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Your Health (Part 1 of 4)

Your health is no laughing matter. My health, on the other hand, is amusing. So let's talk about my health and perhaps you can find something instructional that could be applied to your health.

About a year ago, I was running on a treadmill at one of the local health clubs named after a sea creature-- we'll call it the anemone. After a few minutes of running and going no place at all, I began having chest pains. A good excuse to stop, I thought. I waited two days and tried running again. Same thing--more pain. After one more attempt (with the same hurting in my chest) I went to see my friendly family physician for a A routine physical. (I mention this because there is no such thing as a "routine physical") I find it absolutely amazing that medical people can find so many new and different places to poke, jab, listen to, peer into and . . . I just remembered there is one routine, never-fail part of the exam, particularly for middle aged and older men, that I have come to expect, fear, and loathe. This is the part of the exam in which the heretofore friendly physician takes on a malevolent look, his heretofore pleasant voice begins to sound like something bad from a Stephen King movie, and his heretofore small and delicate surgeon-like hands grow to the size and shape of King Kong's. Then comes the RUBBER GLOVE. One would think that by its nature latex would have a compressing effect on King Kong's hand. But no--in fact the combination of Kong and latex actually causes the gloves to inflate to scary proportions. "Turn around and drop'em," he says. “ Put your elbows on the table."
" WHEEOOOO!" I say. “ Put your feet back on the floor," he says, "WHEEEOOOOO," I say. The sphincter muscle fights a valiant but losing battle. Then with a big smiley face the doctor says, “that wasn't so bad was it. "WHEEEOO," pretty much ends that part of the conversation.

But I digress. Another part of this routine/non-routine exam is the well-known electrocardiogram or the EKG. (Why is there a "K" in the middle of EKG. Shouldn't it be ECG?) You should not fear this test, at least not like the big fingers rubber glove test. Preparation for the EKG involves taking off a lot of your clothes and any metal, like big Texas-sized silver belt buckles. Then a rather attractive nurse named Brunhilde scrapes your chest with a wire brush left behind by the painters after the last remodeling (which was necessary to remove the many blood stains from the walls). After the scraping, Brunhilde sticks about two dozen highly adhesive little circular gismos, with the male end of a snap fastener right in the middle of each one, all over your chest, tummy and one ankle. She then attaches a color-coded wire to each of the little snaps. I should point out that with the exception of the wire brush, this does not hurt---YET. Brunhilde instructs me to sit there in my nearly nude condition and breathe normally. OK. She flips some switches and turns some knobs and says "hmmm." A series of pens is making squiggly lines on a long strip of red looking graph paper. The nurse says "hmmm" again. Then a cheerful, "all finished." What a liar she turned out to be "Wait here. The doctor will be with you soon." "Soon" used in this context is defined as somewhere between 32 and 49 minutes-- the length of time being inversely proportional to the amount of clothes you are wearing. The doctor does arrive "soon," looks at the EKG, and says "hmmm." We have a borderline abnormal EKG. You need to have more tests done by a $pecialist. I'll make the arrangements." He leaves. Brunhilde returns smiling and says "let's take off those old sticky things.” She fails to mention the standard, "You might feel some slight discomfort," that you usually get when something is going to hurt like hell. It did. All the hair that Brunhilde missed with the wire brush came off with the "old sticky things."

The doctor returns with a phone number of a cardiologist in a town south of Huntsville, which shall remain nameless so as not to embarrass the cardiologist who shall also remain nameless. (Also located in this nameless town is Conroe High School). The phone number constituted the sum total of the "arrangements" made by my friendly physician.

Keep in mind that so far I have had three bouts of chest pains and a borderline abnormal EKG. It's important to remember this when I call the cardiologist. I call. "Doctor Whatsis will be able to see you in four weeks," a cheerful sounding voice said. "That seems like a pretty long time," I reply. "Doctor Whatsis is a very busy man, she sniffed. OK, set up the appointment.

Four weeks later I'm still among the living and driving south for my first visit to a cardiologist. I had to fill out a lot of stuff and when I finished, friendly voice said, "The doctor will see you soon." In 32 minutes I got to see the doctor (at this point I'm fully dressed). The fully dressed didn't last long. Off with the clothes, more wire brush, on with the two dozen sticky snappy things, on with a blood pressure cuff, and up on a treadmill. Keep in mind also that the treadmill was where the chest pains started. "Run," the doctor said. "Run faster; now faster." Finally when it was all over the doctor looked at the EKG and said "hmmm, looks like a classic case of arterial blockage." Sounded pretty scary to me. “However this treadmill is not conclusive or even diagnostic," he continued. "We need to get you into the hospital tomorrow to do another te$t. It's called a cathertization. We shoot some dye into your heart and watch it on television. It's lots of fun." At this point two or three interesting questions occurred to me. One-- If this treadmill test didn't tell us anything, why did we do it in the first place? Then I thought of the an$wer. Two-- If the doctor couldn't see me for four weeks after all my symptoms appeared, why was it so important to get onto the hospital tomorrow? I know the an$wer to that one too.

To end chapter one of this narrative--I did not go to the hospital the next day. I went home to lie to my wife, who was gallivanting around Europe, about my heart.

Stay tuned and we'll talk more about your health next week.