Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Dr. Kildaire to Dr. Kill Joy

Once upon a time, I had a major crush on a TV doctor. His name was Dr. Kildaire (NBC, 1961-66). Not only did he have that melting British accent, he was so pretty you wanted to ask him where he got his nails done. Of course, I was all of about seven or eight at the time, but I didn't care. Dr. Kildaire had it going on, and almost made me want to don a little white cap of my own so that I could be eternally surrounded by beautiful British men.

Almost. It took one summer as a candystriper on a post-op ward to cure me of my General Hospital fantasy. To this day, the smell of antiseptic makes me want to run for the nearest bedpan. Lucky for me, I was blessed with extraordinarily hearty genes and for almost 20 years managed to avoid doctors and their sadistic party toys of needles, tongue depressors, and urine sample cups, except for the most necessary procedures. Having my daughter comes to mind. And wouldn't you know, I'd end up being the morning "tutorial" for a rather clumsy intern who apparently had never given an episiotomy before. Lucky me.

My avoidance pattern changed when I hit my mid-40s. I had a case of uterine fibroids so severe that I thought for sure I'd be calling Buffy the Vampire Slayer to ward off the crowds of blood-sucking 13th century aristocrats who were following me like a pack of slobbering dogs. Despite how much I loathed the smell, the waiting rooms, the icy metal stirrups (can't they make mittens for those things?), I went along with my gyno's recommendation for a transvaginal ultrasound. Yes, it's as yucky as it sounds. The good news was--I had uterine fibroids. Well, duh, doc! My next visit went like this: "Get them out, or I will use that device that removes cell samples for pap smears on your testicles!" Needless to say, he scheduled me for surgery. For one of the few times in my life, I wanted to hug everyone in surgical scrubs. Maybe it was the anesthesia.

Then, out of the blue, the internal plumbing started to act up and the next thing I knew, I'm peeing into a cup--one of my dreads, as I mentioned earlier--and sitting in a hospital gown in front of my father's urologist. I really like Dr. G. He reminds me a lot of Dr. Kildaire because he speaks softly and pats my hand in a very reassuring way. But there's something weird about my doctor asking how the "coach" is doing whenever I go in for my quarterly visit. This is my father, the ex-high school football coach he's referring to. I really prefer to stick to irritated bladders and bloody urine, and not get to the level of personal family anecdotes. Somehow, you start to feel like you're exposing yourself to a relative, and that's just plain freaky. He prescribes two daily pills to take, which I do, religiously, because I'm petrified of the cystoscopy he's going to do if I don't take them. Trust me when I say that if you have a choice between a root canal without novacaine or a cystoscopy, take the root canal.

And this is how the descent into malfunctioning body parts begins. First two little brown bottles and then another internal organ goes berserk, and the next thing you know, you're on your way to plastic boxes marked with the days of the week so you remember not to take the yellow pill with the white pill, and that the big fat brown pill gets taken only once a week, not everyday.

This is what happened when my thyroid decided it was bored and wanted more attention. Fortunately, I have an internist who's obsessive compulsive in a good way, and when I came in complaining about chronic chest pains--although deliberately forgot to mention the fact that I'd dropped four dress sizes in about six months because, hell, I really didn't want to fix that--he had blood tests run and, tah dah, declared I had hyperthyroidism. 

Suddenly, I start seeing so many men in white coats, you'd think I'd been picked for some bizarre reality show where the divorced, fifty year old has to choose Mr. Right from a bunch of MDs. Okay, so that would be a sweet deal if it wasn't for the fact that one of these cuties is dosing me with radioactive iodine, another is dilating my eyes to make sure I'm not going blind, and hunk number three is listening to my throat through his stethoscope. I also get sent for a mammogram--God knows what this has to do with my thyroid--and a bone scan, which gets me a lecture from my GP, Dr. Rick, because it shows 25% bone loss. My bad.

So now I add three new brown bottles to my collection, plus a 12-week mega dose of Vitamin D which is supposed to be the new protocol for people who live in sun-deficient areas. According to Dr. Rick, this also has nothing to do with my thyroid, but as long as he’s prescribing stuff, he might as well juice me up with sun-replacement vitamins. Better that than a hip fracture, right?

The upside to my midlife deterioration is that I can now join in family dinner conversations that usually start out about New York State sucking taxpayers dry, how the Bills STILL haven't won a damn game in pre-season, and gradually move on to colonoscopies, arthritis treatments, and my sister-in-law's second (third?) hip replacement. I used to feel like such an outsider. All my parts were in working order; nothing was aching, out of whack, or falling apart. No more. Failure is, in fact, not just an option when it comes to your internal organs, but a sure thing.

So I'm standing here in front of the cabinet that holds my stockpile of drugs and supplements. I realize that instead of taking the one-per-week 50,000 mg vitamin D pill, I was taking it everyday (oops!). Then I couldn't remember if I'd taken my thyroid pill in the morning. Or my Omega 3 fish oil. And I think, damn, am I going to have to go out and get one of those plastic pill boxes? After mulling it over I decide I'm not THAT old. Yet.