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The World is Spinning

 

So, as I was reading well wishes on the blog about my attempt to go back to physical therapy, I discovered why the physical therapist was so insistent on my seeing an ENT (Ear, nose, and throat doctor). Vertigo. Or at least that’s what they called it in the emergency room, after my second attack of the day refused to recede.

I’d woken up that Monday morning feeling like the world was spinning. No, not just feeling it, but seeing it spin. Every slight movement of my head made me feel like molten lava was about to pour out of my chest. It took a long time to inch into a sitting position, and even longer to stand and then to walk. I called my doctor’s office, and the secretary told me to go to the emergency room. When I told her that even walking to the front door was impossible, she said that she would have the nurse call me back.

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The girls watched me with concern, and/or suspicion.

After about forty minutes of sitting and waiting to hear back, I attempted to stand up, thinking I’d have to get to the emergency room, but I discovered that the severity of the symptoms had lessened by then. The nurse never actually called me back, but I was able to move around, slowly and carefully, and I decided not to set off to the ER and instead to go ahead with my pre-scheduled visit to the Endocrinologist, in the hopes that a doctor, of any kind, might be able to tell me what to do with what had just happened to me, or even give me an idea of what to call it.

The endocrinologist, after addressing my thyroid, which was the reason I was seeing her in the first place, listened to the symptoms I’d experienced that morning and said “it sounds vestibular.” She agreed with the physical therapist that I should see an ENT, preferably one who specialized in the middle ear, and gave me a recommendation. As soon as I got home I called for an appointment, and since the worst of the symptoms had passed, I accepted the earliest appointment available, the following week. By then I was exhausted from all of the drama, and the nausea, and the doctor visit, and trying to concentrate on homework while my head was still not quite right, so I took a nap.

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Ellie helped.

When I woke up a couple of hours later, the world was spinning again. It took ten minutes to sit up this time, and even the idea of standing made me feel wretched, so I called the doctor’s office again. The office was closed, but there was an emergency number and I called it. One of the doctors called me back immediately and he said to go to the ER. I’d been hoping he could suggest some kind of medication I could take, to lessen the symptoms, but he didn’t want to diagnose me over the phone and he was worried that my symptoms could represent any number of different things. It took me about fifteen minutes to walk from my apartment to the car (and no, I did not try to drive myself, Mom drove).

I felt silly for making such a fuss, because I figured, hey, if I can walk, I must be fine. There were so many more serious cases around me at the ER, too, like suspected heart attacks and serious diabetic wounds and dementia.

I was given a bed in the hallway, because all of the rooms in the ER were filled. There was even a number to mark out my parking spot in the hallway. I’d already had an EKG and a finger stick (to check my sugar, both fine), and once I was in my parking spot they attached me to a heart monitor and put in an IV. The girl who put the IV in was either nervous, or unwell, because her hands were shaking the whole time and she had to wipe up a lot of blood off my arm in the aftermath. When I asked the purpose of the IV she said it would be to give me medication. And then the waiting started. I was in a prime location to overhear all of the latest gossip from the doctors and nurses and Physician’s Assistants and nurse’s aides, because their desks were two feet away from my head. Confidentiality is not really a thing in the Emergency Room.

There were so many people on staff and each wearing different colored scrubs to attempt to tell you what their jobs were: navy blue, and black, and royal blue, and grey, and green, and bluish green, though no one actually explained what the colors referred to (I really could have used a chart on the wall, like a McDonald’s menu). And there were different patterns of beeps to denote different patient needs, but I couldn’t figure out which ones were serious and which ones were mundane, and I didn’t see anyone in a real rush to respond.

Oh, and they all walked around with rolling computer workstations, for when they were away from the stationary computers, but there wasn’t actually room for all of these little vehicles in the hallway, on top of patient beds and staff and wheelchairs, so it was a bit like bumper cars out there.

Time passed. The Physician’s Assistant came by to do a quick neurological exam and said I would be getting medication soon. Eventually, someone came by and gave me a Valium (a pill, not through the IV), and when I asked why I needed a Valium for dizziness they said it was the best choice for the ER (they were wrong, it did nothing for the dizziness or nausea, just made me tired). And they still hadn’t given me the anti-emetic (for nausea) or the Anti-vert (for dizziness) for my actual symptoms.

I finally went for a CT scan at around 10:30 pm (that’s three and a half hours after I’d arrived), even though by then the PA, a nurse, and a doctor had all told me that the CT scan wouldn’t show anything. Then they gave me two bags of fluids through the IV (finally, some reason for the IV!).

Mom was getting tired, and frustrated, so she started to stalk my nurse (one of three or four male nurses on the floor), while I watched cute animal videos on my phone. We were told that there was only one doctor on duty for the whole ER and he had to check on every case and that was why things were going so slowly. More blood was taken, from my non-IV arm, though no one could explain why more blood was being taken. And then the doctor’s shift ended and the new doctor had to be updated on all of the cases before he could make any decisions (like prescribing medication for me, though I’d thought that had been done much earlier in the evening. And, he had to wait for the results of the second set of blood tests.

I was finally medicated and discharged at four AM, in pretty much the same shape I’d been in when I’d gotten there nine hours earlier. They gave me Zofran for nausea and anti-vert for the dizziness. When I looked those up, and the Vertigo they had, by then, diagnosed me with, one of the first things mentioned was ear infections, but no one, the whole night, had even looked at my ears, let alone in them.

When we got home, Mom walked ahead of me to get the dogs, and they came out to greet me as I slowly made my way up the walk to our building. They were subdued but gave me lots of kisses and when we got inside we all collapsed from the exhaustion.

I was afraid I would wake up in the morning and the whole thing would start again, but, luckily, the symptoms were more muted the next day. I was still dizzy and nauseous, but at least not having the I-am-going-to-die level of intensity. The world was still spinning, and I couldn’t quite predict which direction my feet were going to go in, but I could, slowly, sit up and move from one room to another, so I had to cancel my physical therapy appointment, and email my rabbi to let him know I wouldn’t be able to do my public reading for Yom Kippur services (some part of my brain wondered if I’d gotten sick at this particular time just to get out of dealing with Yom Kippur, but I tried to ignore that though; missing Yom Kippur was just a perk).

Mom was exhausted. She’d survived on granola bars and Cheetos and caffeine in the hospital the night before, and got as little sleep as I did, so we were both a little bit worried that we’d end up back at the ER, for her this time. While Mom napped, I made the herculean effort to walk the dogs in the pouring rain, and they were wonderful! They didn’t pull or bark or complain at the incredibly slow speed of their walk, and when we got back inside, Cricket went back on duty, watching Grandma sleep and Ellie came back to nap with me, so we were both in good hands.

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Don’t be fooled; Cricket is on duty.

The symptoms receded a little bit each day, with the help of medication and rest. And when I went to the ENT the following Monday, he diagnosed me with Benign Positional Vertigo, even though I wasn’t showing symptoms anymore. He said I should come back if the symptoms returned and then he could do a maneuver that would shake my ear crystals back into the right place, but other than that, Shoo. No cause, no cure, you’re fine.

The physical therapist was relieved at the news and started me back on track with my exercise plan the next day, and so far, the world isn’t spinning, much. Just a bit blurry, at times, with some double vision, but, that’s normal. Right?

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“I’m supposed to be blurry, Mommy. I’m moving.”

Physical Therapy, Again

 

Once my internship ended in August, I started scheduling doctors’ appointments right and left, to make up for two years of putting off everything but the most essential (which still turned out to be a lot). One result of all of these doctors’ visits is that I’m back in physical therapy, again.

I’ve had this pain in my neck and shoulder for three or four months now, and driving, sitting at the computer, and walking all made it worse. I could barely turn my head, but I kept putting off a doctor visit because I knew I wouldn’t have time to do all of the testing and drug taking and exercising she’d expect me to do. And then, just before my internship ended, this strange buzzing started in my left shoulder.

I went for x-rays, I tried Tramadol and a muscle relaxant, which wiped me out and did nothing for the pain, and then I got an appointment with a new physical therapist who came highly recommended. I’ve been through physical therapy so many times before: for my lower back, neck and shoulders, balance, gait, etc. I’ve also gone for acupuncture and chiropractic, cranial sacral, massage, and on and on, so I wasn’t sure how hopeful to be.

The new physical therapist did a long evaluation, with lots of questions, and muscle testing, and range of motion testing. When she had me turn my head to the left I became so nauseous that I had to sit down. She also said that the buzzing in my left shoulder could be coming from pressure on nerve bundles in my neck, because my upper body is so rigid. And she asked if I’ve seen an ENT (ear, nose, and throat doctor) recently. Three years ago seemed pretty recent to me, but she looked skeptical. She gave me three exercises to start with, and a print out in case I forgot the exercises immediately (which I did).

I’m actually fascinated by the weird glitches in my body: the way the nausea kicks in if I move my head too far to the left, or if the physical therapist presses on a certain spot in my upper back; and then the dizziness can be triggered just by a movement of my shoulder!

But I’d like to be able to turn my head while I’m driving, without feeling like I’m going to vomit all over the car. I’d like to be able to do Tai Chi again, or yoga, or just exercise regularly without feeling like my limbs are going to disarticulate. I’d really like to be able to run with the dogs at the dog park without needing a heating pad and a three hour nap in the aftermath.

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“Not that the dogs mind napping.”

So, for now, I go to my physical therapy appointments twice a week, and do my at-home exercises, and I worry that I’m going to have to add an appointment with the ENT to my long list of doctor visits coming up, just to be told, one more time, that I’m fine and no one knows why I have all of these symptoms, so it must be in my head.

I’m trying to watch Ellie for inspiration, because she does something new every day, not because she thinks she has to, but just because she discovers new things she can do. She didn’t know these things were possible before, and she didn’t know she would enjoy them so much! She didn’t know how much she’d like massages, and spending time with her humans, and smelling everything in the backyard, and checking in with Cricket. She even tried pickles, because Cricket likes them so much, but she hasn’t discovered a great love there. She’s also discovered that she hates having her hair combed and her teeth brushed, but I think that’s because Cricket has been whispering in her ear.

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“They tell you they’re going to comb your hair, but really they’re scooping out your brain. It’s true.”

Miss Ellie has also been creating her own physical therapy plan. She went from needing to be picked up every time she wanted to come up on the couch or the bed, to jumping up (and down and up again) at will. She can stand up on her back legs, for long periods, begging for treats. She even figured out how to jump into the back seat of the car, which she was sure was impossible. And then she does all kinds of stretches, swishing her neck and back every which way to work out the kinks. I’m pretty sure my physical therapist would not approve if I tried to follow Ellie’s plan, especially the swishing around part, but it looks like so much more fun than mine!

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“Hi, Mommy!”

Cricket has taken to watching Ellie’s antics with a big sister’s eye roll, as in, Oh my gawd, she is so weird! But I think, secretly, Cricket is getting inspired too.

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” No, I’m not.”

 

 

The Parabola

I am the .1 percent that makes the parabola possible. I am that weirdo.

My doctor saw my blood pressure rising precipitously over a couple of months this fall and decided to put me on a blood pressure medication. I was too tired to argue. I’d hoped to avoid new medication trials, and new doctors, until the end of graduate school, but clearly the emergency lights were flashing, so I took the medication and a referral to a cardiologist.

At first I just felt dizzy and even more tired than usual and kind of nauseous, but my blood pressure was going down (I had to check it at home twice a day). I went to the cardiologist for a work up anyway, like the good obedient girl I am, and suffered through lots of tests, and history taking, and quizzical looks about my long term lack of a diagnosis for such a crazy list of odd and debilitating symptoms. Each test and appointment was physically exhausting, and then the cardiologist decided that I would need to see another pulmonologist, and another rheumatologist, and consider changing this or that medication that could be the culprit for my rising blood pressure (high dose NSAIDs in particular can raise blood pressure and I’ve been on one for years now).

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“I’m exhausted just thinking about it.”

I wish I could act like Cricket does at her doctor visits, and bite and scratch and hide under tables, but it doesn’t go over as well with the doctors for humans. So I accepted the needles and the stickers and the probes and the treadmills, with all of the inherent humiliation of being treated like a science experiment, and I smiled and kept my mouth shut so I could get out as quickly as possible, limping down the hallway after one more person told me I seemed fine.

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“No one can make me go to the doctor!”

And then, one morning, my lips were swollen to three times their normal size. They were itching and hurting and I thought there must be a secret hive of bees under my pillow, but no, it was an allergic reaction to the blood pressure medication. It’s a well-known reaction, though not well known to me, because doctors think that if they warn me about possible side effects I will decide to have all of them. The doctor took me off the medication and said we’d wait for the reaction to wear off before trying something else, with no advice on how to make the swelling go down, or a time frame for how long this would be going on. I sat in front of the TV with ice on my lips for hours so that I could be moderately presentable for a few hours at my internship, and then I came home and watched my lips blow up again. I took Benadryl at night, and daytime allergy meds during the day, but the swelling kept rising and falling unpredictably.

A week after the original allergic reaction, my lips blew up even bigger than before. We called the pharmacy and they said to go to an urgent care center and get an epi pen, to which I said Nooooooooooo, mostly because I didn’t want to have to get dressed and deal with people. We called the doctor, and he said to take Benadryl four times a day, which meant that I would be mostly unconscious until the allergic reaction wore out. So I did that. It took another week for my lips to resemble their previous selves, though they are still not quite back to normal. For quite a while there, I’m pretty sure people assumed I was getting collagen shots.

No one believes me when I tell them that I tend to have all of the side effects and few of the positive effects of medication, and have a habit of getting paradoxical responses to medication (biological medication meant to resolve psoriasis led to the skin flaying off of my fingers, seriously). No one believes me when I tell them that I am the patient that makes the bell curve possible. But I am that person.

Cricket paid no attention to any of it. She is immune to changes in how I look. She only notices when I change my clothes, because that’s what’s important to her. Pajamas are good, work clothes are evil, sneakers and jeans could be either/or.

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“Mommy can’t go anywhere without this.”

I have doctors’ appointments scheduled for the foreseeable future, and most likely more medication trials, and more exhaustion, and more people who think I’m being melodramatic until they realize that I’m just bizarre. None of this is normal. I’m not supposed to be exhausted and in pain all the time. I’m not supposed to have all kinds of weird auto immune reactions and connective tissue disorders. I’m not supposed to need so much pain medication that it leads to even more health problems that bring on even more medications. People my age are supposed to work full-time, raise children, and have social lives, not work their asses off just to make it through part time hours, with no energy left to do the food shopping.

Cricket thinks the problem is that I don’t spend enough time scratching her, and walking her, and if I devoted myself solely to those activities at least one of us would be happy.

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“When I’m happy, everyone is happy.”

I feel like I’m holding the parabola in place single handed lately, and there’s no Olympic medal for that. For every one who is safely in the middle of the parabola, with normal reactions to medications, and diseases that can be accurately diagnosed, you’re welcome.

The Clumsy Bird

 

A few years ago, I started working on a children’s story about a clumsy bird, but I couldn’t figure out how to finish it. I knew who the main character was: if there was a tree or a power line or a roof in her way, Lola would smack into it. Her mom took her to every doctor she could find and the bird doctors did every possible test on Lola. They diagnosed her with bad eyesight, then partial deafness, attention deficit disorder, maybe a neurological movement disorder of unspecified origin, or bird seed intolerance, but nothing seemed to stick.

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This is what I think Lola looks like

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This is what Lola thinks she looks like

The last doctor Lola went to was a specialist in flying disorders. He squeezed Lola’s feet, and rotated her wings and had her fly to and from his medical nest twenty times. And then he stared into her eyes, with his wormy breath going up her nose, and said, “You’re fine, go away.”

The flight back home was long and Lola’s Mom had to tie a rope between them to avoid an accident along the way.

Of course Lola had an older brother, who was embarrassed to be seen with her. And mean girls in her flying class (aka gym), who made fun of her for her awkward flying technique and tendency to fall out of the sky.

There was a boy bird in Lola’s class who was taunted for being “as blind as a human,” because he couldn’t see where he was going as well as everyone else could. Lola was nice to him, thinking they were in the same situation and could offer each other support, but he resented her sympathy. He called her clumsy, and taunted her along with the rest of the class, just to feel like at least he wasn’t as low down on the social ladder as she was.

I kept looking for ways for Lola to save herself. She was an inventor, by necessity, and created parachutes and nets and trampolines out of whatever she could find in the garbage. She spent months in physical therapy with the seagull at the beach, who was a little too hard core. He made her stand on pebbles to stretch the webbing in her feet, and wrap her wings around the trunk of a tree, and then he’d drop her into freezing cold water to shock her brain, but nothing changed. And then she was sent to the wise goose, who worked at the median of the main road. He spoke in riddles, while walking in constantly changing patterns to help retrain her brain. It didn’t work, but at least with the goose Lola felt less self-conscious, if only because he wasn’t like anyone in her own community, and he didn’t laugh at her for being different.

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This bird is one hard core trainer

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“Are you saying I’m fat?”

But what I really wanted was for there to be something in the bird world that would work better than in the human world. I wanted the elders of her community to come up with a non-stigmatizing way to help the disabled birds who lived amongst them. I imagined bird community conferences, with the elders sitting in the sacred tree, and the younger birds left to line up on the telephone wires, but I couldn’t figure out how to make the birds creative and compassionate enough to make the clumsy bird feel welcome.

I have this block against writing better endings for my characters than I have experienced for myself. It feels like lying in a way that fiction doesn’t usually feel like lying, to me. But I want better for Lola than to have to be in it alone, hitting up against walls that shouldn’t be there. I just don’t know how to get that for her.

 

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“You can do it, Mommy. I believe in you.”

 

 

 

A Study of Sleep

 

 

I had to do a sleep study for the new Pulmonologist. He did breathing tests, and x-rays, and walking-while-breathing tests, and inhaling-vile-stuff-while-breathing tests, and then he wanted a sleep study to see if sleep apnea was causing my exhaustion and shortness of breath. Each new doctor has his own set of tests you have to take, it’s their thing, and if you want them to take anything you say seriously, you have to jump through all of their hoops. I’d done a sleep study years ago that came out normal, but he wanted to check again.

I was really anxious that this new sleep study, which would be done at home, would be like the ambulatory EEG, which involved having a video camera pointed at me at all times, and wires glued to my head. But there was no video camera or glue this time, thank God. I had to wear monitors, but they were small and wrapped around my chest and abdomen with elastic, and a nasal cannula was stuffed into my nostrils, and there was a monitor on my wrist and middle finger to keep track of the oxygenation of my blood. It wasn’t especially humiliating, though neither of the dogs chose to sleep near me that night. I’m sure that was just a coincidence.

The results of the sleep study were, as I’d expected, normal. I do not have sleep apnea. The thing I don’t understand is, if you are going to study sleep to try to discover more about my overall health, why would you only focus on a limited area like sleep apnea? Isn’t there anything else about sleep that is worthy of attention?

I have always had trouble with sleep. Even as a kid, I would wander around, go to my Mom, visit the bathroom a few times, and then stare at the ceiling and count the circles in the asbestos tiles for hours. Every creak of the house made me worry about monsters under the bed. But even now, even when I get to sleep on time and wake up on time, I still don’t feel rested.

The dogs are champion sleepers. Cricket can pull a blanket off the couch and smush it into cozy nest for herself on the floor and take a short daytime nap any time she pleases. Butterfly will find one of the stuffed toys, anywhere Cricket has left it on the floor, and stretch out for nap right next to it. Cricket can stretch into all manner of unimagined yoga poses to vary her sleep style and keep it interesting.

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“Platypus needs this blanket more than you do, Mommy. “

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Two toys are better than one.

In fact, the dogs change sleep positions very frequently. I think I do this too, except that I don’t have as much room for variation as they do. I’ll turn over, or kick my blankets away, or curl up, or stretch out, but they actually move from place to place and alter the whole landscape of sleep. I only sleep on my bed, but they can sleep on my bed, on the hard floor, on their pet beds, on carpets, on couches, under couches, chin on a shelf, or chin on my leg. But no matter how they sleep, or when or where they sleep, the dogs wake up raring to go, and ready to go outside and pee, and then ready to eat, and then ready to get back to sleep. They can wake up and fall asleep so quickly!

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Platypus is a very accommodating sleep partner.

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But so are my shoes.

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Cricket can’t decide which bed to sleep on.

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Or maybe she should sleep on the floor.

It seems like the sleep study should have looked at some of the practical issues of sleep. Maybe along with the heart rate monitors and oxygen concentrations monitors and such, they could have asked me questions, like, was I too hot or too cold? Did I wake up during the night? Did I have bad dreams, or nightmares? Did I feel rested in the morning? But they don’t want to know if I kick or turn a lot when I sleep, or if I’m in pain when I wake up. They don’t want to know about problems they don’t know how to solve. All they want to know is if my breathing is interrupted when I sleep, because they have a machine for that.

Maybe if each doctor took a more detailed interest, in each area of testing, they could have figured out something by now. But instead they choose the easiest thing, for them, and the hardest thing for me, and come up with nothing. I bet if Cricket could read medical journals, she’d have me fully diagnosed by now. She could use Butterfly to monitor my skin temperature, and flavor, overnight, and she herself could test my reflexes with her patented Jump-On-Mommy-While-She’s-Still-Sleeping test. Both dogs watch me very carefully, and I’m sure if they could write they’d fill many notebooks with all of their trenchant observations. And yet none of my doctors have asked for their input in making a diagnosis.

Phooey.

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Diagnostic exam in process.

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Cricket consults with Butterfly before delivering her diagnosis.

 

Thin Skin

 

Butterfly has bumps all over her body. She’s an eleven and a half year old Lhasa Apso, and the doctor says these bumps are normal for her age and breed. One of the bumps is like a tiny pink mushroom growing from her neck. Some of the bumps are small and rounded, above her tail, under her ear, at her hip. But one of the bumps looks like a cauliflower, and it bleeds every once in a while. It may simply be that her taller bumps get nicked when she goes to the groomer, or she scratches them, or bangs them into things accidentally, but from the very beginning, I worried about it. Butterfly’s skin is a light pink, with brown age spots hidden under her white hair, which, along with her bumps, is only really visible when she has a bath and her hair becomes translucent for a moment. I used to count her bumps obsessively before each vet visit, to report on any changes, and find out if this or that one was suddenly going to kill her.

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Butterfly’s big bump.

The fact is, though, despite her bumps and heart problems and diabetes, Butterfly is pretty hardy. She doesn’t sprain her ankles or tweak her back or whine when she gets her twice daily blood tests and insulin shots, and her feelings don’t get hurt easily. She doesn’t like having her hair messed with though; that’s something she learned from Cricket. She learns a lot from Cricket.

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“Are we going for walkies yet?”

Cricket is more sensitive. She thinks having the goop removed from under her eye is torture beyond canine endurance. She hears and reacts to every noise in the world. If she eats a little too much, or the wrong thing, it shows up in her digestion and her mood.

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“Are you talking about me again?”

I have Psoriasis and I am hypothyroid (both since I was a teenager), so my skin has always been sensitive and easily scarred. I have a scratch on my wrist from October that never healed, and just starts to itch out of the blue every once in a while. I’ve read too much of the bible in my lifetime, so I end up feeling like my skin, and my health overall, makes me a leper. But I also, still, have figuratively thin skin to go with the literal kind. If someone tells me that I’m lazy or untalented, I take it to heart. I can build myself back up again, but it takes days or weeks, instead of minutes or seconds, the way it should.

At my last doctor’s appointment, my GP decided to test me for Lyme disease again. I’ve been tested for everything over the years, multiple times. This time around, the preliminary test for Lyme came out negative, but my doctor decided to go on and do the confirmatory test anyway, and that showed that I was positive for Lyme disease in the past, even though I’ve never had a positive Lyme test before, in almost ten years of testing. The doctor wasn’t sure what to make of these results and told me to go to an infectious disease specialist to check it out. I may have dragged my feet and whined a bit, but I went.

In the meantime, my mom went to Google and found that there are mixed opinions about Lyme disease and Chronic Lyme, and the validity of these blood tests, or lack thereof. There’s also, her googling suggested, the possibility that a positive blood test for Lyme, like mine, could be an indicator for some other virus or disease process, as a signal for further testing.

I went to the new doctor, he looked at my blood tests and crossed his eyes and said that he would never have sent my blood out for the confirmatory test, after negatives on the preliminary tests, because of the risk of false positives. He said it five times, in answer to five different questions from me, as if he couldn’t hear me, or had no other answers to give. He said that there was no point in re-doing the test because it would either be negative, or another false positive, because I had no risk factors for Lyme. He had no interest in my medical history, and no curiosity about other possible diagnoses to explain my symptoms.

The fact is, I thought this was a long shot, and didn’t have much hope that a strange doctor would take any of it seriously, but I’m annoyed that I had to go through the motions, just to prove that I’m doing everything possible and not being passive. I am not comfortable with theories that come with no proof at all and seem to be, at best, placebo level positive results (30%), but I’m also not comfortable with the rigidity of western medicine, which prefers to blame the patient when problems can’t be solved, instead of taking on the problem and studying it further.

It’s a relief, instead, to take care of the dogs. When they have symptoms, their doctors believe them, and believe me, and treatments are offered, when possible, and pain and comfort are considered. Maybe, when dogs start suffering from whatever it is I have, the veterinarians will figure out the cause, and treatment, and the doctors for humans will finally take me seriously. But probably not.

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Harrumph.

 

 

 

The Three Echos

 

Three of the four of us had to have echocardiograms recently. Butterfly had hers first. She’s an old hand at doctor visits at the clinic, and always tries to bolt when we get near the front door, but her doctors are friendly, and the women at the front desk think she’s adorable, even though she’s too anxious to take the treats they offer her. Butterfly has to have an echo every six months, to keep an eye on her prolapsed valve and enlarged heart, and she does not enjoy the experience.

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“Are we leaving yet?”

As soon as we checked in and sat down in the waiting room, my mostly non-shedding dog released hair all over my jacket and drooled on my shoulder and tried not to pee on the floor. She was curious about the other dogs sitting in various states of terror around her: the three month old Labrador who couldn’t contain her enthusiasm; an eighty-pound brindle Pit Bull who was hyperventilating under his owner’s legs; a cat hiding in her carrier. But the Chihuahuas seemed reasonable to her, and the floor itself was a potpourri of odoriferousness. She went adventuring for a few minutes at a time, and then asked to be picked back up for emotional refueling before making her next attempt to survey the territory.

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Butterfly believes that all floors must produce kibble, like the floor at home does.

She went in for her echo in the arms of a vet tech, trusting and blank. She trained herself to accommodate humans many years ago, living in the puppy mill, and still uses her old coping skills, pretending-she-is-not-where-she-is, as they slather cold goop on her chest and probe for pictures of her heart.

It is not surprising that her heart has been damaged, or that her heart is bigger than it is supposed to be. I could have told you that without all of the fancy equipment. After the test, her cardiologist came out to tell me that she was the same as she’d been six months before – with a leaky valve and an enlarged heart and no need, yet, for medication.

He couldn’t see on her pictures that she has learned how to chase squirrels and run like the wind and jump for chicken treats. He couldn’t know that she has developed a full range of expressions, and only once in a while falls back into her blank stare of old. But he believed me when I said so, and he was happy for her, and for me.

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“I’m dancing!”

My echo was a different kind of experience. I’ve had a few in the past, and hated them all. One in particular, was both humiliating (changing into and out of the flimsy robe with the door half open and strangers walking by) and painful (half an hour of rib bruising pressure). This new doctor was specially recommended, and requested, by the new pulmonologist who is trying to figure out the possible causes for my shortness of breath.

The paper “gown” I had to wear was not much of anything, and the tech this time was male. In my three previous echo’s I’d only had female techs and assumed that was the norm. Stickers were placed above each breast and on my abdomen, and then wires attached. I was told to roll to my left, away from the tech, which was a relief.

I could hear the whoosh whoosh whoomp sounds of my heart coming from the computer behind me, but it was hard to concentrate because the probe was pressing hard against my breast bone. I could feel a black and blue mark forming and could only grit my teeth and tell myself it would be over soon. Whoosh whoosh whoomp, whoosh whoosh whoomp.

Because of the position I had been placed in for the test, on my left side with the probe at my chest and the tech leaning over my body, it almost felt like I was being hugged. It wasn’t sexual or disturbing. I did not expect this feeling at all. His hip and waist were pressed against my back, so that he could comfortably reach over and take the sound pictures of my heart. And despite the pain of the probe on my chest, the pressure of his arm over my side was a relief. I felt safe. I sensed no danger, no inappropriate or confusing energy from his body, just presence.

The doctor came in to look at the pictures, then, and he said that my leaky valve was, pfft, not much, and if you use an expensive machine like this you’re bound to see “something” but that doesn’t mean that “something” really means anything. He was annoyed that anyone would come for an echocardiogram and have a boringly normal heart to show him. Pffft. You’re fine, go home.

And normally, that dismissal is what would stay with me, but instead, this time, it’s the hug; the closeness and security of a stranger next to me. I don’t know what to make of it except to file it in the back of my mind, under surprising, and good.

Mom’s echo was the third in the series. She gets them regularly, though not as often as Butterfly, ever since her “minor” heart attack more than fifteen years ago now. It did not seem minor to me, or to her, at the time. The only explanations given were a leaky mitral valve and “stress”, which my doctor-brother pooh-poohed. The result, though, was that she started to take much better care of her health, and found a less stressful job, closer to home. The regular echos, and stress tests, and blood tests, are another thing she has accepted and rarely complains about, at least to me. I asked if it hurt. No. Or if it was humiliating. No. Or if the wait was long. No. She and Butterfly share this capacity, for going somewhere else in their minds when they need to not be with their bodies. It’s a skill I do not have.

Cricket has no such skill either. If she needed an echo they’d probably have to knock her out, like they do for an x-ray. Thank God, her heart is fine. Normal whoosh, normal whoomp. I know, because she likes to suffocate me in the morning, with her chest close enough for me to hear the sound pictures without any fancy equipment at all.

Pffft.

We’re all fine.

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Grandma and Cricket, whoosh whoosh whoomp.

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Whoosh whoosh whoomp.