Sunday, December 1, 2013

Up Against Medical Advice

During one of my lunch hours last week I called my doctor to schedule a routine, bi-annual blood test. It’s a very busy office, and just as I anticipated, the receptionist who answered my call asked if she could put me on hold. I sat at my desk and played with my shoe letting it dangle from the ends of my toes bored from listening to the advertisements boasting of the wonderful services the clinic provided. Suddenly, the announcer asked a shocking question, “Do you know if you have an abdominal aortic aneurysm?” My eyes widened, my ears opened and my shoe dropped to the floor. I pressed the receiver harder against my ear.

The following explanation was provided; the abdominal aorta is a large blood vessel that supplies blood to your abdomen, pelvis, and legs. An aneurysm can develop at any time, in anyone, but it was the next sentence that really got my attention. The monotone voice went on to explain that there are virtually no symptoms that will warn you of this condition. The larger an aneurysm is, the more likely it is to rupture. I rested a hand on my abdomen and gently pressed. If there were no symptoms, how would I know?

What the heck kind of hold entertainment was this? Why don’t they play the typical, noxious please-hold music, like every other establishment aching to have power over you? This is cruel. It would be like an airline, showing continuous documentaries of plane crashes on a non-stop fourteen-hour flight.

“Aneurysms develop slowly over many years,” the voice cautioned. “If they rupture, treatment is needed, and thin, hollow tubes called catheters are inserted through arteries in your groin.” I crossed my legs tightly. “The outcome is good if an experienced surgeon repairs the aneurysm before it ruptures. However, less that 50% of patients survive a ruptured abdominal aneurysm.”

I would have been more comfortable, rapidly stabbing holes between my fingers with a pocketknife into the top of my desk. I looked at my watch. I had listened to the abdominal aneurysm warning in its entirety and now was being asked again, “Do you have an abdominal aortic aneurysm?”

My skin turned clammy, I was anxious and I felt my heart rate increase. I quickly turned to my computer and looked for any information about this medical condition. The Internet is a great source of medical information that doesn’t bother to sugarcoat anything.

I frantically pressed around my navel. It could have been a pulsating mass I felt, I wasn’t sure. My bladder seemed to be overfilled with fluid, but then, I was on my third cup of morning coffee, and I had been on hold, approaching the twenty-minute mark. I was dizzy and nauseous… both were classic symptoms. I took my pulse. My heart was racing. I felt confused. My fingernails were a strange bluish color, or at least I think they were beneath the flaming-red nail polish I was wearing. I became light-headed and began to sweat. My breathing was shallow and I thought I might faint.

It has been years since I was obsessed with the idea that I might have an undiagnosed fatal disease. It was like being constantly accompanied by an uninvited annoying and depressing traveling companion. I ditched her at a rest stop and now she was back!

In the next moment, the receptionist interrupted the recorded antichrist, the Nostradamus of health threats.

“Can I help you?”
“I think I’m dying!” I screamed into the phone.
“If this is an emergency,” she said calmly. “Please dial 9-1-1.”


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