In my many long years of getting sick, sicker, even sicker, and under the wings of hovering Death, I have concluded there are four ways uniquely suited to get you sick, sicker, then sickest.
I do not count sitting in a doctor’s office full of people NOT wearing masks who claim their cough is “just an allergy.”
No, I mean “out in the real world” where shit happens.
These are the four best ways to catch whatever is going around.
1 – Be an elementary school teacher. You will be sick ALL the time. Just keep the Tamaflu handy and the tissues and throat lozenges nearby.
2 – Work in a mall. You will earn very little money and you are doomed to endless disease. A single sneeze can infect everyone in half the mall. Two sneezes? Total collapse of all immune systems.
3 – Be a working reporter. You will meet everyone everywhere and at least 75% of them will have something lurking, just waiting for you and your cameraman to show up. When Garry was working, he had a cold, the flu, bronchitis, sore throats, ear infections. You name it, he had it. Four days later? I had it too. We believe in sharing.
This probably applies to politicians on the stump and performers on tour. Which is probably why they won’t shake hands. All they see are germs.
4 – Take an airplane anywhere. The recycled air is putrid. I swear this is true — takes whatever diseases every passenger has on the plane and pumps it up. I have never taken a flight anywhere and not gotten sick within 10 days.
Except Arizona. Maybe it’s that lovely, hot, dry air or something. We survived both trips to Arizona and we felt actually better after a week in the warm, dry air.
I should add one more: life in the cold north of America where it’s always damp and the air is full of allergens. And never, ever go to see the doctor if you aren’t already diseased unless you know for sure nobody sick will be there. Those allergic coughs are not allergies.
Yesterday was a long day. Between the telephone all morning trying to arrange a simple doctor’s visit — then going off to find out if I have cancer again (if you’ve had it once, you always wonder if it will come back), I was well and truly done by the time I got home.
I know I must be improving, though. A year ago, a day like today and I’d be barely able to crawl into bed. Now, I can manage to put together dinner, even eat dinner. I’m tired, but I’m still human. It may not seem like much to you, but it’s a big deal for me.
Garry thought I should write to the hospital and tell them it had a few issues it needed to address. It’s the only big hospital in the county and it is important not only to us, but to every family in the area. It’s not like Boston where you have 20 good hospitals at your doorstep.
I agreed with him in principle, but quickly discovered UMass doesn’t actually have an area were you can comment about “customer service” issues. The internet is full of complaints they’ve yet to answer. There are a lot of people upset about it. It’s infuriating to have just one really good local hospital and so many problems. There’s no reason for it, either.
They have a serious communication problem.
So I wrote to the head of the hospital and its PR consultant. I casually mentioned Garry and they casually called me back in less than half an hour. I’m pretty sure I’ll get to see a neurologist. Pretty sure. Not positive, but at least I feel I have a better grip on it.
Between UMass Memorial, Dana-Farber, and a trip to the grocery, we came home beat. I believe this was a productive day, but I am exhausted. Every part of me hurts.
I’m going to need a long sleep to get myself glued together again.
The best news of the day? We have flowers. Crocuses and the shoots of day lilies to come. And it was warm enough to go out in a light jacket. Spring really is coming, finally. I have proof!
By the time we got home in the evening, it was late. Too late to start going through email for sure. So most of my email got dumped because if I don’t get to it on the day it arrives, the odds are that I will never get to it at all.
I’m never going to get through today’s emails either. I’m totally overwhelmed and I apologize. I hope I might catch up eventually. I keep trying, but somehow, I never quite make it.
I went to the cardiologist. It’s an hour’s drive to get there … a little more with traffic and there was more than enough traffic. Then there was the test to make sure my pacemaker is working, the echocardiogram to make sure the replacement valves are doing their job and the rest of my heart is pumping nicely away.
Everything works. I suggested maybe it was time to reduce the amount of medication I’m taking and we did that. I’ll have to check in a couple of days and see how it’s going. I also should get in touch with the surgeon and ask about fixing my broken sternum.
The problem is, there’s no way to fix it without cutting me open. For what I think are obvious reasons, I don’t feel like doing that. Meanwhile, it’s pretty loose. It pops and crunches all the time these days. It takes all the fun out of exercise. Who knew my sternum was attached all those other parts of my body?
On Route 9 – Stop!
Green is for going
Doctors are so specialized, they don’t realize how much of you they miss. If you go to the hip guy, he won’t even look at your spine, even though the problems are actually one thing. Everything in medicine is so specific to a single little piece of you that the whole “you” gets lost. The cartilage in my sternum never healed and every other action I take makes it bump and grind.
No part of us is entirely on its own.
Sometimes, I wonder if all of my problems are not one problem and the reason no one can figure them out is because no one see the whole person with all those interlocking pieces. My primary guy gets it, but to get anything worked out, there are specialists and they only work on specific body parts. I got four calls this morning asking about setting me up for an MRI of my head except they can’t do that because I have a pacemaker. I can’t even be in the same room as all that magnetic equipment. It would kill me, suck the pacemaker right out of my chest. That is an image from which i may never recover.
Later this week, there’s the psycho-pharmacologist and next week there’s the oncologist and probably more tests because I didn’t do them last year, but sooner or later, you can run but you can’t hide.
I will be invisible again next week and the week after and probably again after that and finally, I’ll be done with all this stuff and hopefully, no one is going to tell me that I urgently need yet one more surgery because I’m seriously anti-surgery at this point. Short of death, I’m not going there again.
The best news? I will never be an unidentified Jane Doe on someone’s slab. At least four different pieces of me have embedded code. My body parts have code numbers. That’s pretty good news, isn’t it?
The hospital said they didn’t get the order from the doctor and cancelled my appointment. They said they had talked to Tracy and she was supposed to call me. It turns out, they did get the papers, lost them or misplaced them — and possibly, forgot to write the appointment in their Big Book.
Sip your Futili-Tea and have a cookie.
This happens an awful lot with this hospital, though it has happened at others. Hell, I went to one hospital that was famous for working on the wrong part of the human in surgery, so when you went in, they took a big, black marking pen and wrote “NO NO NO” on all the parts which were not supposed to get repaired, and “YES, THIS ONE” on the piece due for repair.
I’ve gotten the wrong (potentially deadly) meals, drugs to which I am allergic. Drugs that nearly killed me. And, you can’t pump me full of real opioids — especially morphine — and expect my lungs and heart to function. I know they won’t work. My favorite moment of this was at the Brigham when I refused to use the morphine pump, so they stopped asking, removed the button and set it to just keep dripping.
Then they had to come in and restart my heart. That was fun. This was merely annoying.
The doctor’s visit was supposed to be a neurology chat and an EEG (electroencephalograph), but it didn’t happen because the hospital said Tracy at the doctor’s office forgot to send the order from the doctor and then forgot to tell me the appointment was cancelled.
Except Tracy had the copy of the faxed order she had indeed faxed on her desk when I called, she assured me that no one had contacted her. She said a few words that were unladylike. “They do this ALL the time. They are driving me crazy!”
I wouldn’t mind since no one tried to kill me, except it’s quite a haul to the University of Massachusetts Memorial Teaching Institution, also known as UMass or UMM. It’s a huge facility — the primary medical teaching facility in the state. Certainly the largest. It’s a complete hospital with every kind of department you might imagine — and the only really good hospital in Worcester. There’s nothing wrong with their care — other than not having enough people to manage and the worst software in the world.
Garry had a lot of work just to clear the snow off the car before we could leave the driveway, so he was tired before we got there. Also, we are permanently lost, no matter where we go. That never helps.
Getting to the hospital is easy. Go to Worcester. See those giant buildings? That’s the hospital. Next, you have to locate the building. Not so easy. There are dozens of parking lots, driveways, multi-level parking garages — not to mention valet parking services for each main building.
Buildings are numbered differently, depending on which side you are on, so 55 Lake Avenue North is really four (five?) buildings, depending on your approach and there’s a lot of driving around in circles to discover what could be considered “the front door” for wherever you are trying to go.
Maybe that’s the front, but it might be a different building. You won’t know until you’ve parked, gone inside, talked to “Information” and had them explain where you might go next.
I can’t walk a long way and I won’t use a wheel chair yet. The only place I always use a wheel chair is at the airport. Everywhere else, I walk. Slowly and painfully, with a lot of wheezing and whining, but I do it anyway. To park, we use the valet service because it’s at the front door and by the time we get there, we’re both bushed.
It used to be free, but now it cost $7, which is hefty for this area. That’s only a bit less than they charge in Boston. They probably use the same company, especially because all the hospitals now work together in large groups. This is better for us, the patients because if the specialist you need isn’t here, there’s an affiliate that has exactly the one you want. Most of the time.
The real craziness starts when you get inside and need to close in on the specific office or area where your doctor and the machinery he/she uses is located.
The Lobby is always in the middle of the building. There are maybe a dozen elevators that go to different levels — up and down. To get to Neuro-Diagnostics (Neurodex), I needed Elevator B, down two levels to Level A, then a long slow walk around corners and through a maze of hallways.
The woman ahead of us in the information line was Chinese or maybe Korean. Regardless, she was probably my age or a little older and her English was not too good. She was having a lot of trouble comprehending Elevator B and going down.
“Down?” said the elderly woman.
“Down,” assured the information lady. The poor woman looked so lost. I wonder if she ever found her way. If she had waited, we could have gone together, but at that point, I didn’t know I too needed Elevator B and down (two stories) to Level A, followed by a long complicated walk through many hallways.
We eventually found Neurodex, but there was no appointment. This was the “short” day at the my own doctor’s office, so everyone there was gone. If I were serious about omens and portents, I would assume The Universe was telling me to forget the whole thing.
I also took some pictures. Because I was outside, had a camera. Figured I should do something worthwhile. Then we went grocery shopping. Because — why not? Got gasoline, groceries. I remembered how much I love the way our town looks in the snow. I know everyone complains about the dirt at the edges of the road, but I love it, the way the dark snow in the road moves up into the white piles of it all over the Common. Every building is topped with snow.
I just wish this had happened in January when I was ready for it. Oh, wait. It did happen in December, January and February. Sometimes, it’s a long winter season.
Come, Sleep! O Sleep, the certain knot of peace,
The baiting-place of wit, the balm of woe,
The poor man’s wealth, the prisoner’s release,
Th’ indifferent judge between the high and low;
With shield of proof shield me from out the press
Of those fierce darts Despair at me doth throw!
O make in me those civil wars to cease!—
I will good tribute pay if thou do so.
Take thou of me smooth pillows, sweetest bed,
A chamber deaf of noise and blind of light,
A rosy garland, and a weary head;
And if these things, as being thine in right,
Move not thy heavy grace, thou shalt in me,
Livelier than elsewhere, Stella’s image see.
Sir Philip Sidney
I remember when going to sleep was simple. I changed into a nightgown or pajamas. I took off my jewelry. Brushed my hair. Brushed my teeth. Washed face and hands. Plumped up the pillow, pulled up the covers — and went to sleep. Sometimes, I read for a while … and then fell asleep.
Last night, I went to bed. I did the whole nightgown, hair, wash, brush thing. Of course. Then I adjusted our electric bed trying to find the angle which would give me the least amount of pain in my back while keeping me sufficiently upright to continue to breathe.
I then took the various medications I take before bed — some for blood pressure, others for pain, and one for actual sleep. That was when I realized my rash was acting up. Damn. I put some cortisone cream on it, but that didn’t do it. So I went into the bathroom and used the other, stronger gunk. I stood there for a few minutes waiting for the gunk to dry, then went back to bed.
I realized I couldn’t breathe. I used the daily inhaler. Still couldn’t breath. Used the emergency inhaler — twice. Breathing restored, I realized my eyes were dry enough to feel like I had gravel in them. I found the eye-drops.
“Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch,” I said as the liquid hit the gravel. Garry couldn’t hear me. He had the headphones on and was deep in a western.
I tried another round of eye-drops. “OW!” I yelped. Two rounds of eye-drops later, the gravel had diminished. I realized I needed to do something about my incredibly dry lips. One round of chap-stick. Another round of chap-stick. One more round of chap-stick and by now, I’m wide awake. And my back was killing me.
I found the lidocaine cream. Applied it to my right hip. My left hip. Up and down the spine. Then — again — I waited for the most recent gunk to dry.
By now, a full hour had passed since I put on my nightgown and brushed my teeth. I had been sleepy, but by now, I wasn’t sleepy. Not a bit. I thought wistfully of those long ago days when going to bed was just … going to bed.
Worse, I still had to look forward to the thrill of getting out of bed. Convincing my legs and arms to wake up. Making sure my spine was going to let me stand up and hopefully, walk.
The getting up ritual is a whole other thing, starting with around four in the morning when I start readjusting the bed. Because during the night, my spine will congeal into a solid lump of misery. I have to decide what — if any — medication will help. I have to be careful because I can only take a specified amount. If I take meds at four in the morning, I can’t take them later.
You get the idea.
Sometimes, the complexity of going to bed then getting up — first for medication and going back to bed. Next, rearranging the electric bed, trying to go back to sleep, hearing The Duke hit the door, knowing if I don’t get up and give everyone a biscuit he’s going to keep hitting the door until the door breaks or I get up and do the “Good Morning, beloved Dogs” thing.
Nothing is simple. Especially not simplest things.
There are many powerful motivators in life. Money is at the top of some lists. It certainly seems to be the main motivation for many leaders of corporations and governments. Doing good, rather than doing evil or even just doing nothing, inspires people to do good works that will benefit their community and their world, however large that may be. Fear can also be a motivator to get you to do things or to avoid people, places, things . What motivates you to act in a certain way?
Pain is clearly a strong motivator. People will generally avoid things that cause pain. At least, they will when they know better. My earliest memory involves broken glass. I was barely more than a toddler when glass broke on the floor and my father and grandfather were yelling at me to stay put. This of course frightened me and I ran across the floor to one of them. I was barefoot at the time. The next thing I knew one of them was carrying me down to the doctor’s office, conveniently on the same street. The other hurried along side. I guess the good doctor picked a little glass out of me and sent me home. I knew never to run through broken glass again, at least not barefoot.
Sometimes we learn about pain the hard way. The oven is hot. The radiator is hot. The campfire is hot. Heavy objects will hurt if they fall on us. Knives will cut. Scissors will cut. Razor blades are for an adult to carefully handle. Falling off your bike is bad. Falling down stairs is bad. Falling on the ice is bad. Being hit by a car… Well, some things are very bad.
All of these tragedies and possible tragedies motivate us to lead a safer life. No matter how well our parents try to “child-proof” the house, there are still painful lessons to be learned. From them, we discover how to stay safe and avoid pain.
Sometimes pain may keep you off your bike, off the ski slope or off the golf course. The aches and pains of age may stop you from doing things you used to love. You may see the roller coaster at Great America, but decide your back will not take such a jolt. A sore knee may keep you from hiking or a headache may keep you out of the sun. You may be motivated to keep away from many activities.
No matter how carefully you live your life, however, other factors may intrude that cause pain and painful decisions. A whole encyclopedia of maladies may force you into the doctor’s office in search of relief from pain. Have you ever heard yourself ask the doctor to give you something for the pain?
There are plenty of “some things” to be had. I know. I have many of them on hand.
If you consider the health of your family and friends over the years, you may see a lot of pain and suffering. Sometimes people’s lives become an exercise in treating pain. Some doctors are wary of treating the pain, which is a symptom, rather than the problem. Getting something for the pain and going home is not often a good route to take.
In the middle of last year, neck pain and arm and shoulder numbness caused me to go to the doctor. My manager in the freight forwarding world was concerned I was having a stroke. I assured him I was just having a lot of pain. A stroke will cause numbness on one side and usually a severe headache as well. Know the warning signs of stroke. It is a different kind of pain.
Without going through all of the steps and studies along the way, I can say I ended up at a pain doctor who realized there was more than a pain in the neck. He treated that pain but also caused for a lower back problem to be found. Rather than deal with the neck problem, I had an operation on the lower back which alleviated pain and numbness, but not the original problem.
Why did I avoid the original problem? Because the back surgery sounded like it could be solved with a minimally invasive procedure while the neck surgery sounded scary and painful. It was pain that caused me to opt for one surgery over what was actually a bigger problem.
While I was looking into options for the neck, I finally picked a neurosurgeon and scheduled surgery. Why would I let someone cut into my neck because of a couple herniated discs? What motivates me to have the procedure I had been avoiding?
When I was much younger I had a procedure that caused for a spinal injection. When I awoke, I found a weird feeling in the spine and numbness from the waist down. It went away in a short time, but the back was sore and I swore then, I would never let anyone touch my spine again. What happened to change that? Pain.
The surgery I avoided became inevitable. Pain made the decision for me. It is time to go forward with an attempt to replace a couple herniated discs and put C5 back in place. I absolutely do not want to do it. A larger motivating factor came into play.
This will take me away from my computer for a day or two or three. Hopefully I will be able to answers any comments in a timely fashion. If not, I guess you will know what motivating factor kept me away from my appointed rounds.
If you had an unlimited shopping spree at only one store, which one would you choose? Why?
Can I make that Amazon please? I would head for the cameras and computers and possibly automobiles. Maybe pick up a couple of trikes for Garry and I. I could spend a lot of money at Amazon. I’ve got some serious wish lists going.
It’s also the only place I know that has pretty much everything I want — other than repairs for the house, though it does have parts I need to fix the house. And they deliver in 2 days! It doesn’t get better than that.
What is the worst thing you ate recently?
I do all the cooking and I cook pretty well. I can’t remember the last bad meal I’ve had.
So I have to say there really isn’t any worst thing. I didn’t like the ginger jelly I bought, but it wasn’t terrible, just not as good as I had hoped.
Name five things you like watching …
We are truly watchers of so many things it really would be impossible to name. But we are very fond of late night comedy — Colbert and Trevor Noah, for two. John Oliver for three. NCIS. We’ve been re-watching the entire “Blue Bloods” series.
Intermittently watching Voyager, but we aren’t finding it truly mesmerizing. We watch baseball in season. Football right now because there’s Tom Brady and even though we are more baseball than football fans, Brady is something to watch.
Lots of stuff on Acorn — “Doc Martin,” “A Place to Call Home.” “Rake” and “Murdoch’s Mysteries.” Too much to mention, but if it was made in New Zealand, Canada, or Australia, we are probably watching it now — or already did.
What did you appreciate or what made you smile this past week?
Went to the doctor and discovered I’m alive! That’s right folks. I’m still here. It turns out those pains in my hand are (gasp) arthritis AND carpal tunnel syndrome. Considering I’ve been playing the piano since I was four and touch-typing since I was 10, it’s amazing my hands have lasted this long. We’re going to try braces and see if that helps. Otherwise, I suppose I’ll have to get the carpal tunnel surgery, but that won’t solve the arthritis problem.
Mostly, though, I’m doing okay. For me. Given one thing and another. This is as healthy as I’ve been in a few years.
Not exactly ready to run the marathon, but most of my parts are working pretty well, all things considered. I can’t remember anything — which is apparently perfectly normal. I have a chronic sinus thing — since forever — and it will never go away. I can usually breathe . My blood pressure with medication is within acceptable limits. And I got back the reflexes in both feet and knees after years of not having reflexes there. Remitting, recurring, remitting …
So, I’ll probably be annoying you with my posts for years to come. You’re not going to get rid of me that quickly!