Monday, June 30, 2014


This is written in the spirit of reflection rather than accusation, though it may not come across that way.  After my mother’s death while I waited for her estate to be settled, I asked for a copy of my medical files.  I was working for the City of Portland which had “the best insurance deal in town” according to my doc at the time.  He felt this justified elaborate and expensive testing, but he did not feel any obligation to tell me what was going on -- what results showed.  I had chosen this doc in part because he had experience in his church with a clergy-advising committee.  People who are chosen for this role are considered by others to have a certain amount of wisdom and sophistication. 

In those years (‘92-’99) I was struggling with my knees and beginning to age, plus having a lot of trouble with my stomach hurting.  I attended the many little doc-talks around Portland, where they explained what they did and whether it would be a good idea to schedule time with them.  (Of course, it always was.)  I’d had fiberoptic observation of my whole GI tract from both ends, several tests for diabetes that didn't detect diabetes, meds for high blood pressure that made me cough so much that co-workers complained I might be contagious.  And so on.  NO ONE confronted me with the obvious: depression.  Dying mother, deranged brother, worry about retirement, worry about former husband who was also dying.  Deadend job, at first with a bully for a boss.  Depression was not unjustified.  But I had a strong taboo on “woe is me”.  I just went numb.  

The doc was slow sending my file, I think because he was carefully redacting it in case I were planning a lawsuit.  He had been an outstanding heart surgeon, whose practice shrank to nothing when fiberoptic and stent technology arrived.  Now he was coasting until retirement.  I’d tell him my symptoms, he’d suddenly stand up and leave for ten minutes without explanation, then come back to tell me the diagnosis and write a prescription.  

I gradually realized he was either calling a colleague for advice or checking his textbooks.  I doubt that they had been bought recently.  A new boss at work figured out both my planar fascitis and my bum knee, and advised me what to do.  The doc didn’t know -- he just thought I should get a lot more exercise.  In euphemistic terms, he let it be known that overweight old women are just lazy and eat too much.  Finally, he leapt up and left once too often and for too long, so -- without signing out -- I just went home.

His nurse called to see if I were all right.  She didn’t ask why I left.  He himself never called.  When I got my file, I read it quickly and put it aside.  Later I looked more closely and saw that he had diagnosed “early CHF.”  By this time I was using Google and looked it up.  CHF is Congestive Heart Failure.  He never discussed it with me, except to insist on a treadmill stress test that just about destroyed me, not that he noticed.  I sat in the lobby for an hour until I felt like I could drive home.  This didn’t impress him.

Part of the reason for the leap to Valier, when I really ought to have stayed in Portland another five years until retiring at 65, was thinking about “early CHF.”  Portland was a city in disorder.  At least two cocaine dealers lived in my apartment building, armed hispanic gangs ran through downtown shooting randomly (killed at least one person innocently waiting for the bus), the TV station upstairs from my fav coffee shop was invaded by a shooter, the buses in my part of town were being robbed at gunpoint, and we clericals were all being instructed about what to do when the big earthquake hit and the bridges collapsed. The union was thinking of suing because the air conditioning system was infested with black mold, but no one was doing anything.  My mother’s house was in a neighborhood that had shifted to being ghetto.  Shooting every night.  One of my co-workers had repeated concussions from bike wrecks on the way to work in traffic.  He became convinced that I was accusing him of being a pedophile.  Years earlier I had helped him adopt a little girl.  He brought her panties to work and planted them around the office as a joke.  Maybe he WAS a pedophile, but more likely he just had weird brain damage.

Stress, do you think?  

Lucky for me, when I got to my ramshackle house, my new Valier neighbor Dale and his buddy helped unload my U-Haul.  Things have pretty much stayed where we put them until recently I had to move my 4-drawer file cabinets to the garage because they were making the floor sink.  I did some painting -- the bathroom was gruesome until I just painted everything white, including the spiders -- and replaced only some of the appliances that immediately began to fail.  In the middle of it all, I sat down and wrote.

Fifteen years passed faster than a speeding bullet.  A few years ago an eye doc saw damage from diabetes (now stopped, due to metformin and diet protocols)  The tests had improved enough to detect and monitor it.  No one in Montana has said anything about CHF.  When they use the stethoscope on my chest, I ask and they say,  “Oh, it’s fine.”  No one suggests stress tests.  (Suits me!)  Stomach rarely hurts.  I’ve lost fifty pounds since I came and can now put my socks on while standing up.  

This guy can't stand up to put on ANYTHING.

But recently the docs and techs ask,  “Do you get out of breath?  Do you wheeze?”  They don’t say why they are asking.  When I say (honestly) NO, they don’t seem to believe me.  So what are they thinking?  Why is CHF treated like it’s -- I dunno -- an STD?  Or cancer?  I’m divided between pushing them, which might mean they become a lot more invasive, or just continuing to take care of myself, which might be stupid.  I've scheduled a lactic acidosis test, which is advised after taking metformin a long time.

Coming to Valier was not trying to find a safe place -- it was returning to a known place, even though few people here remembered me.  In Browning, nearby, they DID remember me.  In Heart Butte they remember me, but even 2001 was a long time ago.  In Cut Bank there are people who have torn strips off of me during the past half-century and probably still have them in a desk drawer somewhere.  This house is the kind of house widows used to own so the rent (usually from single school teachers) would supplement their retirement.  I rented those old houses and loved them.  In Valier the school is obliged to build houses because today’s teachers will not live in ramshackle little old houses.  The school teacher next door just moved out of the twin to this house. 

Time’s stream moves quickly.  Things catch up.  The years I spent sleeping out in an F150 cargo van while circuit-riding have had a curious after effect: snoring.  The kind that comes from obstruction like an accumulation of phlegm or misalignment of thingybobbits in the throat.  I only realized this lately.  No one will tell you that you snore (it’s considered like having bad breath -- shameful) and I don’t sleep with anyone anyway.  Once at UU General Assembly I slept in a dorm “pod” of bunkbeds, and all the other occupants disappeared the second day.  I didn’t know them and didn’t know why they left.  Now I get it.

Only once did I sleep in a retreat center where I was loud enough that one of the ministers had a talk with me.  He was on a CPAP at night for his snoring.  They had just been invented.  One cannot plug in a CPAP in a barebones cargo van.  I waved it aside.  The necessary testing is expensive and so is the breathing machine -- IF you can tolerate something strapped to your face while you sleep. (Too much like being inseminated by Alien!)

Now when I proof writing, I find strange typos and malapropisms -- not a lot.  I can’t remember names, but I never was good at that.  I take short naps.  I have little protocols, regimes, and sticky reminders but I forget to take my lists to the store and forgot to buy coffee last time.  (Eeeks!  A bag of coffee in Valier costs $2 more than it does in Conrad.)  Little strokes?  Lack of REM sleep?  “Normal” aging?  What I know from watching so many people get old (many of my best friends have died -- men and Indians die young) is that it’s a good idea to plan ahead.  Set deadlines and triggers, research to discover possibilities and markers.  This may be the beginning of an on-going thread.

1 comment:

northern nick said...

. . . ornery is good. Keeps the blood pumpin'. Always new things happening, ya live long enough. Never stop trying to figure it all out, make sense. It's somewhere in between the lines. Even if singular, the fact is we're (everythin is) comprised of permeable membrane. Thus, we truly are connected, never really alone, breathing, shifting, melding, morphing. Niwahkomahkanak, as they say in Cree: we are all related. It is a truism. Thanks.