Community Columns

Kept awake – and awakened – by fear

It was 11 p.m. when I returned home from visiting my mom, who lives in New Jersey. I felt exhausted and sleep was the priority. I noticed that the light on the answering machine was flashing. I was curious, but thought, “Mañana.” Then curiosity got the better of me; I pressed “play.”

Among the messages was a pleasant voice from the radiology center requesting that I return the call. Having had a screening mammogram the previous day, I instinctively knew that I needed additional testing. My exhaustion turned into spine-tingling fear. Here it is, I thought, the dreaded cold-water-morning phone call.

I’ve spent 30-plus years in the health care field, so I intellectually recognized that these call-backs were usually of a benign nature. However, at 11 p.m., my rational brain went bye-bye, along with any hope of sleep. I was wide awake and scared.

For me, the middle-of-the-night crazies are the worst. I told myself to relax (yeah, right) and stop jumping to conclusions. I tried quieting my mind by deep breathing, but it was too late. My thoughts were racing from one scary scenario to another. Finally, I fell into a fitful sleep.

I came awake to the sound of chirping birds and anxiety. I was stymied when I tried to say my usual morning prayers. If I prayed, “Please don’t let it be,” what about the gals for whom it is? I abandoned my prayers.

I went into my office and attempted to read The New York Times. However, my brain was stalled in fear mode. The only productive thing left to do was to watch the clock. At promptly 8:30 a.m., I called the radiology center. I scheduled an appointment for later that day.

Somehow, my rational brain kicked in. (Did my half-hearted attempt at prayer work?) I was aware that many gals were called back for additional testing. Most left the facility thankful, happy and relieved, while some had to undergo the rigors of further testing. I wondered which category I would fall into.

At 2:30 p.m., I left the radiology center in the thankful, happy and relieved category.

While driving home, my thoughts turned to the scores of warrior-gals, some known to me, and most unknown to me, who have survived breast cancer. Prayer came easily this time: I asked that these warrior-gals be blessed with continual good health.

Then my thoughts turned inward. I realized that too much of my life was being squandered on trivialities.

In the classic television sitcom “I Love Lucy,” Ricky Ricardo repeatedly exclaims, “Lucy, you have some ‘splainin’ to do.” Surely, I had some ‘splainin’ to do.

Far too often, I’ve engaged in the “she said, they said” stuff that we humans find irresistible. I mean, really, why should I care about who says what about whom?

I waste an appalling amount of energy trying to control what is beyond my power. Psychology 101 teaches that we can only control ourselves. (How did I get a passing grade?)

I’m overly concerned about finances, and this disturbs me. Thoughts like “Will my retirement funds last?” vex me.

Sometimes I wear my grudges like a badge of honor. After all, I was the one who was wronged. The badge has tarnished and grown heavy.

Instead of driving directly home, I stopped at one of my favorite “think spots.” As I gazed into the bay, I didn’t experience any earth-shattering “Aha!” moments. Rather, I became aware of a still, small voice within. She was gently nudging me to wake up.

So I did.

I’ve read that a good scare is worth more than good advice. For me, fear often seems bad, but in this case, it was a good thing. Perhaps it’s improved my vision. I hope so.

And what do you know? An “Aha!” moment came to me after all: The dreaded cold-water-morning phone call was, in reality, my wake-up call.

Ms. Iannelli is a resident of Jamesport.