Friday 20 July 2012

Health: W8NC, a vague next step

I leave my car at the garage in the morning with the vague description of the steering pulling to the right slightly, a louder than normal noise coming from the exhaust, and a report of the oil light flashing on briefly a week ago. An hour later at work, the garage phones me with a rundown of the work to be done, how long it will take, and an estimate of the total charges. I mull it over for a moment then give my go ahead with the promise of being there before they close at 7pm to pick up the car. It's simple, typical, and an easy issue to deal with.

If I thought my health issue was going to be as simple as that, I was dreaming in techno-color. My "Magical Medical Tour" has turned into anything but that.

First off, dealing with my health issue has not been one stop shopping. I have not yet run into one person who does it all. Instead, I have dealt with a series of medical people who seem to only know about one part of the puzzle. I get one piece from this person, another from that person, and slowly I've been fitting the pieces of this jigsaw together to form a somewhat comprehensive picture of my problem. But the most surprising part of this has been to slowly ever so slowly come to the realisation that unlike the steering which can be realigned, or a muffler which can be replaced, or the oil which can be changed, medical science despite its miraculous advances of the last fifty years still remains severely limited in what it can do. In fact, it would seem that in my case, the correct course of action or should I say the only course of action is to merely let my own body try to heal itself. And the light is also dawning on me ever so slowly that the result of this healing process is more than likely what I am going to have to live with for the rest of my life. If my body does a good job of healing my injury, lucky me. If my body doesn't do such a great job, well, that's the luck of the draw suck it up big boy. You win some; you lose some.

What? Really?

Am I supposed to accept that? Somehow this strikes to me as a fatalistic, wash my hands of it, we gave it a good shot now let's turn out the lights and go home kind of assessment you get from somebody who wants to end the interview and split because they see the clock says five minutes to five and they want to get out on time. Maybe they are going out to dinner, catching a show, walking around and getting an ice cream cone afterwards, then heading home for some comfort time in the easy chair with an herbal tea and the next chapter of the latest best seller before heading off to a wonderful night's sleep. I, on the other hand, am going home to apply hot and cold compresses and picking out the appropriate pain medication to try and render my evening supportable before going to bed for a fitful sleep cut short sometimes by a pain attack. I am not going to a show and I am not going for a stroll for an ice cream because walking is painful and consequently an unpleasant experience. In other words: I have done as much as I can within the context of my job now get out so healthy me can go about living my healthy life. You're on your own. Deal with it.

Okay, you may think I'm being a little harsh however I'm talking about some odd observations I've had throughout this ordeal.

First of all, if I have exhausted the expertise of the person I'm talking to, can I logically expect any more from that person? As odd as this sounds, this even means a medical professional. I talk to my family doctor and yes, he's a doctor. He's done his internship and he received his diploma but that doesn't necessarily mean he has the knowledge or the speciality to be dealing with my particular problem. I would hope that he would be insightful enough to recognise my problem goes beyond his abilities and he would refer me to a specialist but like a detective, does he properly interpret the clues (symptoms) or even see the clues in the first place to know enough to refer me to somebody else?

I as the patient, I as the customer, I have the right to demand answers. And like any customer, if I'm not satisfied with the service, I must push for better service. If I don't like the doctor's answer, I can go get a second opinion or even a third. Am I being a pain in the butt? Hey, it's my body; it's my health and most importantly, it's my pain. The doctor goes home to a pain free evening and my evening is anything but.

However in order to demand the answers, I must become an informed customer. Caveat emptor; buyer beware. If I don't know what the heck I'm talking about, how am I going to know if the other person knows what the heck they're talking about? I'd like to think my family doctor is well informed but how do I know?

Secondly, am I properly describing my problem? Does the medical professional properly understand what I'm saying? If I describe the pain I'm feeling using the word discomfort, is the doctor going to think I'm not talking about anything serious?

I'm not looking for a free ride
I'm not asking for an easy answer, a waving of the magic wand and all my problems go away. No wait. I keep joking with everyone but I am also serious that if anyone can immediately put me back to the way I was on the day before my accident, I would pay ten grand. Ha ha, quite funny because we all know nobody can do that and so far I haven't found a magic lantern and been granted three wishes.

But what I mean by saying I'm not asking for an easy answer is that it has been difficult getting a full and comprehensive assessment of my problem. I have wasted weeks thinking it was this problem and proceeding with a course of action based on the idea my problem was "this" problem only to find out with a new test that I don't have "this" problem, I have "that" problem. What? I just spent X number of weeks doing solution A when I should have been doing solution B.

I would love to have a definitive answer to my problem. I would love to have a doctor say something like I must walk from the easternmost point on the U.S. mainland, West Quoddy Head, Maine, to the westernmost point of the U.S. mainland, Cape Alava, Washington, a distance of 3,558 miles (5,726 kilometers) while pushing a wheelbarrow containing 50 pounds (22.7 kilograms) of cement. Ah, now I have a clear instructions for a remedial course of action. I can plan my recovery by breaking down the trip into individual days of pushing the wheelbarrow while targeting a reasonable number of miles to cover. A goal of one year, 365 days would mean I would have to do 9.75 miles each day. It would be tough; it would be boring, but I would have the goal of regaining my resplendent good health.

I have a vague wait and see plan
Unfortunately, nobody can tell me with one hundred certainty just what the future holds for me. Yes, I can do physio. Yes, I can take pain medications when things get tough. Yes, I can do isometric exercises at home. Yes, I can do hot and cold compresses. But nobody has the foggiest idea if I'm going to be "cured" in 6 months or a year. The assumption is that I will be better but what does "better" mean? Am I going to regain the same level of good health and physical fitness I had before? Or am I going to have to live with some physical limitation or possibly some chronic pain for the rest of my life?

Final Word
My future lies completely with my body's ability to heal itself. Will it succeed or fail? If it succeeds, will it only partially succeed? In the second Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader severs the right hand of Luke Skywalker during a lightsaber duel and later Luke is fitted with a prosthetic one. Unfortunately, current medical technology is not so extensive and I am surprised, or maybe I disappointed, to understand that sometimes we have to learn to live with the situation fate has given us. Yes, it may be bad but it could be worse. As I previously wrote, one night when I visited emergency at a local hospital and sat in the waiting room until a doctor saw me, I observed the comings and goings of others seeking medical assistance when I grasped the true significance of my status as a non critical patient: I didn't show up on a stretcher.

So, is my situation bad? Well, it could be worse. However, just because a bad situation could be worse, does that make a bad situation acceptable? I have not yet given up hope that an answer about my future is out there; I just have to find it. Instead of wait and see, I'm going to opt for work and see.


Wikipedia: Extreme points of the United States
This is a list of the extreme points of the United States, the points that are farther north, south, east, or west than any other location in the country. Also included are extreme points in elevation, extreme distances, and other points of peculiar geographic interest.

Google maps: from West Quoddy Head, Maine to Cape Alava, Washington


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1 comment:

BigLittleWolf said...

All I can say is: I get it.

And I'm sorry you're going through it.