Tag Archives: health

My Starring Role in the Most Boring Episode of House

Interior, Doctor’s Office. Dr. House sits at his desk, bum leg propped up and cane twirling in one hand. The other holds a sheaf of papers, which he reads with a bored expression.

Well, it wasn’t lupus. Huh. Guess we’ll never know.

House shrugs and tosses aside the sheets of blood work results. Fade to black as episode ends forty-five minutes early. Roll credits.

I had my follow-up with the new doctor today. He had ordered blood work and x-rays to find the underlying cause of my persistent, systemic joint pain. Along with general panels on inflammation, they tested for the rheumatoid arthritis factor. I crammed the lab visits into one of my days off to get everything done. I had to wait a month, though, to get the results.

  Folded HandsDuring that time, I read up on rheumatoid arthritis. As much as I hated the idea, it sounded like everything I had experienced over the past five months or so. So I figured out how I would cope.

I started doing regular stretching routines. I focused on improving my diet. I used apps to track my pain levels and stiffness. I took way more NSAID painkillers than I felt comfortable with or than my stomach could tolerate (on the doctor’s orders).

Today he told me I don’t have positive RA factor*. In fact, I don’t have any signs of inflammation in either my blood work or my x-rays. There is, as far as he’s concerned, nothing wrong with me.

I plan to dramatically cut my hair, in part because braiding it in the morning is getting to be too difficult for my fingers. I get foggy-headed from the pain while working, even with the painkillers. I got my old cane out in the hopes that it will help me walk more easily outside of work.

There’s nothing wrong with me.
Okay. Sure.

I tried to press the doctor for answers. I didn’t have a lot of hope. After waiting almost an hour to see him, he had only been in the room for three minutes before ostentatiously checking his weirdly oversized wristwatch. He hadn’t even finished telling me the results of the tests at that point. Still, I asked.

What else could it be? What do I do now? Why is this happening?

Old HandsHe told me there were no more tests he would run. He had no answers as to what was wrong. Grudgingly, he said it could be wear and tear. (To disability levels within a few months? In someone who only just turned thirty? Doing a job that, while physically demanding, is not exactly digging ditches?)

Ultimately, his answer was that he didn’t know what was going on. It wasn’t the first thing he suspected, so he was done looking.

Like the most boring episode ever of House M.D., he gave up fifteen minutes in with a shrug.

Various PillsSo what did he suggest for managing my new mystery chronic pain condition? More pills, mostly. Keep taking the naproxen that upsets my stomach, then throw in some acetaminophen as well if I need it. See if hot or cold helps. Try tai chi.

(I did, at this point, explain that “staying active” is emphatically not a problem I am currently having. If anything, I’m trying to find ways to be less active. While I do stretches, I don’t bother to plan aerobic activity; I can safely count on work to provide periodic bouts of frantic scurrying to get my heart rate up.)

So that’s the big punchline. I’m out a bunch of money, I don’t have any answers, I’m not any better. Oh, and I have the unenviable task of being disappointed I wasn’t diagnosed with a horrible autoimmune disease. Nothing’s changed.

And I mean that in every way possible. I’m not going to stop what I’ve been doing. No matter what his tests show, I have swollen, stiff, painful joints. I live with chronic pain. It affects my ability to work, to play, to think. I’m going to have to find ways of coping with that. I’m going to do the work of living, even without medical help.

After the episode ends, we the patients have to live with our diagnosis. Or our lack of one.

[*NB: That being said, only 80% of people diagnosed with RA show a positive factor level. It is possible to be diagnosed based on other factors. Conversely, some people with positive factors either have no symptoms or have non-arthritis causes for the elevated levels.

Will this level change in a month or six? I don’t know. I suppose I could go back, if I keep getting worse, and demand another attempt at explanation. After yet another experience of being ignored and disappointed by a doctor, though, I’m not eager.]

Wise Bodies

I trust my body to take care of itself, even in the face of fables about its incompetence.

Orange Pills
Making everything better? (by Candy)
I’m recovering from the flu, which laid low my whole household. It came, for me, hard on the heels of a disastrous case of poison oak, which reduced me to an itchy, raw mess. I’m congested, coughing, and fatigued. This may be a strange moment for what I’m about to say: I love my body.

This is, on the best days, a radical statement, especially for me. To live in modern America is to be bombarded by commercials, billboards, and magazine ads informing us of the unsuitability of our bodies (and, of course, what Company X can do to fix it for us). Our hair, clothing, body odor, skin tone, and waist size are all cause for despair, it seems. If you’re a woman, crank the message up to 11. If you are, like me, a fat woman, well, yikes. Try driving down a Southern California freeway. The juxtaposition of lap-band procedure, strip club, and beer billboards are enough to induce a psychotic break. Everything is wrong with our bodies. There’s nothing they get right. Yet here I am, going on about my love for my body?

Am I crazy or just not paying attention? Neither, as it turns out.

I received distressed entreaties from a certain relative to go to the doctor. Ignoring the dubious state of my insurance at the moment, I have to wonder why I would do that. What, exactly, would a doctor do for me? More accurately, what would a doctor do for me that my body wasn’t already doing for itself? If I had a compromised immune system or my body showed signs or had a history of struggling to repair itself, sure, medical attention might be necessary. I’m the last person you will hear advocating an abandonment of all medicine. Nor would I suggest that I know better than someone who wishes to seek out medical care, even in circumstances similar to mine. You are in charge of your own body. You know it best. But that’s the point. I knew, and expressed, that my body was doing everything it needed to do.

About the only thing I’ve been able to do the past week is read. In Michael J. Gelb’s How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci, I read something about the distribution of our neural networks. Our brain is not the only part of us that thinks. Our whole body, alive with nerve impulses, synapses firing, is processing from head to foot. At the same time, I’m reading We, Robot, by Mark Stephen Meadows. It’s got me thinking about the complexity of both body and mind and the difficulties in artificially reproducing the broad-based skills of the human being. We can create robots the balance on a single wheel better than we balance on a unicycle (well, better than I balance, anyway). We can create a robot who uses infrared spectrometers to “smell” chemical composition to determine the taste characteristics of an unopened bottle of wine. (The robot is NEC Corporation’s PaPeRo and it thinks we smell like bacon. Go figure.)

The task of making one that can smell the wine, prepare the meal to go with it, make polite dinner conversation, and wash the dishes afterwards, however, still eludes us.

Meanwhile, without doctor visits or more advanced medication than lots of tea and three decongestants in as many days, my body has recovered from a viral attack that would make my PC blow a fan and retire in protest. Even as I’m still sniffling, I’m filled with fever-warm affection for a body that normally receives little else but ridicule and condemnation. Sneezing fits became a source of fascination, as I marveled at my body’s efforts to expel the offending occupants.

My body knows what it is doing.

I contrast this with the TV doctors who produce shows about “resetting your metabolism” and “tricking your appetite” and other such nonsense. Look, I get that things can go wrong. I am, for example, eager not to die of rabies or pneumonia or staph infection. (On the subject of metabolism, I would suggest that the constant dieting espoused by these doctors and the resultant weight cycling might be the cause. If you tinker with the machine enough, you’ll eventually break something. It doesn’t make it a bad machine, people.) But what the hell is wrong with us and our culture? We approach our bodies, even the bodies of children, with an expectation of flaws, failings, and a desperate need for repairs.

We think we’re smarter than our bodies. Listen to weight loss advice sometime. (Actually, please don’t.) Willpower. Determination. Overcoming. It’s all mind over matter. We can think our bodies into… what? Thinness? Submission? Hungerlessness? Please. At moments like this, our bodies are so much smarter than we are. A race of chemical signals tells us fuel is needed and we get all offended.

Which system is better: the corporeal or the cultural?

I’m all in favor of life-saving medicine, but I refuse to believe that my body is so clueless, it cannot get over a cold or paper cut without intervention. I’m sticking to the philosophy of, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Try letting it fix itself for once, too.