Tuesday I had an appointment with a new physical therapist. The one I’d been seeing for 2 ½ months informed me at the end of my last session she’d be out of the country through January. The notes she’d made during my mostly ineffectual treatment were lobbed to another therapist, and my first appointment with him was primarily a questionnaire.
For the second session, he put me through a wide range of tests, focusing mainly on my reflexes. Using the old reflex hammer, he made four consecutive unsuccessful attempts to get a reaction from my right leg. On the fifth, my kicked up with Rockette flair. Attempt six? Leg did nothing. Even the therapist had to chuckle.
He told me I shouldn’t come back, as this was beyond the scope of standard physical therapy. Can't argue. When your reflexes don’t work, doing push-ups against a wall doesn’t help.
Thursday I received a call from a private (out of pocket $$$) hematologist offering me an appointment that afternoon. It was an initial consult, priced at 170 pounds. Appropriately, the doctor was located near Baker Street, the old solving grounds of detective/part time coke sniffer Sherlock Holmes (read “The Yellow Face” for cokeheaded goodness).
The hematologist and I labored through many of the same questions I’d been through with other docs. At least she stayed wake while I gave my answers.
She had me remove my shirt and handed me a gown to preserve my much cherished modesty. The gown did nothing to cover me up. It was as transparent as a white person namedropping MLK.
While looking me over, she kept reiterating: “You really are pale.” As I’ve mentioned, since coming to London, multiple strangers have approached me and asked, "Are you all right?" One even strongly encouraged me to sit down, (though she probably didn’t want it to be next to her). That happens when you look like Casper the Friendly Corpse.
When all was said and done, the hematologist’s best guess was something called polymyalgia rheumatica, though she admitted what should have been one of the key indicators in my earlier bloodwork had come up normal. She ordered another round of tests and told me not to leave the hospital without getting my blood drawn.
I said adios to several more tubes of blood and went to pay. The bill I was given contained nothing but a few hieroglyphics, and I am not an Egyptologist. I was told I had to go to another building to pay the unreadable bill. Two buildings, one bill. Two buildings, one bill. I know I said that already, but I didn't have time at the hospital to take a deep breath and count to ten. I am doing that now...
Once inside the second building, I handed King Tut's Lost Medical Diary to the cashier. I was delighted to discover it translated into a charge of £462. And that was just for the bloodwork. I am to be invoiced later for the £170 consult fee.
I should know the results this week. If the hematologist is correct, the condition should be treatable with steroids (not the Barry Bonds kind, though those would come in handy right now), and I will begin the program within days. Individual results may vary, but my research says the process could last up to two years. Although this diagnosis wouldn't exactly be good news, I am in the strange position of half rooting for it, so that at least I'll know what I'm up against.
And no, what does not kill me isn’t going to make me stronger. But seeing that this is one of the pet phrases of middlebrow optimists, I am bound to hear it soon. That this line is linked with Nietzsche has even given it currency among people who should know better.
Grave setbacks don't make you stronger. They make you weaker. Do you see marathon winners purposely rolling their ankles during training to help them win the big race? Know many ballerinas who don a neck brace along with their leotard to give them that all important edge? People looking to excel take protein shakes, not chemo. But much like its cousin, the broken window fallacy in economics, the myth of rising from the ashes as some sort of superphoenix never seems to fade away. By the way, here's something else Nietzsche said: If you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.
Speaking of weakness, I’m now having constant biting spasms all over my body. It feels like I’m being pinched by an invisible lobster. The worst spasms are those now making guest appearances on the bottom of my feet.
The spells of immobilizing fatigue are coming more often. I keep finding it necessary to rest on stairwells, to lean against walls, and to scout for places to sit, even after the mildest activity. My train station is 10 minutes from my flat. Sunday night I barely made it home, and fell through the door winded and without an ounce of strength left in my body.
I feel stronger already!