Saturday, March 21, 2009

Left-Leaning Timicitis

I told someone a few weeks ago, "I'm generally pretty healthy. I never get sick." Soon after that my case of Left-Leaning Timicitis started. That's what I get for saying stuff.

It started with two separate pains on two (seemingly) unrelated parts of my body. I went to the doctor, who prescribed some antibiotics to see if that would clear one up one, or maybe even both, of the tender areas.

Instead, two days after I started the antibiotics, a new third (and seemingly unrelated) area of my body started to get tender and swollenish. Incidentally, all three problem areas were on the left side of my body, which seemed like a weird coincidence. I called the dial-a-nurse to make sure the latest one wasn't an allergic reaction to the meds, but she assured me it wasn't. I decided to give it through the weekend to see if anything improved.

Neither of my three conditions improved by Monday, so I called the doctor's office again. I wanted to ask my doctor (actually she's my doctor's Physician's Assistant (PA)), if she thought I needed to come in again or if she wanted to just prescribe something else. I left a message with her assistant and waited for her response.

By lunchtime, one of my pains had become worrisome enough that I decided I would just go ahead and make an appointment anyway. So I called my health network to make an appointment. After navigating the phone tree through several people, I got a hold of someone who I think maybe works in my PA's building. I told her I was waiting to hear back from my PA, but I wanted to go ahead and make an appointment in the meantime. Then she asked the question that I hate, "What would you like to see the doctor about?"

I hate talking about my symptoms over the phone. Especially when I'm at work sitting at the Reference Desk in the middle of the library. I just said, "I was on some medications, but they're not working, so I want to see the doctor again." I hoped she would get the hint and drop it, but instead she followed up with, "and what were you taking the medications for?"

I sighed, and said softly, "I was having abdominal pains." I didn't feel the need to tell her about all of my ailments, just one should suffice. "Abdominal pains!?!?" She asked, as if I'd said my arm had just been torn off by a wheat thresher. "You were having abdominal pains and they didn't tell you to come in?"

"No, I was waiting to hear from the doctor."

"They really should have told you to come in. Did you tell the person this morning you were having abdominal pains?" Why was she mad at me?

"Look," I said, "It's the same thing I had last week. These are not new abdominal pains. I was on antibiotics and waiting to see if they would fix it. They haven't, so now I want to see the doctor about what to do next."

This calmed her down enough to put me on hold. A few seconds later I heard the sound of a phone ringing and my PA's assistant answered. "Um," I stammered, "I was trying to make an appointment to see my PA. They put me on hold."

The PA's assistant (Physician's Assistant's Assistant? PAA?) apologized for not getting back to me yet, but explained that she was on her lunch break. I didn't mean to interrupt her lunch break, I just wanted to schedule a fucking appointment! Can't anyone else there do that? (The PAA hadn't had to schedule my other appointments with the PA.) The PAA relayed to me that the PA had lots of theories about what could be wrong with me, and I needed to schedule some tests. Okay, I said, let's schedule those.

She confirmed my work and home phone numbers and then asked for my insurance information. "Um," I said, "Could I give you all that info when I come in?" She got snippy and said, "Sir, I need this information to make the appointment."

"I'm at work right now," I said. I just wanted to come in and talk to an actual medical professional, not a nurse over the phone. Why was that so complicated? She seemed to understand and her tone softened. She agreed to schedule an appointment with my PA.

The next morning I took time off work to see the PA, the third time in the past month. I had so many symptoms, and so many of them new, I felt like a hypochondriac as I listed everything out. "I also have this pain....Oh, and I don't know if this means anything, but..."

In the time since I'd talked to her PAA over the phone, I'd investigated a bunch of conditions they wanted to test me for. (Don't tell a librarian they might have Blahtosis if you don't want them to look it up in three medical encyclopedias and two consumer health websites.) I kept saying things like, I know that some of the symptoms for Blahtosis include blah and blah..., but I only have a this and that. There was no clear indication of what was wrong with me, and this was complicated by the fact that I seemed to have three entirely unrelated ailments.

Why am I never a textbook case? Just once I'd like to be a normal patient with clear symptoms.

My PA ordered a bunch of tests, including a urine and blood sample, a CT scan and an ultrasound. I decided to take the entire day off work to get all of these tests in.

Little did I know, I would need the entire day. I spent the day with lots of medical personnel. Some of them were polite and competent. Some were impolite but competent. And some of them, the worst kind of all, were impolite and incompetent. In these situations I always wonder how much of that incompetence is really because of the individual, and how much of it is because they are hog-tied by the system-- maybe they have to observed certain procedures and protocols that limits their ability to act competently.
  • My PA is very friendly and nice, but I fear that she might be in over her head with all of my weird symptoms. When I asked her if I could get all my tests done that day, so I wouldn't have to take more time off work, she designated my tests as "stat", which means they would schedule them that day. So that was nice.
  • The phlebotomist who took my blood samples was gruff, and didn't really seem to care that the little compartment where I left my two(!) urine samples already had someone else's sample sitting there. When I told her that I didn't think another sample would fit in there, and maybe she should tell someone about it, she was uninterested. But otherwise she appeared to do her job well.
  • The lady who made the "cocktail" (as she called it) that I had to drink before my CT scan was very friendly. She answered all my questions and apologized that I had to wait an hour and a half for the cocktail (barium?) to work its way through my system before they could scan me. She explained everything they were going to do, and also put an IV in my arm.
  • The other people who helped with the CT scan were nice, but they were clearly overbooked that day. I showed up after my ultrasound at about 1:00, and waited in a small room that had the feel of a bus station with about a dozen people. They didn't even give me my "cocktail" until 2:00, so my scan couldn't go til 3:30. After my scan, around 4:00, I had to wait there with my IV in until a radiologist could analyze the results. It wasn't til around 5:00 when they took out my IV (which had been in my arm for three hours) and I could go home.
I hadn't eaten since 9:00 that morning, so when I got home I devoured half a chocolate-cream pie that was leftover from the weekend. I'm not proud.

After all that, the tests revealed nothing.

A few days later my blood tests came back, so my PAA called to let me know the results. Of all the health personnel I've dealt with, my PAA (Physician's Assistant's Assistant) is clearly the most useless. She's obviously reading the results off a report, but she has no idea what she's saying. If I try to ask a follow-up question, she says things like, "I don't know, my crystal ball is broken." Alrighty then! Thanks for your help!

All of my tests came back negative. I supposed it's good to know I don't have (among other things) diverticulitis, kidney stones, or mono. Interestingly, the test was "suggestive of past mono." Apparently, I've had it before. I have no idea when that might have been, since I wasn't aware of it at the time.

But what the hell is wrong with me? Although none of them are unbearable, all of my symptoms are still there, so the PA suggests that I consult a surgeon, since one of my ailments may be hernia-related. Surgery makes me nervous, so I asked her if I could try a gastrointestinal specialist or urologist first. I'd even consider an endocrinologist. I'm just not ready to turn to someone whose first option is to cut into me.

In my more paranoid moments I wonder if I'm ground zero for some new unknown pandemic. Is this the start of the Timbonic Plague? Is that what I'll go down in history for?

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