Monday, April 15, 2013

That Time I Almost Died Part III

In 2008...

When your general wellbeing is in freefall, it's amazing how quickly you just adapt to the latest symptoms. Ailments you shouldn't be adapting to you shrug off simply because you've forgotten what it's like to feel normal. For instance, I never used to mind cold weather. In fact, I was hot all the time and was the type who wore gloves maybe twice a year. But since October, I've been unable to keep warm. 55 degrees and I'm bundled up in a winter coat, gloves, scarf...and I'm still frozen.

People are like, "Mike, what's with the outfit? Going on a ski trip?" 

"Nope, just picking up my dry-cleaning."

It's quite dangerous, because you cease recognizing the gravity of symptoms you should be taking seriously. Instead of sprinting to the doctor, now when some new and sinister wrinkle materializes, I react the way you do when you find out someone's cousin is  from your hometown. "Really? Hmmm. How 'bout that? [Cue nondescript nodding]."

Probably the worst example of this is my recent weight loss. When I moved to London, I weighed about 130 lbs., a weight I've maintained since I was 18. I'm now down to about 114; a level I haven't seen since I was 14 and 4' 10". Strangely, this wasting away of my body didn't really alarm me that way it should have. Again, I just adjusted. Belts that droop to my crotch, suits that look more filled out on the hanger than on problemo. Who made the rule that says undershirts have to be tight?

I mentioned I'd been having dizzy spells. Well, things came to a head the weekend of Nov. 7th;
I'd booked a weekend trip to Budapest. I was supposed to leave on a Friday, but on the train ride home the night before, I was having a hard keeping my balance. Immediately, I began picturing how this would fly in an unfamiliar city with an unfamiliar tongue. I opted to can the vacation, eat the losses, and do some touristy stuff around London instead.

On my day off I decided to hit the National Gallery. While there I suddenly felt faint and wobbly and had to flop onto to one of the Gallery's couches to get my bearings. I tried to make it look like I was just overwhelmed by the unfinished Michelangelo I'd been viewing.

The Monday following my museum episode, I had a bloodtest appointment with NHS ("universal healthcare"). It had taken weeks to secure, and fortunately, happened to be scheduled for when I needed it most. My appt. was at 10:52 Monday morning, so as per my GP's counsel, I consumed no food or water after 12:00 the night before.

I had the blood drawn, and was told the results would take 7-10 days and that I would either have to drop by the clinic or make an appt. to get them. Inconvenient yes, but thanks to my weekend wipeout, I was at least able to secure an emergency GP appt. for the next day.

The next day--Tuesday--I went to the GP's office determined to make it clear my health was in real jeopardy, and that I needed speedier care. I recounted the semi-collapse and everything leading up to it with as much animation and pantomime as my creaky physique would allow. The last time I had tried this all my GP had in the way of a response was, "Slow down." 

I begged her not to take her own advice.

Miraculously, my "7-10 day" blood results were already in. They seemed to rule out anemia, which was the leading initial theory for the dizziness sector of my maladies. Everything else they for tested for also came up negative; kidney/liver disease, diabetes, etc. In fact, the only thing my GP noted was that my blood showed I was a little dehydrated. I reminded her that the reason I was dehydrated was because she had specifically ordered me not to hydrate myself after midnight the night before. Had I not been given medical instruction to avoid hydration, I would have generously hydrated myself. This revelation failed to resonate. She repeated: "You were slightly dehydrated." I replied again that it had been HER IDEA that I that avoid fluids ahead of the test, and that it wasn't a habit of mine to arbitrarily deprive myself of precious fluids. We agreed to disagree.

She felt the next step was to test my thyroid function, so she wanted to draw some more blood. She said she didn't have a tourniquet, so she would just use a rubber glove to tie me off. Mind you, the room we were in was JUST ACROSS THE LOBBY FROM THE ROOM WHERE I'D HAD MY BLOOD DRAWN NOT 24 HOURS EARLY. WE'RE TALKING ABOUT AN EPIC WALK OF ABOUT 20 METERS WITHIN THE SAME BUILDING. THERE WERE NO DRAWBRIDGES OR FIREBREATHING DRAGONS TO WORRY ABOUT. Follow me on this: which sounds like the more sensible route for a doctor to take; a 20 meter walk and a precise blood draw, or staying put and playing it fast and loose with the old needle and vein? As it turned out, my GP was a risk taker. Apparently GP can also mean Gambling Practitioner.

She tied off my right arm with a common rubber glove (not a joke). Given my emaciated state, my veins were feeling a bit shy. Rather than recognize the error of her ways, she stayed the course and began swatting at my arm piñata-style. As you might have guessed, she failed to draw to any blood, though she did succeed in making my right arm look like a gopher-sacked golf course. Then, and only then, did it dawn on her to make that 20 meter walk across the clinic to fetch the proper supplies. The same nurse who drew my blood the day before wound up doing the honors. My GP said if I didn't hear from her, I was to assume the thyroid tests hadn't revealed anything.

I then requested the results of my first round of tests so I could take them to a private specialist. She told me I would have to make an appointment.

"Can't I just get a printout now?"

"You can, but I'm really behind today, so you'll have to wait in the lobby for 30 minutes."

What could I do? I waited in the lobby for half an hour before a receptionist, not the GP herself, performed the arduous duty of moving her mouse slightly, clicking File, moving the cursor down to print, left clicking, and letting those sweet documents rip.

That was Tuesday. Wednesday passed without incident. I even did a comedy show Wednesday night, my first in a while. I was slightly out of it and blanked a bit on some lines, but managed to have a respectable set. It's really too bad I've been too unable to hit the circuit hard. Given my hideous (read: memorable) new look and obvious frailty, I would now have the all-important POINT OF VIEW.

"Come see Mikey Malaise. You'd be bitter too if the only movement you could count on was falling flat on your face!"

I guarantee if I performed under that banner with the exact same act I've always done, rather than being deemed too dark, bookers would trumpet my act as a "brave learning experience."

Thursday afternoon and evening were kind of ugly, with a recurrence of right arm numbness and dizziness/disorientation. Friday morning I woke up with some light tingling, dizziness, and the occasional star shower in my field of vision. All were short lived.

Then lunchtime hit, and the dizziness came out swinging. I walked out of the office for a brisk stroll in the sunlight, hoping it would restore my equilibrium. No luck. I returned to the office, and now noticed that the ceiling lights were starting to get very dim. I changed floors to make sure it was me and not the lighting. It was me. I went back to my desk and attempted to will away the fuzziness.

Everything faded and I felt myself falling--

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