Trust Us, We're Doctors - Part 1
Justin J. (c) October, 2003
"I'm not a doctor in real life, but I play one on TV."
"Damn it Jim! I'm a doctor, not a warp drive engineer."
"Ask your doctor if Gullibrex is right for you.."
"Mister Smith, the lab results came back,
I have some bad news and some good news."
"May I see your insurance card please.....?"
Initial Exam and Consulatation
Some readers may ask, "what makes you qualified to comment on medical topics?" My answer is basically, "nothing really. I'm just a well informed consumer." Until the mid 1980's I had very little interest in the workings of the Western medical profession, and prior to 1985 avoided doctor visits if at all possible.
"Well doc, where do I begin? I guess here is good enough."
I had a fairly normal childhood with all the usual childhood diseases, mumps, measles, chicken pox, pneumonia, whooping cough. My appendix ruptured when I was 5 and I almost dyed; scratch one appendix. I was sick all the time until they yanked out my tonsils at 7 years old. After that I rarely ever got a cold or flu.
I survived childhood without ever breaking a bone. My only trip to the emergency room was after learning the laws of gravity. From what my mother told me (I don't remember it) I had tossed a brick up in the air, and when it came back down beaned me right between the eyes, requiring a few stitches.
I had a lot of trouble with bleeding hemorrhoids, an ulcer or two and a few urinary track infections during my teens through 20's, but other than that I pretty much careened through life in a sense of ignorant bliss.
I sailed through my Navy enlistment with hardly a problem, colds, flu, a case of Montzuma's revenge from eating fruit I bought from a street vendor or drinking the water, but nothing else that I can recall.
I met my ex wife in collge, which was a happy time, except for not having unloaded a lot or religious and family excess baggage. I drank like a fish through my 20's and 30's, thinking that would quell the pain I felt inside. I went through bouts of abysmal depression, a couple of bouts with ulcerative colitis and a bleeding ulcer. My blood pressure was running around 190/110 and higher (look out, everyone duck, he's gonna blow), but I still felt very uncomfortable seeing a doctor. My beloved dad was dying from terminal cancer, my marriage was going down the crapper, and I wound up being hospitalized for depression in 1978. Luckilly I got matched up with an ex Catholic priest therapist who helped heal my mind and soul, without the need for a lot of "happy drugs"
The Cruel 80's
My love life after the divorce? Well when there was any it was like something out of a Stephen King novel or Tales From The Crypt. I adated a couple of sociopths, one a nurse. I was under the impression that all nurses were virtuous, loving and pure of heart, but I manged to snag a real Jezzebel. Looking back, I have some very deep suspicions about that period.
After walking out the door I began feeling much better. It was on a Friday night in January of 1982. I remember the day like it was yesterday. I was sharing an apartment with a friend and was trimming fat from a steak before broiling it. I was about to insert the cutting knife in the dish washer when the tip nicked me in the finger. A little sting, but hardly a drop of blood came out. I went into the bathroom, washed my hands, then sprayed the boo-boo with some antiseptic; there, all better!
The next day the finger was read and beginning to swell, a tiny drop of pus came out when I squeezed the wound. I washed it again, spraying on more antiseptic.
By Monday morning my hand was starting to throb from the pain. I went to see the nurse at work , who had me soak my hand in an antiseptic bath, then put a band aids on spot. After dinner my entire arm was howling with pain and my hand was beginning to look more like a catcher's mit. My housemate insisted he drive me to the emergency room. I told him I was ok, but he persisted I was not.
The first thing the doctor in the ER did was pull up my sleeve, "Oh my God! Nurse we need to have this man admitted immediately." I became very afraid, "what is it doctor?" He replied, "you have blood poisoning, septicemia as we call it You're running a temoerature of over 105 degrees! You could die, if we don't get this under control!" I began crying as they wheeled me out of the triage area.
I don't remember much about the week I was in the hospital, but remember hearing talk about having to amputate my arm if they could not get the infection under control. I was on IV antibiotiocs around the clock and received a number of blood transfusions. After they had me stabilized, the doctor told me that I had a very close call. When I told him the only thing I recall doing was pricking my finger with a knife, after trimming a raw steak, he replied, "food cuts can be some of the dirtiest.Meat cutters get these sorts of infections." I had e-coli or something like that get into my blood stream.
I felt as good as new after the ordeal was over...until a couple of months later. It was in March or April when I came down with what I thought was just a very nasty case of the flu. I was glued to my bed, weak as a kitten for almost two weeks. My temperature peaked at over 104 degrees a few times and I have never had drenching night sweats like I did during that time. My house mate was getting concerned and was talking about rushing me to the emergency room, but I told him, "it's jus the flu, I'll be better." The weird part was that I had no coughing, sneezing or other cold/flu symptoms, I just felt too weak to move. The weirder part was the symptoms left me almost as fast as they came, and I ocne again felt ok, a bit like a pit bull had been shaking me in it's jaws for a week, but I was feeling more like myself and my temperature had returned to normal.
I was once again cruising along until I dropped by a walk in clinic in 1985 with a terminal sore throat that lasted for over a week, a high fever and a throat redder than a cherry. The doctor took culture for strep, which came back negative. They had no idea what was causing the problem, which wound up fading back into wellness on it's own.
When I returned to the clinic for a followup exam the doctor had a few questions for me, "are you sexually active?" I replied, "no, not really." Are you an IV drug user?" I replied, "God no!, I don't use any drugs at all, never have!" There's a fairly new test out for HIV. You may want to take it, just to be on the safe side. There are a number of anonymous test sites you can have this test done at." He gave me the phone numbers and addresses of the test sites, then I left."
The meeting with the doctor burned in my mind for weeks. In July of 1985 I finally broke down and called one of the Boston clinics that was doing HIV testing and made an appointment. When I showed up the nurse was very nice, drew some blood and gave me a number to use as a reference, i was number xxxxx, telling me to call for an appoinment in about two weeks for test results.
Two weeks later I called to see if my test had come back, which it had, "when would you like to come in sir?" I was on vacation, so asked if tomorrow was ok." I showed up shortly after lunch. It was an absolutely beautiful day and I was feeling pretty chipper as I walked in the door, 'probably be fine. I don't know why I even took the damn test in the first place.'
When they called my numner I was led into a small room with a door. A matonlty woman with long gray hair was sitting at the desk smiking at me, "please come in, and can I have your number." She thumbed though a long printout, "ahh here it is." The smile had left her face as she reached for a large manilla envelope (the envelope please!), "I'm sorry, but your test came back positive", she sighed, "do you understand what I have just told you? Are you OK, did you come with someone for support?" I shook my head, "no I came alone today."
She talked to me for a while, interjecting, "I'm so very sorry" a number of times. I asked her what this all meant, "at this point we don't really know. You appear to be in good health. You could live 3 to 6 months, you could live 10-20-30 years or more. I really cannot tell you that. Do you have a regular doctor?" I replied that I did not have a doctor I saw regularly, her offering that they had a number of fine doctors there that I might want to look into. All I could think of was why would I want to chose a doctor from a gay health clinic, which this one was; it was one of the original HIV test sites in Boston that came highly reccommended.
I left the clinic feeling like I had just been hit by a runaway cross town bus or gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson. I walked through the Back bay back to my car in a fog. I was living with my close friend, co worker Bob in Chelsea. Bob and I became best of friends from the moment we met through a professional group at work and from my long winded ramblings on Usenet. We were techno geeks in arms, drinking buddies as well as just getting along very well. Bob and I spent 90 percent of the time when we were in each other's company, usually laughing ourselves sore, or delving into some techie problem at the kitchen table.
I had always been a heavy drinker, mostly a solitary one. Bob was someone to share a lot of fun with, drunk or sober, but when I returned back at the apartment, everything took on a darker hue; for as much as I enjoyed sharing an apartment with Bob, I didn't want to love here any more. I knew a number of gay guys, and thought that if I called them, they of all people would have a sympathetic ear; wrong! As I made my way through the 8 or so phone numbers, it was "hey Ray, haven't heard from you in a while, what's up?" It didn;t take long for them to hang up or ask that I not call again after I told them what I had just found out, "I don't know why you're calling me. Is it because I'm gay? Well this HIV is not a gay disease. Why couldn't you call someone else. Look please don't call again, but good luck or whatever click!"
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