From The New England Journal of Medicine

15 Nov

from May 2, 2008

I guess I’ll start at the beginning.

On the last day of  work before the vacation, which in technical medical terms is called “Friday,”  I went to the doctor for some blood tests. Let me clear about this- these were not tests to see if I had blood. I was very clear with the doctor about that. I was then, and am now, pretty sure that I have blood. I know I’ve seen some around. No, these “blood tests” were of a totally different nature. Doctors can now take blood in tiny little pointy things called “syringes” and, ejecting a drop, put it under a “microscope” and see thousands of little “red things” that prove you have blood. Medicine is great in this day and age. They can also “culture” blood, a process in which, I think, they play jazz in the laboratory. Thelonius Monk is particularly good for this, although it is a challenge to keep the little red cells from laughing at that name.

The medical term that best describes my condition was “crappy.” (Latin- crappius analus.) In a nutshell, (which is not a medical term but is a term designed to make you think that I will be brief but you know very well that I won’t),  I was very run down and not sleeping well, or in some cases, at all. Part of it I chalked up to the last week of the yearbook, that funny little wacky book that nearly killed me with all the last minute (and first minute, and in-between minute) details that cropped up, like where to put the memorial for the dead kid. So I felt pretty “crappy” and if the doctor had said to the nurse “get me the big jar of leeches and the rusty needle” I would probably have rolled up my sleeves and stuck out my arm.

Then the vacation came and I felt better, not because of anything the doctor did (which was nothing except the so-called “blood tests”)  but because I simply wasn’t at work and the book was done (except that it wasn’t) and I slept better but was still tired. The last day of vacation came and I called up and got the results. I know it seems like I skipped a whole week here. And yes, I did, but nothing interesting happened there. (I did see Horton Hears a Who, but that was the subject of another blog. Maybe not my finest, but I have a medical excuse for that.)

Now I will change subject for a while. Just to make you wait. Don’t peek! Let the suspense build. (“What did his doctor find in his blood?” Well, I can tell you, if you promise not tell anyone else: they found HEMOGLOBIN. But that wasn’t the problem. Turns out almost all of us have hemoglobin. You’ll just have to wait.. Suspense! Please, show me you care by being worried for me. “Fretful” sounds good here. I’m not sure I’ve ever made anyone feel “fretful” before [uncomfortable, certainly] and I’d like to try it out now.)

That same Friday I had what I, in my own, silly little naive way, thought was nothing. It was, I thought, a particularly nasty pimple on the side of my nose. Ha ha, what a fool I was. I had been waiting for that thing to head up for two days, but all it did was get big. So that day I called the doctor and got the results of the blood test (The very same results I am making you wait for, and wait you will!) and said nothing about the thing growing on my nose, the evil disfigurement-to-be, that was on the verge of exploding and (almost) creating a “medical emergency,” and yes that is a direct quote from a medical professional.  Read on a couple of pages and you’ll see. It was a zit, for God’s sake! You can’t blame me!

That SAME lousy Friday, yet another event occurred, one that was in some ways even worse and more painful, one that I regret right now as I type, because I should have seen it coming, I should have avoided it, I should have edited this run-on sentence: I went to the Mets game and the Atlanta Braves embarrassed them. Actually, they embarrassed themselves. FIRE WILLIE NOW! I paid GOOD MONEY (motivational caps money) for those seats and they weren’t even competitive. Damn them! I took the train there and back while the whole time the Mets were sitting in the dugout, thinking about the idiot in Section F Box 12 Seat 6 who paid over $100 for a pair of tickets to see them play infield like a bunch a palsy kids (including tax and a BS handling fee- handling fee? They never handled the tickets, they sent them to me in an email- why did they charge me $5 for an email?????)

But little did I know that, as I sat there and ate over-priced hot dogs, that evil, vile, (and I only added “vile” because I mistyped “evil” and damn if they aren’t anagrams)  THING was getting ready to KILL ME. My eye was a little funny that night, a little teary, a little red, because of the big zit I assumed. But when I got home I saw that the bump had swelled a lot. My eye was swollen and red, above and below. Now I was worried. “What the Hell is wrong with David Wright? He hasn’t hit in a week and his average has dropped 30 points. Though his on-base percentage is still very good.” I was also worried about my eye.

When I woke up Saturday morning my eye looked like the eyes in some pictures from World War One (“The War to End All Wars”- which jerk said that?) of soldiers who suffered serious disfigurements on the front. (Thanks Michelle.) I sent a couple of people the pictures from that morning and they were suitably horrified. (And BTW, I will be happy to autograph those pictures for you.) It was bad enough that I got up early and went to the doctor. This isn’t my regular doctor who A- doesn’t see anyone on the weekends and B- was out of town anyway, so complaining about A would be irrelevant. This is a place called “Treat + Release” (which sounds too much like the EPA policy for my tastes- “Catch + Release”) and I only go there when I am afraid I may suffer a permanent facial disfigurement. Which is far less often than you may think, me being a New York City high school teacher.

I waited for two hours. It seemed like I was there for hours and I was- two of them. It was strange. A lot of times you wait and wait and it seems like you waited all day and only a few minutes have gone by. Other times time flies and when you think you’ve been there a couple of minutes you see that three hours have gone by and you missed lunch. But this time it felt like I was waiting for two hours and I was waiting for two hours.

The doctor walked into the room and asked me what was wrong. I took off my glasses and looked at her. “Uh!” she said and I could see her recoil. She got over her revulsion and felt my face, which was not erotic at all, and told me that it was “almost a medical emergency.” (See? A while back I told you that was a direct quote.) She asked me some questions (Her- “Why did you wait so long to come in?” Me- “I was at the Mets game last night.” Her- “Would you like something for your nausea too?”) and gave me a pill right on the spot and a prescription for more pills. Really big and powerful pills. Real serious shit pills. These are the pills that I think that dreadlocked Castro kid on American Idol must be on. Who is voting for him? The guy sings like a warbling gas pipe and has all the personality of a guy high on antibiotics or marijuana. Mark my words- he will not sell a single album but will be the record holder for most times on the cover of High Times magazine.

The pills were levaquin, about a zillion and one milligrams, and wow, did that do a number on me. It made my head fuzzy, it gave me a headache, it made me feel foggy. It may have also cleared up the infection too, but I was too busy changing, let’s simply say “wet,” band-aids all week to notice. And by “wet” I mean “puss-filled.”

That was Saturday. I didn’t leave the house Saturday night, Sunday, or Monday. I slept a lot. I took Tylenol for my headaches. I slept some more. I alternated Tylenol with aspirin. I changed band-aids. Tuesday I went to the store down the block and I felt like crap when I got back, but that was better than Monday when I was unable to leave the coach. Wednesday I went to the store three blocks away, and Thursday I was fairly normal (as far as I go) and did my laundry.

I also took either ambien or melatonin to help me sleep. And they would have helped if I wasn’t so set on not sleeping. I’d get ready for bed and take one of the pills, then I’d get into bed and decide that I wanted to hear what was on Coast to Coast AM that night. So I’d put on my headphones and while the pills did their best to drag me down I’d get involved in the program and try to stay up. One night it was a show about Tesla and alternative energy. Another night it was Waverly Hills haunted sanitarium. So you won’t be surprised that I’d wake up tired.

I saw a lot of movies that week on the couch. Old black and white cheesy movies. You’ve got to know me to appreciate why I love these movies. I watched The Tingler with Vincent Price. In that one, a doctor discovers that when you get scared and get that tingling sensation up and down your spine, it is really caused by a big alien organism that binds with your spine. Of course it gets loose and lots of people end up in sheer terror. I know the movie sounds like shit but listen to the genius of Director William Castle. In one scene of the Tingler it got loose in a movie theater. Castle was the King of 1950’s Gimmicks. He had secretly wired mild electrical shocks to certain seats in the theater, and when the monster was loose onscreen and terrorizing the moviegoers, he’d send shocks into the real viewers and, in some cases, give them so much juice that they had to go to the hospital. Really. This was the 1950’s where you could get away with stuff like wiring movie seats with electricity and infecting the Tuskegee Airmen with anthrax and it was all good for laughs. But my couch wasn’t wired so I just felt comfy instead.

I also watched 13 Ghosts, another Castle Epic. In this one, a family was dirt poor and forced to live in a haunted house. The ghosts were only visible when the family (and audience) put on cardboard 3D glasses. The effect didn’t work so well in 2D. OK, it was awful. The happy ending came when the family found the thousands of dollars the crazy scientist hid in the house. The only disappointment was that this film had no one walking around in a bad gorilla suit. Yes, I spent and hour and a half on the couch watching this. Before you think too badly of me, please remember, I was up to my eyeballs in levaquin and infection.

I saw a really bizarre 1960’s Japanese monster movie called X, the Unknown. Imagine Godzilla covered in strange antenna, with a triangular head, and biceps the size of Mount Rushmore. Now forget about that because it is nothing like The X. This was the worst monster movie I ever saw. It had astronauts who went to the moon for a bath, special effects that were made, I am convinced, with crayon, and a romantic subplot about two women who loved the space captain, who in turn loved, it seemed, either nothing or his spacesuit. It was hard to tell. Most of the time the astronauts were either drinking martinis or the two women (who seemed to have some kind of romance going on themselves) pranced around in cocktail dresses. Yet I watched it from beginning to end. I even paused it while I made some lunch and continued it instead of just deleting it like any normal man would have.

I tried to watch a really good film, a three and a half star Orson Welles classic called Mr. Arkadin, but I got bored fast and deleted it. You can see how my tastes lie.

And did anyone call me? Did any of my friends from work call me? No. Who called me? Maria called me. I didn’t pick up.

Eventually the river from my face stopped and the redness went away and I was able to rejoin society. The pain went away by Tuesday or Wednesday but the dry skin around the wound still lasts. Right now it just looks a twin pair of old, scaly, red, slightly lumpy sores alongside my nose. Not pretty but light years better than when I looked like another bad George Lucas alien. Thursday and Friday I was still suffering from the medicine but even that effect was lessening. For the first half of the week I’d take the pill around noon and my head would clear by just before noon the next day. By Friday I’d take the pill at noon and stop feeling the effects by 11a.m. the next day. I take the last pill by Saturday so expect me to make sense when you see me next. (If you don’t think I ever make sense then you should expect no change. Which would mean that I’m back to normal anyway so you can assume any strange things I do or say are just me and not the medicine. Damn, I wanted to be able to blame the medicine for awhile.)

And that’s it. That’s the story of my awful facial disfigurement, the medication high, the bad movies, the lousy Mets, and how I spent my week in a near fog. But you’ve been fretful all this time (and I thank you for it) about my blood tests. I’ll give you an example.

Remember all those bad black and white movies from the 1950’s where tough heroic guys with even-sided heads would come back from a safari in Africa with a terrible pygmy curse?  And a poor view of the people besides? (Of course you don’t. You don’t watch the same lousy movies I do. No one does. Bear with me.)

DOCTOR: I’m afraid, Carson, that on your recent safari to the Dark Continent you seem to have contracted the curse of the Zambeezi midget tribe. That explains your awful facial disfigurement.
BRICK CARSON, HERO: That’s in your medical books, doc? A curse?
DOCTOR: No, but I spent some time living amongst the Zambeezi after The War.
BRICK CARSON, HERO: A savage, lawless breed.
DOCTOR: Indeed. They need the strong hand of the white man.

Sometimes the script-writer would make up a disease.

DOCTOR: Your blood tests have returned, Carson.
BRICK CARSON, HERO: I can take it, Doc. Give it to me straight. (And other clichés.)
DOCTOR: You have been bitten by the African tsetse fly and have been infected with the rare African Sleeping Sickness.

Some of you never watched those movies. Take it from a man who has watched every bad film ever made from 1945-1959: those are just what they are like. And I watch them anyway.

Well, I have not contracted the curse of the Zambeezi midget tribe. That would have been too obvious. What I did get was sleeping sickness.

There’s a virus that over 95% of all people have and in most of them it does nothing. It’s called Epstein Barr and in me it has become active. It isn’t a life-threatening thing. It is close to mononucleosis, but not quite, close to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but not quite,  and it makes me tired. Pretty ironic for a guy who has had trouble sleeping all his life. There isn’t much that can be done except to take folic acid, eat a balanced diet, and let it run it’s course. Until it comes back. I think I worked with this for a good two or three weeks until the vacation came, and a combination of the EB and the levaquin made me  just want to sleep all last week. Sunday and Monday were days where I did little more than sleep all day. Trust me, it isn’t all you’d expect it to be. Especially when you can’t manage to sleep on your back and you toss from one side to the other all night, or all day as the case may be. I don’t know how long I’ve had the EB or if I’ve had flair-ups before. It would explain some things. And really, doesn’t it sound cool? “Sorry, I can’t do it because of my syndrome.” “I’d love to stay late, but my syndrome is acting up.” “What? I didn’t mean to say that, must be my syndrome.” “But you have to sleep with me, I have a syndrome and I might die!”

So your fretting can come to an end. I’m OK, more or less, and I’m going to be OK, more or less.

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