Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"Relative Health?"


Have you ever noticed that when you go to your doctor, you routinely have to “update your paperwork” and answer questions about your “relative health?”

I’ve thought a lot about that lately because there seems to be a cloud above the Dunham household meaning someone is always sick. As Gilda Radner’s Roseanne Roseannadanna used to say, “It’s always something.”

Today, I had to fill out sheets of paperwork at a physical therapist’s office. I remembered a friend who called them “physical terrorists,” and today I wondered if it had to do with the paperwork. I was referred to the therapist by my regular doctor who was treating me for an ear ache (more on that later).

During the course of the regular doctor’s visit for my ear, in response to a question about “is anything else bothering you,” I remembered my right heel had been hurting a lot. So…off to see another doctor.

I pride myself on being an informed consumer of health care. I also pride myself on being relatively healthy. I don’t take many daily pills with the exception of Prilosec (more on that later) and fiber (more on that later). I do take a multi-vitamin and a baby aspirin because I read once they help. Because I turned 49 a few weeks ago, I feel lucky about my “relative health.”

“Relative Health?” That term again.

Today, as I filled out the paperwork, I had to respond again to the “How is your relative health” question. As I filled out the paper work and then responded to the doctor’s inquiries, I find myself thinking “Oh. Yeah. There is that. And there is this.” So, relatively speaking, though I think I’m in pretty good health for a 49 year old, I can’t help but consider that I seem to have had a lot of unusual health stuff. As Frank Sinatra sang in an old hit from the 40’s, “Everything happens to me.” Here are those ironic, iconic lyrics:

I make a date for golf -You can bet your life it rains.
I try to give a party -And the guy upstairs complains.
I guess I'll go thru life;Just catchin' colds and missin' trains,
Ev'rything happens to me.I never miss a thing,
I've had measles and the mumps.
And ev'ry time I play my ace -My partner always trumps.
I guess I'm just a fool;Who never looks before he jumps,
Ev'rything happens to me.

So, what happens to me? Let’s see:

Pneumonia: Some of my earliest memories include having pneumonia. I remember a trip to the hospital as an infant. I suspect I’ve had pneumonia at least 10 times in my life. The only thing more common than pneumonia for me is bronchitis. I could attract seals at Sea World I cough so much.

Whooping Cough: In December, 2008, I was coughing a lot, and I just couldn't seem to shake what I assumed was another bout of bronchitis. During a car ride in Washington DC where I was attending a meeting, my cell phone rang, and my doctor asked me if it was a "good time to talk." Recognizing my doctor NEVER has called me, I said, "Sure" even though I was in a carfull of strangers whom I had just met. He asked me a series of questions that required a verbal response. As my phone conversation continued, I noticed the conversation in the car had stopped...mainly at about the time I said "Whooping Cough? No way? I thought that was eradicated like small pox." He assured me that the signs were there but the final test to confirm would need to be reported to the CCDC and result in me being quarantined. We decided to avoid that final step so I could avoid official quarantine, but I chuckled at the idea of a quarantine considering I was crammed uncomfortably into a Ford Explorer in the nation's capitol. He reassured me that I was not contagious -- any longer -- but should avoid crowded public places. I replied "Such as Reagan International Airport and a long flight home in a metal tube?" He said, "Well, yes." I left for the airport soon after feeling like a TSA flight risk.

Earaches: I had chronic ear infections throughout my early life. Some of my earliest memories of are praying my ear drums would rupture so the pain would go away. I will always remember my mom holding me, rocking me in the dark, trying to soothe away my tears and the ear aches with hot packs and softly singing to me. In Third Grade, I was diagnosed with a hearing loss attributed to the severe earaches I suffered. I don’t know if the diagnosis was correct. The doctor and his nurse scared the hell out of me as I was trapped in foul-smelling testing booth where I had to press a silent buzzer when I heard tones. I remember pressing at random because I was scared and wanted out of there. The ear aches subsided through the years, and I haven’t had an infection until recently (Ah…more on that later).

Tonsils: When I was 4, I had my tonsils out because it was thought that would help alleviate my earaches. Maybe it did. I don’t remember ear aches too often after that. It was my first over-night visit in a hospital, and I remember I lived on ice cream for days afterward.

Knees: Thinking I was the next Olympic skier, I found no reason to be cautious – nor courteous – on the slopes when I was a kid. As a result, on January 13, 1973, I was in an accident at Magic Ski Hill near Twin Falls where I tore ligaments in my left knee. I compounded that injury by years in my teens and early 20’s when I was a carpet installer extraordinaire and rebuffed protective knee pads. When you’re young, you are bullet proof after all. In 1988, I remember walking up some stairs and hearing an odd creak. I assumed it was the stair treads. I realized later it was my knees. They still ache almost every day.

Back: I thought nothing of lifting carpet rolls by myself during my heralded carpet career. Having been diagnosed at one point with disc related issues in my back due to carpet, I continue to have back pain.

Sinuses: From 1984 until now, I have been on more airplanes than I can count for business and pleasure. For years, I suffered from chronic sinus infections, and routinely popped Sudafeds hours before flights to assure I wouldn’t suffer acute sinus pressure. Once landing at Reagan International Airport in DC, the pressure in my sinuses was so bad, I thought I would die. When they finally popped as we landed, the shrill whistle was so audible that a seat mate asked if I was OK. So, in July, 1994, I had an out-patient operation on my sinuses to remove a “forest of polyps.” In other words, they scraped my sinuses. They even video-taped the procedure and some of my friends watched the tape at a party.

Teeth: I have the fortune of having great teeth. Every visit to the dentist finishes with “keep doing what you’re doing.” I have the misfortune, however, of having what is known as “Dental Tori” which is defined by Wikipedia as “bony prominences over hard palate in the mid palatine region or in lower jaw it can be present at premolar region upon gums.” In other words, I have too much bone in my mouth.

As a kid, I remember dreading dental X-Rays because of the intense pain. My childhood dentist would basically just snap my jaw shut, and the X-Ray appliance would cut into my gums and bone. It wasn’t until I was older and found my own dentist in Boise that my condition was explained. Now they are more careful with X-Rays. That same childhood dentist also spent considerable time removing teeth from my head when he should have put me in braces. The summer between 4th and 5th grade is filled with memories of Novocain, needles, blood, and dry sockets as they removed 4 baby teeth and 4 permanent teeth to make room for what I remember being characterized as “excess teeth.” Who knew that year later I would pay for that dentist’s decision with my first major surgery – sinuses aside!

TMJ: In the late 80’s, a childhood friend of mine opened his orthodontic practice, and in about 1993, I decided I had this one little crooked tooth that needed to be straightened. I saw him, and the discussion turned to my jaws. I had always joked about not having a chin but having a double chin at the same time. Turns out that all of those teeth extracted between 4th and 5th grade served a purpose: They would have aligned my jaw correctly – had they still be in my head along with all of that excess bone. In their absence, I suffered chronic jaw pain (I thought it was normal), and my jaw was receding due to the improper bite. So, in November of 1994, I had major reconstructive surgery on my face to realign my jaw. I have metal plates in my jaw and will always wear a wire bracket behind my upper and lower front teeth. I don't set of metal detectors, and my son likes to try to feel the bumps of the screws through my skin.

Esophagitis: In about 1998, I had the misfortune of getting something stuck in my throat and vomiting at a work-related banquet in Whitefish, Montana. The misfortune wasn’t just the social blunder but rather the subsequent diagnosis of “Esophagitis” which is defined as a “general term for any inflammation, irritation, or swelling of the esophagus, the tube that leads from the back of the mouth to the stomach. Symptoms may include:
· Difficulty swallowing
· Painful swallowing
· Heartburn (acid reflux)”

Though I never felt heart burn, evidently, stomach acid was corroding my esophagus. I had a procedure in 1998 and again last year to open up my esophagus, and I get to take Prilosec to help control the condition – and to avoid further social faux pas.

Diverticulitis: I had never heard that term until about 2000 when my doctor told me that my chronic (I use that term a lot) lower left quadrant pains were the result of diverticulosis and diverticulitis. What are those? Well, Wikipedia says: “Diverticulosis refers to a condition in which the inner, lining layer of the large intestine (colon) bulges out (herniates) through the outer, muscular layer. These outpouchings are called diverticula. Diverticulitis refers to the development of inflammation and infection in one or more diverticula.”

My doctor assured me that, while unusual at my age, it was something that might get worse with age…perhaps in my 60’s. Unfortunately, by 2005 – when I was 44 -- the condition had deteriorated to the point of needing a “sigmoid colectomy” on October 5, 2005 where 10 inches of my colon were removed. So, I now answer to the name “Semi-Colon.” And I take fiber pills daily.

Evidently, it runs in families. My father died at 63 when I was 32 so, 12 years later when I needed surgery, I was surprised to find out from a family friend who knew my dad that he had it as well. Nice.

Damn Bugs: I’ve never experienced hay fever so allergies are foreign to me. However, in the summer between 4th and 5th grade (and, evidently in between having teeth ripped from my head), I was chasing a neighbor named Julie Wills in a field near our elementary school. I got stung on the right cheek by a bee, and my right eye swelled shut and I got the hives. Fast forward over 30 years, and I almost keeled over in Minnesota after being stung by what turns out to have been some sort of wasp. I’m literally deathly allergic to wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets. So, I am undergoing 5 years – yes years – of shot therapy to simply desensitize me to those damnable bugs. And I get to carry an Epi Pin with me everywhere I go.

Gout: About four years ago, my big toe on my right foot started to throb, and I thought I had perhaps broken it. I’d broken a toe before actually: my little toe on the right foot…the one the doctor wanted to amputate at my birth because it was bent over my foot. My mother refused, and I had to wear some sort of therapeutic device and suffer the embarrassment of having my mother disclose the situation to every frigging shoe salesman until, in 9th grade, I said “Enough!” But, I digress.

So, the doctor looks at my big toe and asks if I “eat a lot of red meat and drink a lot of red wine.”

Ah. “No!” Hate wine. Eat red meat in moderation.

Nevertheless, turns out I suffered from the “rich man’s condition known as gout.”

Gout? I thought that was some medieval thing like the Black Plague that had been eradicated with the dawn of the Renaissance. Nope. I had gout. Turns out my oldest brother gets it as well. So, a bottle of foreign looking green pills later, gout is gone. No reoccurrence in years. I still don’t like wine.

Sleep Apnea: Yep. I snore. Everyone knows it. Everyone who has had the misfortune to be around me when I sleep knows it. As a result, I won’t sleep on airplanes. I hate camping out with friends. I know my dad snored a lot. Anyway, for a lot of reasons, I underwent a sleep study. Yep. Sleep apnea. I never go into a deep sleep resulting in not only snoring but exhaustion. And I thought it was just being old! So, now, not only do I get to sleep with my wonderful patient wife, but I get to sleep with a little machine on my night stand that makes me look like Darth Vader to my wife and son. It does wonders for spontaneity and romance by the way….

So, we return to this month and the beginning of this long story about my “relative health.” My wife – who never gets sick – caught some bug resulting in a sore throat. My son – recently diagnosed with asthma (and I’m hoping is not destined to follow me down any chronic roads) – has been sick also. Of course, I caught it. Or caught something. So, at the urging of my wife, off to the doctor I go. I have my first official ear infection in years. 10 days of antibiotics later, no relief. So, I head back to the doctor. She looks in my right ear and confirms some fluid buildup.

After looking in my left ear, she asks, “Are you a swimmer?”

I reply, “No.”

She then asks, “Do you work in an onion packing shed?”

Hmmm…let me think on that one. “No.”

“Hmm,” she continues, “normally we see this related to those. You have a fungus growing in your left inner ear canal.”

Great news. I’m growing my own salad bar.

When I arrive home with my expensive prescription ear drops, my normally sympathetic wife snorts with laughter. After putting in the drops, she reads me the prescription warnings and her ad-libbed “may cause a mushroom to grow out of your head.” She doubled up with laughter again.

I married a comedienne…..

Later this week, I have to see an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist to determine why the fungus will not go away. At least it’s not a crouton I suppose.

Tendonosis: During the doctor visit where she discovered a scallion growing in my head, the doctor concluded by asking if there is anything else bothering me. Well, the economy, Obamacare, the weather during my son’s T-Ball games, losing my hair, etc. came to mind, but I did remember my right heel had been hurting.

She referred me to a physical therapist. What the hell. What’s another doctor? So, I had an appointment today. Where I filled out more paperwork. Where I was asked to comment on my “relative health.” See, I’m headed back to the beginning.

She did all sorts of manipulations on my right foot, heel, and leg. She asked how long it had been going on, and, in reply to my answer of “about 5 months,” she asked what sort of event had caused it. “Event?” Like the fair or a concert? What the hell! I couldn’t remember one.

She kept prodding – my memory as opposed to my foot -- and, ultimately, I had an “ah hah moment.” Shoes. My cool new slip-on shoes purchased last December. She laughed and confirmed they were the likely culprit. Now, I bought those due to the convenience of being able to slip them on in order to avoid bending over in order to avoid aggravating my back and knees, but…turns out they are too flat and caused “tendonosis” in my right heel. So, now I have physical therapy to add to my list.

At this point, I am a 49 year old man in “relative good health.” There are no check boxes that fully explain what that means to me. I do not have high blood pressure. I’ve never had cancer. I take very few medications, and most are voluntary, over-the-counter things.

But, if there is ever a box for this, I’m checking it:

Balding, middle-aged victim of chronic sinusitis, esophagitis, tendonosis, diverticulitis, gout, bronchitis, pneumonia, flying insects, TMJ, Dental Tori, knee pain, back pain, and gallows humor.