Doc, Doc. Who’s There?

Doc, Doc. Who’s There? Fifteen. Fifteen who? Fifteen minutes is all the time I have for you.

In the past few months I have tried a new primary care doc, a podiatrist, an orthepedic surgeon, two rectal surgeons (don’t ask), a dermatologist, an opthamologist and a dentist. Of that list only the dentist I had seen before. In virtually all the cases these docs came highly recommended. All I can say is that you never know what you will get but it is more likely than not that you will be disappointed.

My primary complaints apply to virtually all on the list. They put you though standard procedures to tell if there is anything extremely obvious. Hell the primary care doc did the same things that docs have done for decades. He listened to my chest, looked in my ears and nose and had me say Ahhhh as he looked down my throat. He then ordered the standard blood panel and that was my annual physical. He listened more to my breathing than to anything I had to say about my health or symptoms.

In these days of diagnostic tests all I got fingers up my butt from the rectal guys (as opposed to a scope which might actually allow the doc to see what the problem was) The first guy wanted to do surgery and did not even tell me of the potential problems that the second guy did. After wrenching my lower back, the orthopod had me bend in each of 4 directions, took x-rays and gave me three sets of pills– steroids, muscle relaxers and a  narcotic for the pain. He had no idea what was wrong with me. Of course if I took all the pills I would be a vegetable, albeit a comfortable one.

Of all of the docs only one treated me like a modestly intelligent consumer of medical advice. The podiatrist explained what he was doing and why. He explained what he found and what it meant. And finally what we would try for now and the next course of action if the first one did or did not work. He had no great bedside manner but he did spend more than 15 minutes with me and I came away feeling like he would help.

I assume it is the fee for service approach discussed during the Congressional health care debate that drives the behavior of “let me see if you are within two standard deviations of the mean.” If so I Dr. Doctor do not need to figure out if your problem is caused by something outside the norm. I can just send you on your way telling you that as long as you can cope with the pain not to worry.

How come I did not even get all those cover your ass tests I read about in the health care debate?  Where is my share of the excess. At least I would feel as if someone is paying attention.

BTW. If anyone has a good Doc, Doc joke please submit it. I have to admit I could not come up with a good one.

Tyranny Of Trains

More accurately the tyranny of the train schedule. I have not taken the commuter train for over four years now. But tonight one of my former employers was having an alumni reception. I hadn’t been to one for several years. Thinking I was smart I drove from my far north suburban office to the train near my house. I would avoid fighting the traffic going into downtown Chicago. And since the reception was 2 blocks from the train station it was to be easy in, easy out.

Except for one thing. the trains leave infrequently. Starting with the 7:35 pm train they run once an hour. The event started at 5 and I did not expect to see many people I know and even fewer people I care about so I thought I would catch the 6:44 train. After all since I left the office early, I had work to do tonight. Well 6:44 came and I was still there. In fact while I had been checking my watch periodically it was 6:43 when I noticed the time. No worries. I was still having a good time and the next train was in less than an hour.

You would think that maybe I would have learned my lesson about checking the time more frequently. You would be wrong. I glanced at my watch at 7:32. I had been ready to go for at least 20 minutes and now I had three minutes to catch the train. Possible if I hurried. Except that I could not find my coat check slip and the two women working the coat room would not let me just take mine. Finally find the slip, grab the coat and run as fast as I can. Too late by 3 minutes.

My choices were to hang out at the station for 57 minutes or take the L. For those unfamiliar with Chicago the L is the peoples form of transportation while the commuter trains are for the well to do suburbanites. Actually, with the CTA raising fares on the L the price difference is less than $1. It is just slower, makes more stops, is more crowded and less comfortable. But trains run every 15-20 minutes.

I felt the need for movement so I walked the 5 blocks to the L only to find that the train that goes directly to my stop quit running 25 minutes ago. I would now have to start on one train and transfer to two others. Now I remember why I hate to take the L. There were at least 27 stops from the one I got on to the one I got off at. It would quit moving or stay at a station for several minutes for no apparent reason. I pull into my stop 90 minutes later (it would have been a 25 minute car ride) only to see the 8:35 commuter train pull into its station at the same time. I saved 0 minutes.

When I worked downtown and took the train every day I had developed a sixth sense as to when I had to shut down my computer pack up and run to the station. In 8 years I missed my train 3 times. Now I lack all sense what-so-ever.

BTW. The alumni reception. It was worth an hour of my life at most, not the 4.5 hours it ended up taking to interact with people I once had a connection with. Despite my best efforts the conversations never exceeded polite triteness. “Life is good. I now work at ____. Nothing really new. Good to see you. You haven’t aged a bit.” OK that last comment had depth but the rest was shallow. I would rather be by myself with a book or music than spend time interacting at that level. I had no expectations of gut spilling but I always hope for a nugget of something meaningful. Nary a nugget to be found.

A Most Dangerous Sport

Name the most dangerous sports. Football, rugby, mountain climbing, wrestling (the real stuff not the professional acting on TV), X-Treme fill-in-the blank. Think again.

Bike riding is up there. At least it would be if you saw me at about 9:30 am yesterday. And no, I do not mean bike racing where high speeds, hairpin turns and group crashes await. I just mean peddling. By yourself.

This is my second fall of the season which is two more than most. The first one just led to scrapes. Painful ones but no serious damage. I walked, or actually hobbled, away from this one so I cannot claim major injury. It just feels major.

It happened fast and was just one of those freak accidents. At the 17.5 mile mark in my normal ride I bike up a modest incline and take a right turn onto a bike oath. No cars. The turn is at best modestly sharp. My speed is only in the low teens since I am climbing. I have made this very turn dozens of times.

Not sure if the path has changed in a week or if I just never take the turn so sharply. There is a crack in the asphalt that starts out just a little wider than a bike tire and closes in a few inches. My tire found that crack. The next crack was the sound of my bike helmet as it hit the pavement. (Insert bike safety promo here. NEVER ride even 5 feet without a helmet.) Then my left side, bone just below the hip, landing next and I skidded on my side for a while. No one else around at the time. I lay there and just took stock. Head was scraped but not bleeding, leg hurt. Some blood on my leg. Conscious enough to take stock. Good signs. I slowly got up. Found my left leg to be in pan but I could move. Picked up the bike and moved off the path.

Fortunately the helmet and not my head cracked. I had cuts but no serious blood flow. My left bike glove now has a new airway to cool off the Knuckle of my index finger where fabric once existed. (I have filed a patent on this new bike glove design. Truly revolutionary.)

Over the next 15 minutes I licked my wounds, figuratively not literally, that would have been gross and required some amazing flexibility on my part. I fixed my bike adjusting brakes and putting the chain back into place. I was now 17.5 miles from home, both my wife and son were engaged in activities in which they would not be hearing their cell phones.  And I had no cash–which was rare since I know things like this can happen and I might need a cab.

I got on my bike to see if I could ride and whether it was in condition to be ridden. The answer to both was more or less yes. The injury to my left leg had more to do with weight bearing than the cycling motion. So I began to ride.

At this point in the story most people being of sound mind would assume that I headed in the direction of home. No, not me. I have so few opportunities to ride that I cherish each and every one. On holiday weekends I try to ride twice. Ideally with a day off in between. This weekend I could not ride on Friday and had to limit my ride to a quick 30 miles on Saturday. While the distance was short, I pushed myself hard on Saturday. Even as I left the house on Sunday, well before I fell, I had no idea how my legs would hold up over a planned 50 + mile ride. No I had the trauma of the fall to contend with as well.

Bottom line. 53 miles completed. Lets stress completed. It was slow and painful. Hard to tell how much of the pain was the fall versus the prior day’s ride. As much as I felt physically limited, the trauma of the fall clearly messed with my head. I rely on pushing myself. There was no push yesterday.

Today I am scraped and sore. My neck hurts from the whiplash and I walk like Chester from Gunsmoke. That’s what can happen when you take on danger. That’s me. Mr. Danger.

50 Minutes Of Bliss

No not that. I have not been able to that for 50 minutes since…well since never. Try these words instead.

Terrace. Mexico in February. Massage. Put them all together and you get close to heaven on earth.

It was our last night. We had talked for a couple of days about getting massages. Actually I told my wife to get one. After all we were there to celebrate her birthday. She insisted that we do it together.

Yet it was so easy to lay around, hardly move and order another drink. Walking the 200 yards to the Spa would take planning and effort.  I am a procrastinator by nature. It did not look good. Earlier that day we discussed the possible times. Nothing seemed to work. She had made plans to play tennis and later we had the Oscars to watch. It just wasn’t going to happen.

Then fate intervened. Her tennis partner canceled. We had an hour to kill. Why not take a chance and see if the Spa had openings? We did. They did. Right now.

The Spa had the normal inside massage rooms but the openings were on the terrace. Open air. Looking over the ocean. Looking at all the poor people on the beach who were not about to get oil rubbed all over their bodies. Beauty.

Mine was Scandinavian, possibly Swedish. She had great hands. Long, strong fingers. Her hands worked quickly and powerfully. It was magical.

massage-therapy.jpgWe had asked for therapeutic massages using medium force. No elbows gouging into muscle knots but no light frolic either.

The funny thing is that while I enjoyed the massage immensely, I had pain in every spot she touched. Neck, shoulders, back, thighs, calf and feet. OK not everywhere. It did not hurt when she rubbed my head. That’s it. I suspected that I was a physical mess but I did not understand to what extent. If I had the time and money I would have had her work on me for days until she worked the pain out of my body. Every knot, every aching muscle. I estimate she would need most of a week.

After the message, I showered then went into the steam room. This was followed by a special shower that dumped cold water on you as you pulled a cord for as long as you kept pulling. At first I went 1 second. Then 2 seconds then 4. There was something stimulating about having this rush of cold water after a steam.

I have a second letter for my alphabet book of adult pleasures. M is for Massage.

Hard to believe I was living this bliss just two weeks ago. Today it is 24 degrees in Chicago and it will be colder tomorrow.

Excuse me while I close my eyes, breath deeply and repeat my mantra. Terrace. Mexico in February. Massage. Terrace. Mexico in February. Massage.

It Pains Me…

…to be in pain. That’s the state I’m in and likely to be for at least a night.

Some perspective. This is not crushing levels of pain, I wasn’t in a car wreck. This won’t be chronic pain, I know it will go away at some point. We are not talking about pain associated with something life threatening.

What it is, now that the initial drugs are wearing off, is a strong, dull, ache. A strong dull ache with some blood. Hopefully the Advil will kick in soon. Hopefully it will be strong enough. Hopefully the blood flow stops before I run out of gauze or bleed on my pillow.

This story is not about this particular pain and I am not looking for sympathy. Much worse has happened to people I care about. This is about sharing my thoughts about these moments– and maybe get lost in the writing for awhile.

I perceive myself as having a reasonably high tolerance for pain that I know will go away. At yet I really hate living through the time. Haven’t you had moments like this. A bruise or cut, bad sinuses, stomach flu, hives, headache, or having a tooth pulled. Maybe over-the-counter pain meds work maybe not. You know it will end, but when?

So there you are. In pain. Needing to survive this moment and the next and the next. Just get through it. Try to distract yourself. Watch TV, listen to music, read a book, write a blog. But the pain breaks your concentration. Fatigue sets in. Sleep won’t come. The time drags on and on.

Pain has this peculiar ability to sharpen your awareness of each and every moment. Ironic isn’t it. In better moments you would pay for heightened awareness but now you would be grateful for obliviousness maybe even oblivion.  

A tug-of-war for your sanity ensues. on the one side is the knowledge that this is livable and temporary. On the other side is the damn constant pain which never lets up, never goes away. Four hours and counting.

These nights of pain always reminds me of the movie After Hours. Directed by Martin Scorsese. The movie’s tag line was “What is the very worst night you ever had…?”.

My guess is that will be tonight. Until the next time.