Ignorance Isn't Bliss, But, Medically Speaking, Sometimes It's All You've Got

There was a definite point, as I lay there in the hospital emergency room with various and sundry tubes sticking out of my body, where I calmed down and realized that I was not going to die. At least, not that particular day.

It may have been when the nice intern ran me through a series of basic tests like finger-squeezing and whatnot, and I passed them at about a 95% rate. (I kind of screwed up the test on my peripheral vision with my right eye -- I guessed two fingers, not one.) The pain in my arm, chest and side -- ALL LEFT -- had not died down, but as I zipped through these basic medical checkpoints, I started to realize that I still had all of my faculties, and I started to worry less about launching into a mid-afternoon stroke. For a person like me -- who is wired for the day about two minutes before waking up -- this has an extremely lightening effect.

But, I was still in pain. And had been for three days running. It started with the left arm forearm on Monday, the left side and shoulder on Tuesday, and then minor chest pains (far to the left, mind you) on Wednesday morning. Tuesday night, not having told Jen about any of this pain, I slept about 2.45 hours, because I was also getting sharp pains in my left calf and toes. I started freaking out, but I also held back on letting Jen into the Rik's Secret Pain Club because, in the way that I approach many of life's aches and pains, I always have the sense that it will pass. Maybe it's just gas, I tell myself, or maybe it will work itself out.

There is a precedent from about a dozen years ago, where I left work in the middle of the day because my chest was hurting immensely, and to the point where I couldn't breathe properly and I almost passed out on the floor at the news agency. My pal Don rushed me to the emergency room at my request, but I was doomed to not dying then either. Two days earlier, I had a 45-pound box of baseball cards escape my grip as I reached for it on a shelf about four feet above me, and it slammed into my chest corner-first. It hurt, but then it went away like a toe-stub after a few minutes. But, what I had done was crack the cartilage in my chest, which only started to bother me greatly once I started to try and lift about a hundred of those 45-pound boxes. The wound started to tear more internally, and thus, the pain and the subsequent visit. A couple days off and a lot of painkillers for a couple weeks, and I was better.

There was no 45-pound box setting up this most recent visit, but there was something else lurking about the place (i.e. me): I had thrown my back out in a major way two weekends before. The pain in my very lower back caused me to miss a pair of workdays, and the only way I could even bear sitting up was to keep a heating pad on there constantly. The last time I threw out the back this bad was two years ago, and the sciatica in my leg was so bad that my left toes were completely numb for about six weeks, and my little left toe didn't recover for a full four beyond that. Pains shot up and down my left leg for what seemed to be the entire Bush administration (which has been far too long indeed).

Going to a ridiculous excuse for a doctor -- all cool bedside manner, no actual healing ability (never go to an M.D. who runs his practice in a Hawaiian shirt and golf shoes) -- obviously didn't help at all. And on my second visit to him two weeks later, he had forgotten every detail I had told him before. He wanted to run electrodes underneath the flesh of my leg down to my toes in what he described as a very painful test. I took what meds Dr. Frankenberry would give me and ignored the situation until it went away. Which it did. The back healed, and the sciatica went bye-bye.

And after running through the nice intern's Q&A here in my latest foray into losing all of my money, I started to calm down and realize that, once again, I would be faced with dealing with the pain on my own terms. I got the results of the EKG they ran on me, and my heart was just fine. No heart attack involved, not even a taste. I would walk out of the hospital on my own power, and well into my 43rd year, I would yet again not stay a single night in a hospital. They will tell me to take what I had already been taking for the pain: ibuprofen and acetaminophen. "Yes," I tell them, "I will make an appointment to see a normal doctor" -- nay, attempt to establish a rapport with a normal doctor -- and he will likely tell me that I have high cholesterol, and take this, and watch out for this in your diet, and gee I'm glad you are getting all of that exercise each day but also try this. And, oh, here's something for the pain.

And I will take a couple of those pain-ridding pills, and I won't like the woozy effect they give me, and I will stop taking them after two days. Why? Because, even in pain, I have to be in control. I will ignore the arm and the side and the leg, keep heating the back, watch how I sit at desks (including when writing bits like this), and stretch everything at opportune moments of relative peace in the valley. Eventually, I will heal through ignorance.

Which is more than Dr. Frankenberry ever did...


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