Tag Archives: medicine

A Doctor Who Listens

I read a post yesterday written by a pathologist who was recounting his most alarming discovery ever. He told of a woman who went to many doctors over many years, complaining of a bloated, painful abdomen. The doctors seem all to have focused on the word “complaining” and dismissed her as mistaken, not that sick, or a “hypochondriac,” which is another way of calling her crazy. (Which happens disproportionately to women and to fat people, I believe.)

When the pathologist performed the autopsy, however, the found that the woman’s entire abdomen was virtually destroyed by endometriosis, a not uncommon “complaint” among women and one that can be detected by a simple test and then treated. It certainly need not expand to the point of death.

Fortunately, I have a doctor who listens to me. Two weeks ago, when I had an appointment with him, I started the conversation with, “I know you’re going to tell me that I’m just getting old and have to live with it.”

“You’re not getting old,” he replied. “You’re getting older.”

“But I think I’m getting older faster than I ought to,” I said. “Other people my age don’t have all these problems.” He asked me to tell him my symptoms.

“My arms and legs are weak. You know I fall sometimes. Well, sometimes I can get back up, but sometimes I can’t. My husband calls me three times a day from work to make sure I’m not on the floor with my head bashed in. If I don’t answer the phone, sometimes he rushes home from work just to see if I’m all right. I love it that he cares that much, but I wish he didn’t have to do it.

“I use a cane to walk – not around the house, but whenever I go out. Can I get a handicapped sticker for the car? My back hurts a lot, too. In addition, my knees hurt all the time. In fact, if there weren’t a vanity there to lever myself up, I most likely couldn’t get off the toilet.” (Damn it, I should have led with this. Doctor: Why are we seeing you today? Me: I can’t get off the toilet. Imaginary doctor: Then how did you get here? But I digress. )

“And my hair is thinning. I look like an old granny-woman. And I always feel cold.” He listened patiently, even to the part about the thinning hair.

“I’d like a bone scan to see if my osteopenia is getting worse, and I know I should get a colon test too,” I said. “Make it one of the poop-in-the-box kind. Colonoscopy prep is the sickest I’ve ever been in my entire life.”

“You need a mammogram, too,” he commented. Then he put me in touch with scheduling for all the tests and had my blood collected. He even gave me a prescription for the handicapped sticker. (And the nurse gave me a cool bandaid for the needle-stick, after I requested it. I guess not all of me is old.)

All the blood test came back with fine results, I thought. Then the doctor said something I hadn’t expected. “I’m going to double your thyroid medication.”

Of course, I Googled the Mayo Clinic website, which I consider pretty darn trustworthy. I was shocked to find all my symptoms listed there – muscle weakness, joint pain, sensitivity to cold. Plus fatigue, weight gain (which I had also mentioned), thinning hair, and depression. Check, check, check, check, check, check, check.

The Mayo clinic also noted that many people attributed all the symptoms to age. Mega-check.

I’m so glad that I have a doctor who listened to my “complaints” and didn’t fob me off with some lame-ass excuse. I’ve been taking the jacked-up thyroid med for a bit over a week now. I can’t swear that it’s having the effects I hope for, but I like to think there’s a little more pep in my step and that getting off the toilet is no longer the obstacle it was.

My husband still calls three times a day, but it’s my hope that, before long, he won’t have to.

The Great Linguini Divot

Dan is not a doctor.(1) But once he did take a scalpel to my tender flesh and excise a horror I had lived with for years.

Here’s how it happened: I had a recurring cyst that would appear on my torso from time to time, like a giant zit that just wandered off to be alone. Swollen, bright red, tight skin, pain – the whole works. Usually it went away after a few days.(2)

But it always came back. The timing was random, but the zit was not.

A friend saw it when we were changing clothes to go out. She didn’t take it seriously, though, so I told her that I had been to the doctor, who diagnosed it as “polymammia,” which meant I was growing a third breast.(3) It fooled her for a moment. But just a moment. A brief one.

Eventually, it bothered me enough to really see a doctor. He never said a word about “polymammia,”(4) but called it a recurring cyst. “Come back in a couple of days and I’ll lance it,” he said.

So I did. He looked at it and poked at it with a (gloved) finger and said, “It’s not ready yet.”

“You mean it’s not ripe?” I said. “Couldn’t you at least try to lance it? It hurts a lot.”

He allowed as how he could try. And did. And found a pocket of pus lurking underneath. “Wow! That must have hurt!” he said.

I gave him the sideways squint.

“Not that I didn’t believe you,” he stammered. Then he changed the subject. “Let’s put a drain in there.”

Here’s where the linguini enters the story.(5)

I had never had anything on or in my body drained before, so I thought maybe he would draw out the gunk with a hypodermic or at least take a tiny rubber hose and stick it into the cyst so the pus would just run out.

But no. It turns out a “drain” is an object that looks like a piece of knit linguini. He stuffed it in there and bandaged it and it healed nicely (after bleeding through the bandage and my shirt for a while).

Some time later, though, I noticed a slightly raised black dot, about the size of the roller from a roller ball pen, where the cyst used to be. Oh great, I thought. I’ve exchanged a wandering zit for a wandering blackhead.

The darned thing itched at times. It looked like I could squeeze it like the blackhead it resembled, or if I could get my fingernails under it, it would pop right out. I never could manage it, though, perhaps because I bite my fingernails off and spit them across the room as soon as they grow an eighth of an inch.(6)

Here’s where my husband and the scalpel come in. To be truthful, it wasn’t a scalpel. It was an Exacto knife. He sterilized it with flame and alcohol, and swabbed all around the blackhead with more alcohol. Then, since we were both just a wee bit nervous, we both applied even more alcohol(7). Internally.

Wielding the Exacto with surprising delicacy, given the size of his bear-like paws, Dan cut around the blackhead and began to lift it out.

It kept coming. This alarmed us both.

When the Thing was finally extracted, it proved to be several inches of drain, wadded up and solid. The doctor had neglected to remove all of it, the blood had dried and turned it black(8), and there it had resided in my torso for several years.

We goggled at it for a moment, then applied more alcohol(9), and slapped a Band-aid on it. I never heard from it again.(10)

Dan had thought that the skin would heal over smoothly, without a trace. And it did. Mostly. There was no scar, just a teeny little roller-ball-pen-ball-sized depression where first the cyst, then the linguini had been. A linguini divot, if you will.

Which I have to this day. Viewings by appointment only.

(1) Nor does he play one on TV. He has been a medical orderly, back when that job existed. Now he’s just disorderly.
(2) Or wandered off again to someplace or someone else where it didn’t bother me.
(3) I don’t think there is a medical term for growing a third breast. If there isn’t, I would like to suggest “polymammia.”
(4) Which, now that I think about it is a Good Thing. I would have had to throw out all my bras and get new ones custom-made. I assume that’s expensive. Plus I’d probably have to send a picture of the third breast* to the manufacturer and it would be leaked to the Internet, go viral, and I could never be on the Supreme Court.
*I was once presented a serving of shepherd’s pie that had three scoops of mashed potato on top. Guess what it looked like.**
**Three breasts, that’s what. Stay with me here, people.
(5) You were wondering, weren’t you? I can tell.
(6) I grew them out exactly once, for my wedding. The salon used a nail color called “Pepperoni,” which was probably the only time they used it for a wedding manicure.
(7) Rum.
(8) Cooking tip: If your linguini turns hard and black, it’s overdone.
(9) Both kinds.
(10) For all I know, Dan may have kept it. He always wants the scans from our colonoscopies and the time they took pictures inside my bladder. He wanted to keep his own appendix, but they wouldn’t let him. Unless it’s that thing in the back of the freezer. I don’t really want to know.