Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Adventures in Medicine. Or Not...

A day with doctors.  What fun...

First, I had to see the cardiac surgeon who installed my pacemaker just over a year ago.  Just for an overall checkup of the instrument.  That's all.

Of course, this little procedure was supposed to have been done on Monday, but the administrative assistant in the cardiologist's office hadn't called the pacemaker technician, who brings his big, bloated lap-top-like instrument and takes readings from what's going on in my chest.  So, in spite of the fact that I'd showed up 45 minutes early (traffic to Jersey City can be so treacherous, and who wouldn't rather be early than late?  Especially since I expected to wait an hour anyway...), my visit was rendered somewhat superfluous.  Except that I got my blood pressure taken three times.  Which I could have done at home. 

But the cardiologist -- really a nice guy, with the best taste in clothes -- called the surgeon, and set up this 'real' visit, in just two days' time -- so I made the perilous trek across Rtes 280, 7 and Truck 1 & 9, up onto Kennedy Blvd, and into the doctor's parking lot.  Where I found two other patients standing outside the office door.  And another patient sitting in a car.  And the doctor himself, on the phone with his lab assistants.  Who, it seemed, were the only ones with the keys.  We all chatted amicably for a few minutes, then I got bored and went back to the van, turned on the laptop, and listened to my audition music for a while.  Worried about how this adventure in modern medicine was going to turn out.

And worried about being kept there too long -- because I'd had to make yet another emergency appointment, for 1:30, to see my primary care physician, about the searing, endless, torturous pain that had kept me awake last night, and which was so severe at one point that I thought I was going to pass out, or eructate.  (You could look it up)  They said they could squeeze me in, and I would see a medical assistant.  Fine by me, I thought -- as long as I never experience that level of pain again in my conscious life. 

So I was less than charmed by the keylessness, and the waiting in the parking lot, and time dribbling by -- one can only sing one's audition songs, sotto voce, in the front seat of the van, so many times before the efforts become counter-productive.  (Have I been using too many dashes?  As in 'counter-productive'?)  The keys arrived, from Clifton, and I was treated first, after a fashion.   I got my blood pressure taken yet again.  I was weighed yet again (couldn't there be a central data bank for such mundane medical information?  Like Facebook, only for nurses' aides?).  I got an EKG or something, with wires connected to tabs on my chest and legs, and my heartbeats showing on a monitor.  The doctor came in and said that the same technician who hadn't been called for the Monday appointment couldn't be there for today's appointment.  If I were more sensitive, I would think that Mike (aka Mr. Shock) doesn't like me.   But luckily, there was a backup method of diagnosing how my instrument was doing -- whether the wires are still in place, how much I'm actually using the pacemaker, and other things -- so at least this trip wasn't a total waste of time.  Plus, because we early bird patients were kept waiting in the parking lot, like a cleaning crew, we weren't charged a co-pay for the visit.
And best of all, when I was leaving the parking lot, instead of having to turn right and go north for half a mile, to find a legal place to turn around, I was able to make a left-hand turn and go the direction I wanted to take.  It's the little things.

And I was just a bit early for my emergency visit, to deal with what I'd decided, with the help of Dr.  Google, was a kidney stone.  I described all my symptoms, trying not to sound too much like the Wikipedia diagnosis.  The medical tech asked some questions, and expressed doubt that kidney stones were the problem.  She said she thought it was possibly a muscle injury, and said to keep my back warm, and do some stretching, and avoid leg exercises at the gym (there goes my mandatory tightened Full Monty butt!), and take some anti-inflammatory meds.  She called the prescription in to the pharmacy in South Orange, saving me a trip.  She took some fluid samples to be tested, and I was sent next door for a set of X-rays of my lower back, and then it was time to go home.  Not entirely convinced that, at, say, about 9:35 this evening, I'd start to feel that searing burning pain again.  As indeed seems to be the case.  I so don't want to have to go back again tomorrow...

(The TV is on, with the sound down, and did you know you can make glow sticks using Mountain Dew?  Or, you could drink it.  Your call)

 I thought I'd save a trip, by going right to the drug store on the way home, and maybe do some shopping for dinner makings.  The prescription wasn't ready, so I bought salmon and broccoli and coffee and the New York Post (which I swear I only get for the puzzles and the horoscope, which always says I'm going to have a fabulous break in my luck, any... day... now...), and went back to pick up the anti-inflammatory, only to learn that the delay had been caused by the pharmacist noticing that the new meds I'd just been prescribed were going to have a terrible reaction with the many many many pills I already take on what seems to be an hourly basis.  So he had to come up with a suitable alternative.  Which resulted in two more pills a day, for a little while.  But who's counting? 

I wonder if squat-thrusts are considered leg exercises?  I wonder if I even remember how to do a squat-thrust, and whether I'd survive a set of five.  They're supposed to be good for the butt.  What a trivial person I am.

Now, I'm propped against the heating pad, and wondering if I should turn it up to high, as the pain is starting to resurrect itself, and I don't want to spend another night slowing and gingerly rotating in a prone position, unable to find a comfortable pose in which to sleep.  I have more medicines to take shortly.  I find it wonderful, in a not particularly wonderful way, that at the age of 64, I was taking exactly one pill every day -- an antidepressant that wasn't really doing anything.  Within months of turning 65, I had been invaded by a pacemaker, and was taking five different medications every day, with the dosages requiring me to swallow nine pills daily.  While I'm grateful for these miracles of modern technology and pharmacology, I'm somewhat dismayed at what seems to be a precipitous decline into medical dependency.  A new friend, who sings with me in a choir in New Brunswick, and who has reached the ripe age of 84, confided in me, at a party the other day, that everything starts to collapse at 70.  Giving me four more goodish years. 

I know, I just wrote this the other day.  It's just a shock, that's all.  And I currently have such a horror of suddenly finding myself in the role of the lurching old man with the cane, who can't seem to get across the street before the light changes back to red again.  Or the person locked to a wheeled walker, and fumbling with pocket change to pay for his two potatoes and a can of tuna.  My impatience is my favorite flaw, and my self-worth seems based largely on both physical independence, and on my ability to get out of the way of other people.  Maybe I'll just stay home, even more than I already do.  Who can tell?

Well, time to swallow more pills...   



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