I saw a neurologist today, and by that, I don’t mean I spotted one from a distance (“Look, there’s one now!”)—I had an appointment. If you know me, you know that I’m dealing with some health issues, and I’m irrationally afraid of going to doctors. But, thanks to the State of Minnesota, I have insurance now, and my friends would kick my hypochondriacal ass if I didn’t at least start the process. So, I saw a neurologist today.
Actually, I told myself I was just ‘seeing a guy about a thing.’ That’s not scary—and it sounds a helluva lot better than SEEING THE NEUROLOGIST. People don’t see THE NEUROLOGIST unless something is seriously wrong. But this is just some guy—just gonna talk to him about some stuff. And besides, I’ve realized something that makes this ‘process’ a little less daunting—whatever I ‘have,’ I’ve already beaten it so far.
Now I don’t want you to think you’re gonna have to suffer through regular updates on my condition and progress—I don’t intend to become the inspiration for a Lifetime original movie, “Tingling and Numbness—the Michael Dane Story.” I will let you know if my case gets written up in any medical journals, but if I’m still writing, assume they haven’t found any BSD (Big Scary Disease).
I figured I had an advantage going in, because I know a little something about medicine, having been pre-med for two years as an undergraduate. Still, I think everyone fondly remembers their first ‘specialist.’ I’d seen the occasional general practitioner, but this time I was gonna see a guy who took extra years of school specifically to figure out my shit.
The neurologist’s lobby looked like a cross between an airport Starbucks and a bank, all curved lines and earth tones and a water dispenser that looked like an espresso machine. And the people couldn’t have been nicer. I was glad The Girlfriend was with me, because otherwise I would have been pestering the other patients with my wry observations about the health care industry.
The receptionist/teller asked if I wanted The Girlfriend to be able to access my medical records, and it felt right, so I signed a form. After all, anyone willing to deal with my anxiety and drive me to clinics and wait around calmly while I flip out should be able to find out the results of my paraneoplastic antibody panel.
Awkward moment: figuring how to discretely go outside for a smoke. Yes, I get it. Kinda defeats the whole “getting health care” purpose to burn a cig while you’re waiting. Regardless, I made my exit, and just past the “No Smoking” boundary I saw the charge nurse, enjoying a refreshing cigarette. And I gotta tell you, there’s a perverse fun to smoking in front of a hospital. And fitness centers with big picture windows.
The neuro guy was what you would get if you were casting “a dramedy centering around the life of a quietly witty neurologist” (how have I not made it as a writer with ideas like that?). Good-looking in a vaguely ethnic way, he was easy to talk to and seemed to listen.
After some questions about my history, and what seemed to be an unnecessary amount of time hitting me with a metal hammer, the doc and I agreed there’s something wrong with me. I was hoping he’d say something along the lines of “It’s just a bad cold,” but since only about half of my limbs seem to work properly right now, he thought some tests might be in order.
I had hoped that the ‘tests’ would consist of asking me a bunch of questions, after which he would deduce what was wrong (“It’s murky, but I’m getting a vision of…it’s becoming clearer…peripheral nerve damage.” Apparently I had ‘doctor’ confused with ‘Gypsy fortune teller.’)
In fact I will be having eight tests: five blood tests, an EMG, and two MRI. And I think I have a punch card that gets me a free procedure of my choice after ten, so that’s nice. The blood tests are no big deal, but I didn’t really know what an EMG involved.
Turns out, an EMG involves someone poking me repeatedly with needles and electrodes. I guess it’s not as fun as that sounds, and I wasn’t thrilled to read in the little pamphlet (“Your First EMG”) that it is used to test for “blah blah blah,” “blah blah,” “some other random thing,” and ALS. That’s right, there’s like fifteen things listed, but all I remember is Lou Gehrig’s Disease. And not because I’m a huge baseball fan. That’s just how my mind works.
I didn’t need the pamphlet to tell me to “avoid tobacco and caffeine a few hours prior to my test,” since I figured being jumpy and edgy and jacked up might affect their ability to stick needles and electrodes in the right places. And I’m sure there will be highly trained professionals doing the poking. But I bet they get burnt out on their jobs like anyone, and sometimes just screw with people by making their arms and legs do funny things –“Watch—I can make him hit himself in the face.”
I have free time, nervous energy and an internet connection, so I looked up ‘EMG machines’ online and found a catalog where they sell them. Reading through it I got an idea: right before the test starts, I’m gonna mess with their minds by asking ridiculously detailed questions about the machine, like “This one does have four channels of surface electromyography with analog and USB output, right?” Or, “Please tell me this thing does at least three paraspinal images and has the E-Stim trigger option.”
Speaking of selling things, any idea how much an MRI machine costs? They start at around A MILLION AND A HALF FREAKING DOLLARS! I’m not really familiar with how much big machines typically cost, but isn’t that about what a rocket costs? Am I being sent into space for this test? Because I don’t think Medica covers that.
I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to smoke before the MRI, either (doctors are so militant about the smoking thing). The overly perky twenty-something who scheduled my procedure told me I’d get to see some ‘cool pictures’ of my brain, and I explained that those pictures might show signs of a debilitating terminal illness, which got her to ratchet back the perkiness a bit.
She also asked me whether I was claustrophobic, and I said, “No…,” but in retrospect, I should have said “I’m not sure, because up till now, I’ve managed to avoid getting trapped in big metal tubes, so I guess we’ll have to see–might want to figure out a way I can smoke in there.”
Apparently, you get to listen to music while you’re entubed, which seems great, depending on who has control over the playlist. What if they pipe in ‘80s arena rock (“Just relax…we’re gonna play Poison’s second album now in it’s entirety.”)? Or if, just as the anxiety of claustrophobia has passed and I’m very calm and still, the lab tech-slash-DJ decides to blast that part of ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ with all the bells and chimes?
I’ve always known that my mind doesn’t work the same as most folk, and the great thing is, now I’ll have the pictures to prove it. From now on, whenever someone questions why I’m doing something, I’ll just whip out a wallet-size copy of my brain scan. They won’t know what it means, but they’ll figure I must have a reason for having it with me and leave me alone. And since I don’t have kids, I’ll have something to show at parties!
In the end, this isn’t about needles, or electrodes, or being in a claustrophobic coffin-like metal tube while someone magnetizes the atoms in my brain. It’s just about me, seein’ a guy. Just checking out a few things. No. Big. Deal. After years of not dealing with my health, if whatever is causing my various infirmities hasn’t stopped me yet, I’m not gonna worry about it.