Tuesday, September 04, 2007

the neurosurgeon, part 1

through a glass beerly 02

You may think my brain has died lately, and that's the reason for my brief spell of silence. Why wouldn't you think that? How well do you really know me anyway?

Nah, my brain's not dead. The truth is, I get caught thinking over a phrase like "spell of silence" and I can't get past the contradiction between the two words. I'm like a vampire counting grains of rice until sunrise, whereupon pffffft. A phrase slides down the chute, gets stuck, and the only way to extract it is to write it down. But there's something about its audacity that makes we want to rebel. I refuse to write it down. And so it goes, clogging up the chute as smoother, slicker sentences pile up behind it, bend and snap into pieces. Then it's a garbage of words in my head.

I have better news. What I just wrote wasn't exactly news, but in this age of information overload and trivia, it's all news. Even your grade four diary, disclosing to you best-forgotten details in a revolting pre-adolescent whisper, is news now. I can't keep myself on track today. I never kept a diary in grade four. Even then I knew I didn't want the adult temptation of revisiting my younger selves.

Who needs an old diary when you can finally, after months of waiting, visit the neurosurgeon? I finally got in to see the neurosurgeon. That motherfucking neurosurgeon.

Here's a recap of me trying to get in to see the neurosurgeon. Around Christmas 2006, something goes seriously wrong with my lower back as I pull my suitcase over a curb. It feels like a wasp sting at first, then it feels like a twig embedded in my back, restricting my movement slightly. I wait for it to go away.

I tell you, I am good at waiting. After several weeks, the pain not having gone away, I go to a doctor at a clinic (family doctors are hard to get where I live, and I've always been healthy, so I never pursued one). The clinic is where nobody cares about you and everyone looks like they're about to collapse from terminal illness, malnutrition or sheer helplessness. I see a doctor, who tells me to take some ibuprofen.

I have the sense to see another doctor. This one is kinder, gentler and clearly horrified by the state of my back. By this time I have a perceptible shift to the right, with one shoulder poking higher than the other. He prescribes a killer anti-inflammatory, a killer muscle relaxant, a killer painkiller. He tells me to take the drugs until they're done and then come back. He also tells me get X-rays.

About three-quarters of the way through my drug regimen, I lose my wallet. At some point during my search for the wallet, I bend forward to look under my desk and realize that I cannot straighten up. I'm tilted at a neat forty-five degree angle with a slight swing to the right. The twig in my back had grown into a bough. I go home. People stare as I pass by their offices, bent over like I'm looking for a cigarette butt. Lost my wallet, I say as I stumble past.

Back at the clinic to see yet another doctor. I explain my problem. He nods and mm-hmms. That sounds pretty bad, he says. I agree. I tell him that the drugs have been ineffective and possibly a contributing factor to my ridiculous posture. He nods again. Yeah, that could be a part of it. Then he sits there, smiling and looking at something on the wall, as if we were strangers waiting for a bus.

Do you recommend physical therapy? I asked.

Physical therapy? the doctor says. Sure, I'll write you a prescription.

He writes me a prescription. I hold on to the paper. It's dawning on me that I'm not going to get the care unless I ask for it.

Do you recommend a specialist? I asked.

Oh yes, the doctor says. You should definitely see a specialist.

Can you refer me?

Absolutely, he says, and starts writing out the referral. I start wondering what would happen if I asked for some jars of jam or maybe a blowjob.

Here you go, he says, handing me another slip of paper. Take that around the corner to the nurse at the desk. She'll prepare a letter of referral and fax it over to the neurosurgeon.

Do I get the appointment date right away?

The neurosurgeon's office will phone you to set up an appointment in three or four months.

What? I said. I won't get in to see the doctor for three or four months?

No, you'll get a callback for an appointment in three or four months. You'll probably get in to see him around nine months from now.

[I don't remember what I said to him at this point. I think I was so shocked that I actually said thank you for the nine month wait that I had just been given.]

Meanwhile, I'm going to a chiropractor and a physical therapist. They all have guesses as to what's wrong with me. Nobody knows for sure. All I know is that I've got nine more months of this.

Three months come, then four, and the neurosurgeon has not called. I start calling the neurosurgeon. The receptionist has dealt with more angry back sufferers than I've dealt with unmovable ice blocks of receptionists, and she is not moved by my pleas, which go from reasonable to edgy to near weeping in the course of thirty seconds. I extract a promise from her that I will be called whenever a cancellation happens.

Eventually I give up on the chiropractor. The cracking provides some relief, but the office is on the other side of town. The physical therapy sessions turn grim.

Stay tuned for part 2.

7 comments:

blackbird said...

Part 2?!

ack.

palinode said...

Remembering the process feels so grim and soul-crushing that I had to stop and give myself some room.

wench said...

oh just kill me know brother - when do you see the neuro surgeon????????? aaarrrggghhh!

savia said...

Motherfucking neurosurgeon.

Abigail Road said...

I just want you to be better already., 'cause I hearts ya. Do you get to see the specialist???

Ozma said...

I'm going to be an idiot and say that if chiropractic is not working, then don't do it. I know some people whose problems got worse with chiropractic care and it seems like until you get a real diagnosis, it is not worth it unless you are seeing major results.

Is there any way to pay out of pocket for care? Duh, you would have thought of that I'm sure. But GOD. A YEAR TO WAIT?

I am sorry to get to the idiotic point of giving lame advice you've already thought of months and months ago (Have you considered using google to diagnose yourself? That's what I do!)

It's just that it sounds so horrible. I can't believe someone would be totally incapacitated and in agonizing pain and there would be no possibility of getting medical care. What is medical care for? Do you only get help for life-threatening conditions? But it sounds like you are not able to have a life! What is the criterion operating here?

Yes, dreams of Canada as paradise are well night shattered. This makes NO SENSE to me. WHAT THE HELL?

palinode said...

What the hell indeed. Don't take my story as representative of health care in Canada, since there are provinces and places where I'd be getting care much sooner. Even with this lousy experience, I'm still happy to have most of my health issues dealt with efficiently, swiftly, and without cost.

Part of the problem involves the bureaucratic and self-serving health care system that has arisen in my province over the last few years. It's really good for serious health problems - my wife's care during her treatment of cervical cancer has been exemplary - but for chronic pain conditions, it's terrible. It's a system that probably looked great on paper. As you'll see in my next entry, my relief lay not in the system, but in individuals who knew how to game the system to my advantage.

I could pay out of pocket for an MRI, but I would have to pay for a plane flight to another province and then for the procedure itself. Quite aside from the cost, my back is in a state that makes travel extremely difficult and damaging.