Friday, August 2, 2013

My dancing Harold doll

DON'T listen to your body!

As is so often the case, this post is something I adapted from my personal journal, which I will admit often amounts to a load of complaining. But keeping a journal is one of the sure symptoms of writerhood. I have had many a person sit down with me over the years saying "I want to be a writer", meaning they want to make effortless money and be an instant best-seller (it can't be that hard, can it?). One of the first things I ask them is, "Do you keep a journal?" Normally I get a blank look, a why-would-I-want-to-do-that expression, as if a journal must be written on pink Hello Kitty stationery with scented lavender ink.

Mostly people merely take stabs at writing, brief ones. Then they sort of run in terror, realizing that they will actually have to put their work "out there". As a friend recently told me about her own former ambition to write, it just got buried under the mundane tasks we all must undertake in the course of a day.

All this leads to something else. (Which is what I seem to do in this blog, though I can't tell you why. Steinbeck leads to Travels with Charley leads to why people treat dogs like babies.) So this is about my never-ending, awful sort-of-relationship with doctors, who have been poking and prodding my sagging old body for a year now trying to figure out why I am having this persistent, nagging, sometimes severely disabling pain.

It's getting in the way of jumping in to preparing my novel The Glass Character for publication (which I wish I could enjoy more). This is what I wrote this morning:

"I want to get the medical stuff over with, which it should be next week when I get told there’s nothing wrong with me again. I have a theory it’s a low-grade infection, but I doubt if he will give me anything for it, will likely say “it’ll go away on its own” when I have been in pain for nearly a year now. They said the same thing about the infuriating ear symptoms which I’ve now had for 13 months. Things do NOT “go away on their own” in many cases, but doctors now let things fester for so long they become ingrained and chronic and really WON’T go away. We then have a "nuisance patient", a hypochondriac completely obsessed with imaginary illness. But someone has commanded doctors from “on high” not to prescribe antibiotics. They’ve swung from one ridiculous extreme to the other, and in both cases it’s to get you out of the office FAST."

So how many specialists or procedures HAVE I been exposed to? Let me count the ways. Gastroenterologist (God, these things are hard to spell). Gynecologist. Ultrasound. Colonoscopy. Ultrasound again, because they couldn't find anything the first time, and now urologist/cystoscopy (can’t ever remember how to spell that one). I have also been to a nephrologists and an otolaryng-whatever-it-is. All uselessly. Each person takes a part of the body, and they are never co-ordinated or put together in any way. They’re not supposed to be. Each body part must get sick in its own way, and if it gets sick outside of certain strict boundaries, then you’re not sick, or at least that part of you isn’t. If you have a condition such as a bladder infection and only have three symptoms out of five, then you don’t have a bladder infection and will not be given antibiotics.

Oh, antibiotics! Like Valium in the '70s, doctors handed them out like candy until relatively recently. Patients wanted something to relieve their fear and distress about being sick. They wanted to come away with something. Doctors wanted them the fuck out of their office so they could go on to the next patient. So they went home with a prescription.

Then all of a sudden, we are being told WE were wrong to accept all those prescriptions for all these years. WE were wrong to seek a fast and easy way out of disabling symptoms. We should have just put up or shut up, because there was probably nothing wrong with us anyway.

Suddenly, in spite of everything our doctors had been telling us for decades, antibiotics were just wrong.

It still comes at us from every side, ads on TV with cute but shaming slogans like, "Not all bugs need drugs." It's a kind of finger-shaking admonishment to the public, because for God's sake didn't we create this situation to begin with? The public, being weak and self-indulgent, demanded antibiotics so vociferously that they created a race of Superbugs which are now resistant to medication.

We have rendered antibiotics almost completely ineffective. How does that make us feel?

Doctors had to stop acting like free vending machines for this seductive candy because "someone" ordered them to, some medical association or other. "It will go away on its own" became the new mantra. This got patients out of the office nearly as fast as "Here, take this prescription for amoxycillin".

Now, you can have pus running out of you and feverish red inflammation and strep throat (and my granddaughter, then three years old and running a fever of 104, might have died from it: my daughter, a dragon when she needs to be, INSISTED she be prescribed antibiotics, which cleared it up completely in two days), and the doctor will not prescribe antibiotics. Once again, the crushing weight of shame is applied to us as she tells us something we have already been told 100 times. "Patients ruined antibiotics by taking them too often. It will go away on its own."

There are two things my doctor never prescribes: antibiotics and pain relievers. When I told her I'd had significant and even severe pain for a year, pain that sometimes prevented me from functioning well, she said, "Advil is the drug of choice."

"But I've been taking Advil for a year now and it has no effect at all."

"Try Tylenol."

"I've tried them all. None of them work."

"Advil," she said, a little testily.

"Can't I have anything stronger?"

Oh, it's the facial expressions, the bodily shifting, the "I know I'm dealing with an addict cadging drugs" manner that gives it all away.

"Advil is the drug of choice." (Meaning: if Advil doesn't work, I am having the wrong kind of pain and need to set it straight. Or else I'm lying.)

Another time she asked me the doseage I was taking and I said something like 800 milligrams. "That's too much," she said. "But the lower dose doesn't do anything." "Always take the correct doseage or you'll damage your kidneys." But the "correct doseage" wasn't doing any more than the so-called overdose anyway.

I have enjoyed good health for most of my life and have stayed away from doctors whenever possible, so I can hardly be called a hypochondriac unless such a damning stereotype can develop in a  few months. I hate taking pills, and it does not occur to me to abuse prescriptions. I have dreaded developing some sort of vague but persistent, painful medical condition that no one can get to the root of. And now it's here. My own theory - and who gives a shit what I think anyway, it's only my body - is that this is a low-grade bladder infection which has been flying under the radar for a year. But doctors refuse to see it that way. "Your urine test is normal," my doctor said, furrowing her brow and sitting back in that "get out of here and go directly to the psych ward" way. If my urine test is normal, I cannot have a bladder infection and have to go home and behave myself.

Over and over again I hear/read the same advice from people: Listen to your body! If anything feels amiss, go see your doctor immediately! I am here to tell you that you won't be in her office for long. Your symptoms will have to escalate until you are in severe enough pain to wait months to see a specialist, who will tell you there's nothing wrong anyway. The cancer diagnosis won't come until it is far too late to treat it. Then you will be asked, "For God's sake, why didn't you DO something about it?"

Is there nothing you can do? Why are you stupid enough to ask? Take Advil, which should get rid of all your symptoms. It's the drug of choice.