Stab me Vitals

June 1st, 2010

Hey J,

The good news is, I will spare you from news about Barksville today.  The bad news is, I won’t spare you from me talking about me.

I had a panic attack once. At least I think it was a panic attack. It was about 15 years ago when my kid was somewhere around 2 and a half. I had a mysterious pain in my lower abdomen that was like nothing I had experienced before. Not a deathly pain, just a persistent one. Persistence is never a good thing for me when it comes to mystery pain. Though it had eased up some it certainly had not vanished. My standard approach to dealing with any malady is to wait for “it” to go away. As I was making very little progress along this avenue, the dreaded onset of what I like to refer to as “stage two” had surfaced. “Stage two” involves a steady yet tenacious seizing of the mind whereby you gradually arrive at the conviction that this little ache is far more complicated than some simple over the counter remedy. No this might very well be the surprise ending that everyone assumes will never happen to them. Sheepishly, I have to admit that this is not an infrequent thought process that I battle. Normally I can talk myself down, so to speak, while I wait for whatever great plague I think I have acquired to pass. Up to this time however in all my mental battles there had been basically two voices. The one convinced I am to die directly and the one certain that this is not to be the case-just yet anyway. This time however there was a third and formidable speaker-that of my little girl saying, “What, you’re just gonna up and die and leave a two year old behind?” That’s when, I believe, I had the panic attack. I am not really sure what you would call it. All I know is that for what seemed to be a very long time my heart beat way faster than what seemed necessary considering I was just sitting in a chair staring into space.  Then there was  nausea, very sweaty palms and an awareness that the act of breathing didn’t seem to be bringing any air in. Worrying about dying seemed, for the moment,  worse than dying.

I booked an appointment with Dr. Byong Yu the next morning. He was born in Korea but at some point or another moved to Pakistan. This makes English his third language-contributing to why I can’t really understand a word he says. In the end I was left with the impression he reckoned I had a hernia. He suggested a course of antibiotics. I tried to get a bit more specific information out of him as to what a hernia really was and how it might be that a course of antibiotics was going to aid the situation. I used to see if my kid was sleeping, as I read to her at night, by going to the bottom of the page and reading backwards. You could try it with this page here. Anyway, I tell you this because, that’s exactly what Dr. Byong Yu’s reply to my queries sounded like. Any effort to get him to be a bit clearer just seemed to piss him off as he patted my back and guided me towards the door. I didn’t really want him to stick his finger up my ass again so I just left-confused but mostly elated at having been diagnosed with something that wasn’t going to immediately require chemotherapy. I didn’t take him up on the antibiotics though on account of the last time I took them I had to stay within 15 feet of a toilet for two weeks

As I have told you on a few occasions, I hate going to the doctor and I avoid it at all costs. I know this is a foolhardy attitude at my stage in life but these fears are difficult to overcome. It is mostly fear but also living in a small town and a lack of anonymity plays a role. I can’t really get used to finding myself sitting down in a restaurant two seats over from Dr. Byong Yu, dining with his wife, who not four hours earlier was exploring my rectum (the doctor, that is, not his wife). I also feel that when I do go to the doctor I am simply not forthright enough. Not wanting to sound like one of those people that has combed the internet for self-diagnostics (though believe me I have combed the internet)I tend to stick to the general symptoms. What I have learned, however, is this: If after describing your particular issue you are greeted with uncertainty or indifference, you must press on in order to reach a solution. I learned this after I had been enjoying a nagging pain in my dick and lower abdomen which had seemed to develop as an extension to the “hernia” pains. It had only been for about a year or so. Finally unable to stand it any longer I booked an appointment with one of the other doctors in town with the hopes of less communication failure then that I had enjoyed with Dr. Yu. Dr. Cowe seemed even less comfortable talking about my dick than I did. After I described my situation he offered up the following: “Maybe it’s just a pain that comes and goes and you will have to live with it.” I accepted this diagnosis and left his office. By the time I got home, however,  I realized that this just wouldn’t do. I managed to go ahead and book another appointment for the next day to see if perhaps there might be a more optimistic solution. I had expected to see Dr. Cowe again but turns out it was his day off. I repeated my set of symptoms to the new doctor, a woman. I also managed to point out that the “other” doctor’s advice was basically insulting and of less than no use. I added a suggestion that Dr. Cowe might be more suited to a different profession-like, perhaps, a government employee where he could while away whole days getting paid to frustrate people. I hadn’t realized how angry the whole thing had made me. After listening to my little outburst she inquired, and I am going to say a little over-curtly, you know, not moving her lips very much, “So what would you like us to do now then?” I had tired of seemingly indifferent replies. I said, slowly and loudly like an American in a foreign country, “I would like very much for ‘us’ to help me get rid of this intermittent pain residing in my penis via a more proactive suggestion than I ought to just enjoy the times when I don’t have it.” “I see,” she managed. “How ’bout I book you an appointment with a specialist?” As I left the office with my appointment slip I was slightly unnerved to notice that the name on the slip said, Dr. Cowe. I was later to learn that this was because the two doctors were married to one and other. Uh oh… Although I didn’t regret speaking out I feared that my next medical appointment was going to be back with the well meaning yet incoherent Dr. Byong Yu

The specialist found an issue with my prostate for which he offered two solutions. One was to place a lubricated finger up my rectum and apply pressure to my prostate encouraging the build up he was attributing to my pain to disperse. The other was to undergo a course of antibiotics. Opting for the second choice I found myself virtually pain free in a matter of five days. Also cleared up were the “hernia” symptoms. Especially cleared up was my state of mind.

These days, I have managed to limit my feelings of paranoia to maybe once a year or so. I seem to have narrowed things down to a minor yet nagging mental tug of war as to whether I am in the process of having a heart attack…or not. It goes like this: I get up one morning and feel as if someone has their index finger pressing slightly into my chest. “That’s odd,” I think. “My neck and arm seem strangely tight as well.” For the most part it goes away, but not always. “Ahh well,” I rationalize, “there’s no history of heart problems in my family.” I call my dad one morning to see how he is doing and he tells me that Uncle Hugh is visiting. “Oh yeah, how’s he?” To which he can’t help but note “Boy he sure has slowed down since that triple by-pass.”………….. “Hey Kyle, you still there?” I ease the blow by noting Uncle Hugh managed to smoke nearly 60 hand rolled cigarettes a day combined with 40 years of sitting behind the wheel of a dump truck for exercise. No need to escalate things to “stage two, though it’s looming.  That night, to get my mind off of things, I check out a little “Jeopardy”.   At the end of the show they have a special five minute segment where Alex Trebek tells an interviewer of his recent heart attack. “No, I am not a candidate at all,” he states. “I don’t drink, or smoke. I exercise regularly and eat well.”   I started to feel a little indigestion as he spoke.  He continued, “I had experienced a slight tightness in my chest but figured I would just go to bed and see how I felt in the morning.” He goes on, “ As I went to sleep, my wife stayed up and typed in ‘signs of a heart attack’ on the internet. A while later she came into the room and shook me awake and said, ‘Come on, we are going to the hospital’.” “Sure enough, when they hooked me up to all that equipment, the doctor said, ‘Hey Alex, you’ve had a heart attack’.”

Complicating matters regarding peace of mind is that I was trying to hold off the beast while vacationing in Mexico. For reasons that are probably obvious, I can think of better places to be situated at the onset of cardiac arrest. By the next morning, gratefully, things had improved. “Stage two” had stopped tapping on my shoulder. I call Cindy back home to see how my little girl was doing. She said, “Hey daddy, did you hear about Bill Barry?” “No what’s up?” “He died of a heart attack last night.”……………………..”Daddy, are you there?” Bill Barry was my age. I was starting to have difficulty breathing. The rest of the trip involved an active parry trying to ward off “stage two.” I did promise myself that if things continued when I got home, I would have it checked out.

J, I know this is dragging on, but I also am aware that you aren’t doing anything anyway and I know I am not. I am almost there. The short version is that when I got back I did a pile of tests and the end result was whatever it was that created the sensation was not a heart attack. Though the heart specialist was kind enough to tell me that I had done the right thing in getting it checked out. As well as suggesting I don’t let my fears get in the way of exercising, loosing a few pounds and maybe cutting down the coffee to 6 a day he prescribed a daily acid reflux medication just to see if that made a difference.

It didn’t do anything for me but Phyllis, who has a much higher threshold for “stage two” than do I, managed to put an end to 20 years of heartburn in two short days when she got a hold of the prescription. “Hey, what are these for?” she had asked. “Heartburn.” Seeing that she already had the lid off the bottle I ventured, “ But don’t you think you should check with a doctor before you eat any of them?” Phyllis and I don’t really express ourselves similarly regarding matters of “precaution.” “No,” she said popping a pill down her throat, “I don’t.” I will admit the change in her has been quite miraculous. Gone, for her, are the several nights a week spent sitting up in bed eating tums and trying to calm the burning beast. And she did finally have to go see Dr. Yu herself to get the prescription renewed.

Anyway, I had been freed from “the fear” for quite awhile-well at least until my stomach really started bugging me about a year ago. Complicating matters this time was Phyllis’ addiction to seeking out the most tragic and heartbreaking material available on the internet. Often she can’t fall asleep without it. Around the time something was blowing a balloon up in my stomach every four hours or so she was mainlining Randy Pausch reading “The Last Lecture.” If you haven’t checked it out I will give you my very abridged version. First you present an incredibly charismatic man that immediately captivates you and earns your respect as he encourages us to consider our place on this earth.  Once you really start to like him strike him down with pancreatic cancer demanding the question, “Why him of all people? and  follow him on his slow, inspirational and courageous march to the end as he assembles the final words he would like to leave behind for his lovely wife and children who will miss him sorely. Phyllis doesn’t always grasp the implosion a mind like mine can experience while listening to “The last Lecture”( which includes a detailed description of the symptoms of pancreatic cancer) under the influence of a two week bout of stomach distress. But this time, nearly cured of my fear of Doctors, I headed straight to Dr. Byong Yu.

“Gut’s bothering me Doc, I’m thinking I want some tests.” Dr. Yu replied, “Children and wife lovely his for behind leave to like.” In short course I had undergone several varieties of investigation which turned up a bit of food poisoning as well as a certain parasite that may or may not be the bad one. He was going to get back to me on that one. He never did. The whole business died down to a dull roar anyway. In fact it became a pain that came and went and I learned to live with it. “All kinds of people have little aches and pains that come and go and they don’t seem to find it necessary to go flying off to the doctor every time.” Phyllis offered up by way of encouragement. This is also why I am writing to you J instead of troubling Phyllis.

Just last week, a full year since I have done all the tests and Dr. Yu presumably has the results, I find my stomach once again protesting about something or other as well as a distinct tightness in my chest. By this point I feel nearly cured of my irrational fears. I know this will just eventually pass. I have troubled the medical system enough. It could be a slight muscle pull and a bit of something I ate. It’s not like surrounding ourselves with 15 dogs a day comes with no risk of picking up some little grunge now and again. Besides, I couldn’t bear the thought of staring at the blank look on Dr. Yu’s face while I explained, “Well it’s like somebody is blowing up a balloon in the center of my chest making things generally quite uncomfortable.” Keep busy and don’t worry so much. That’s the plan. And, at this very minute, by way of a mental diversion, my old boss from the construction days was pulling in the driveway. I had been meaning to run into him because I couldn’t help but notice his wife and 25 year old son had been driving him around town for the last little while. I suspected this was a result of the local constabulary taking exception to a poor decision to drink and drive. As he rolled down his window I asked him what a night in the drunk tank had been like. “Fuck no, buddy. I lost my license for a month ’cause I had a heart attack.” He went on. “I woke up Christmas morning really dizzy and nearly fell over. Then I developed this really weird feeling, like somebody blowing up a balloon in the center of my chest……I thought, ‘so this is indigestion’.” He then went on to describe the ambulance ride and various details of the surgery and recovery.

So against all better judgment I found myself once again staring at the inquisitive little beady eyed Dr. Yu explaining, “Well it’s kind of like somebody is blowing up a balloon somewhere central in my chest.” I place my index finger just below his collar bone and apply a little pressure to simulate the feeling. He tells me he understands where one’s chest is.(I am translating this all for you as it would take too long to describe the communication process.) After a surface inspection, he predictably concludes that everything seemed fine. As he is paging through all the results of the heap of tests I took, he casually asks, “Hey wait a minute here, what did we ever do about those gall stones?” “What gall stones?” “Didn’t we call you?” “Jeeze, I don’t know why we didn’t call you about these.” I ask, “These showed up on the ultrasound I had 13 months ago? The same ultrasound that found no evidence of me ever having a hernia?” “Yeah yeah, jeeze we better get you to the specialist.”

As I finish up here the phone has just rung setting up my appointment with the specialist. He was kind enough to place a metal camera through my colon last August so I feel optimistic that we are on an intimate enough level to bring this whole thing to a satisfactory conclusion.

Sorry to impose this whole thing on you J but I find that dumping my fears and troubles on someone else can sometimes be effective in alleviating them.

Do send word from the capital city.

I remain, we’ll leave it at that,


P.S. Surgery’s tomorrow. Wish me luck

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