Thursday, December 15, 2011

A duet of medicine ...

Aside from the malfunctioning body parts that bring me limping, squinting, drooling through the automatic doors, I love going to Urgent Care.

"This sounds really dumb," I say to the girl working the desk, "but I have a headache." 
"That's not dumb!" she says, typing "headache" into my file. 
I'm adding texture to this accordion. Variety. Something new to break up the monotony of page after page after page of UTIs. There is nothing worse than a one-note patient. 
"That's not dumb," echoes the security guard who is standing behind her. 
"It's been, like, six days," I tell her, rubbing the side of my face where it feels like I was walloped with an ice skate, the cold blade splitting my right lobe.
"I have a headache, too," she tells me.
"Me too," says the security guard.
"I think I'm just hungry," the girl says. 
"Isn't it funny," the security guard says, "how you come here to get rid of your headache, and we come here and get a headache?"

There should be a word for when someone believes they have unearthed irony, but really it's just a sentence.


It's the waiting that I like. This undefined span of time between right now and when something will happen. An excuse to dig out my book and crank through 30 pages while drinking vending machine coffee. To yawn and look at the clock. I like it at airports, I like when I'm picking up pizza or prescriptions. It is time to do nothing, unable to do anything else because I'm busy. Waiting, it's perfect. 

Plus, I've grown up in an age ripe with TV medical dramas. I like to diagnose the lesions and sores of my fellow patients. I think I could perform ACL surgery with just gauze and an exacto-knife. It's interesting to note our breaking points: Where a person will cry "Uncle" in the battle against their body. A cockeyed ankle. A gash that won't stop oozing. This thing they're pretty sure is cancer. My rager of concentrated pain, it has it's own percussion section, on the right side of my head. That point where a person says, "Hm. I'm not going to be able to fix this with 800 mg of Ibuprofen and a 'Downton Abbey' marathon. I guess I'll go to Urgent Care."

On this day the waiting room is dry of fan fiction. Just an older couple sitting in adjacent chairs watching too-loud cartoons, inconclusive on which is the patient. A woman with a toddler, the patient must be the toddler, except the toddler is too cheerful to be feverish or to have consumed poison. The security guard has moved back to his post. The girl at the front desk hasn't eaten lunch. On top of that, there is no wait. Not only is "I have a headache" not dumb, it is the winningest complaint in this room's triage system.


I can hear a nurse and the doctor talking about the dearth of victims this afternoon outside the office door. They use the word "boring." The waiting room is empty. What a waste of wait. The doctor is in a good mood. He sticks something in my ear, then shoots its disposable rubber end into the garbage can across the room. He's a good shot. He looks up my nose and in my mouth, then washes his hands of me: Your gums are swollen, he says. This is a dental thing. He pats me on a back and gives me a handful of prescriptions: Ibuprofen, Penicillin and Hydrocodone. I toss all but the Hydrocondone down the hatch in the McDonald's parking lot with a blue Powerade in a medium-sized cup.


I'm always leery of Hydrocodone. The first time I took it I hated it. It was like not being drunk enough. Two and a half beers. I'm aware enough to know that I've started speaking in slurry paragraphs, but I'm too numbed to stop myself. I hate that feeling. I prefer my altered states to be extreme or not at all. These days I lean toward the latter with occasional exceptions. The second time I was prescribed Hydrocodone I found myself in a pleasantly relaxed state. It's not that the pain was necessarily gone, but I didn't care about it anymore. During that same prescription I popped one with a Sugar Free Rock Star to combat the drowsiness and for the next hour everything I said, and I said a lot, sounded like I was yelling it into a cave. So I really only take it if the situation is unbearable and I know I'll be nowhere near a motor vehicle in the next six hours.


I imagine this pain is like contractions in my brain. It is so intense that I'm surprised that I can still see. It strikes quickly and it takes at least 45 minutes for the Ibuprofen to cloak and rock the yowl back to sleep. During passive periods I assume I'm cured. It doesn't occur to me to take an Ibuprofen preemptively. Sometimes there aren't passive periods. I seem to spend the day swinging from one handful of pills to the next.


The receptionist at my dentist's office tells me I'm due for a cleaning anyway. Why not make it a two-fer? They will take a pick axe to my plaque and get to the root of my head pain. Deal, I say.

Whenever I am at the dentist, prone, mouth wide open, I remember this time I saw a veterinarian fix up the grill on a matted and scruffy dog saved from the house of a hoarder. The dog's teeth were stained to the color of coffee and he had lost a few. She scraped at the buildup with a sharp implement, there was a lot of blood, eventually revealing something recognizable as teeth under that mess. He was drugged during the dental work, his mouth propped open and his tongue lolling from the side like a pinkish ribbon. When he woke, he was perky. Perkier than they had seen him yet.

"You don't chew on the right side, do you?" the hygienist asks me. "Since you don't have a tooth over there."

I prefer to think of her as clairvoyant than to think of her as "CSI: My Mouth." In my head she says this in the dreamy voice of a woman surrounded by scented candles, peering into a foggy ball.

"No," I confirm in my most proud-of-you voice.

She tells me that because I don't chew on that side, plaque builds more easily. It isn't getting moved around by my food. I imagine a piece of chewed apple like a Brillo pad against my molars and make a note to pass this information on to my dad, who has recently lost the same tooth.

She tells me that she sees evidence of swollen gums, but that maybe the Penicillin is working because it's not that bad right now. I test my head and notice that it isn't quite as furious as it has been.


I really like my dentist. We both dig Woody Allen, and I intended to ask him what he thought of "Midnight in Paris" and if he saw the documentary on PBS. He reminds me of someone who would have gone to high school with my dad and then remained lifelong friends. If I'd known him when I was eight he would have called me Squirt and asked if I was still chasing all the boys on the playground. His wife would have given me a $25 check when I graduated from high school. He wouldn't seem as old to me now as he did when I was living at home.

He walks into the room, doesn't even look at me, and walks straight to the sink. "Let me get this straight," he says, "I can't even get tickets to the Elton John concert and you're, what? In the front row?"

"It was the eleventh row," I tell him.

He looks in my mouth, requests some mouth photos, and tells the hygienist that I should be put on Metronidazole, another antibiotic. She tells him that I'm already on Penicillin.

He says he would prefer I take both. That they:
"Work in concert with each other," he says.

I love that. Work in concert with each other. It's such a great phrase. Very visual. Tonight! Live! Penicillin and Metronidazole! A Duet of Medicine! The hygienist slips me a new toothbrush, toothpaste and floss and removes my bib. She tells me the bone where my tooth was looks good.

We're all in great spirits. We're on the edge of a laugh. The final scene of the movie, where everyone is smiling really big and hair looks like it could bounce right off a shoulder. My teeth feel like you could roller skate on them. My pain has dulled to something manageable.   


feisty said...

i never imagined tooth problems woudl make for good reading at 3am, but last night, this kept me sane during a middle of the night feeding session.

hope things are better now, or soon.

Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm said...

The Germans must have a single fifteen letter compound word for unearthed irony. They simply must.