suck. that with fertility treatments???
Or is that with mother nature, God and your ovaries??

Numbers suck....
(just for fun try being at University and having to study the statistics you failed 16 years ago at high school!!!)

Life is more than numbers, its life!!

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