Monday, June 1, 2015


I went to a new doctor not long ago, and the immediate result is that I’m collecting a whole new raft of doctors. Most likely, I expect this is an indication I chose well in the new guy, but of course the whole thing comes with a raft of administrivia and the inevitable fear doctors strike into many of us.

Like a lot of little kids, I was afraid of Going to the Doctor, because the extreme ritual of it all, the rigidity of my mother’s discipline leading up to the visit, and the smell of alcohol were in no way really reduced by the presence of the biggest fish aquarium I’d ever seen in my life, and I really never got to go nose-up to the tank anyway (mom, that) and get out of my head by contemplating the undulating peace and beauty in that water.

Once the sheer unknowable-ness and mystery went out of the experience, I “outgrew the fear” and got over it, and an increasing understanding of the medical likelihoods of my family lines became, over time, a bit of a dulled litany that went from not meaning anything because as a healthy child those things didn’t touch me to not having any meaning because, frankly, in my family (on the maternal side, anyway), illness and decrepitization are something of a cottage industry, if not an obsession.

Okay, they’re an obsession.

When  I was a liddle-LIDDLE kid, as we used to say, my cousin/best friend and I used to get into competitions whenever we saw each other: “My mother had NURSE’S TRAINING.” “MY mother FINISHED nurse’s training.” We were steeped in medical expectations and the fact that injury yielded that pinnacle experience of life: attention. Doing anything that resulted in getting a band-aid was great stuff; and the time we were walking barefoot and I stepped on a bee (the only time I’ve ever been stung by one, unless we count the time I mowed over the yellowjacket nest and half of them flew up my pants) was epic attention time for me. I believe I was actually jealous of that other cousin, whose foot got caught in the spokes of the bicycle when he was riding on the back.


Once adulthood undoubtedly got its way and had me all independent and working for a living and surviving that experience, I began to consider myself generally too busy, and too healthy, for doctor visits. And I have also been surrounded by those who actually “need” to go to them, which makes me sad. Of my two oldest friends, one has had a chronic, incurable disease since we were like twenty-five, and she’s endured multiple surgeries to remove significant portions of herself in treatment thereof. The other came upon difficulties much more recently, but very profoundly, now enduring a laundry list of exotic and also incurable conditions, as well as some hearing loss, rheumatoid arthritis, the odd blood clot or mini stroke – oh, and the supposedly-rare disease which killed not only my father and my grandmother, but has got hold of her and someone else in my family by now.

So it has come to be that recently, aged forty-seven, not having been unaware that I seem hardly ever to be in a doctor’s office as often as … well, ANYONE I know, I had to put a face on it, and admit, I hate doctors.

I had one several years back who, knowing my father died of lung disease, prescribed me a really good migraine medicine, which I loved and refilled … until the time it came from the pharmacy with the giant yellow label that said MAY CAUSE SEVERE BREATHING PROBLEMS on it. Where that label had been previously, I have no idea, but I can tell you this: I did endure horiffic sleep apnea every damned time after I got rid of a migraine.

So … that explained THAT problem. (*)

This doctor also (knowing about the migraine thing, y’see) decided it’d be a nice idea to force me to wear a giant, bright-blue, traffic-stoppingly-huge heart monitor in front of everyone 24/7 (as if that is not humiliating and therefore high-blood-pressure-inducing) because I had high BP once in her office. The fact that I explained to her I HAD a migraine that day, and had also had a fight with Mr. X, already living some 4000 miles away by then and therefore extra-stressy to fight with, between time differences and so on, made no odds to her. Into a BP monitor I must go, all context and stress notwithstanding.

I’ve had a hideous case of White Coat Syndrome ever since then, that stressed me out so much. My dad had the same problem, and I never thought I would (ask any phlebotomist who’s taken my whole blood or platelet donations over the past THIRTY years now). But no matter how I try to overcome it, a DOCTOR’S office BP test is invariably going to come off badly. Gosh dammit.

That doc  pulled the same heart monitor trick on my sister in law, too. It stressed my very young NIECE out, that stunt – imagine how conducive that was to S-I-L’s BP coming off well.

I never went to her again.

The one I replaced her with was indifferent in the extreme, which meant I thought he was a great fit on the rare occasion I ever bothered to go see him.

But last time I did bother, he shrugged off a very real patient concern I had, and decided to make a flip remark to go with the (literal, thanks) shrug.

And so we have a new doctor.

He’s treating my eczema by sending me to my mom’s dermatologist, whom I know she loves (this may or may not bode well for my loving the doctor herself, but at least I have something to do about the incresingly ugly situation on my arms).

And he’s responding to the fact that I have a history of sleep apnea (*) and my father and grandmother both died of (non smoking-related) lung disease by sending me to a pulmonologist.

This, for me, is a bit of an added area of White Coat Syndrome, because, though I count myself whole and healthy and have so much to be grateful for when I look at the health of so many around me, I actually do have significant trouble breathing sometimes. It began about a year or two after dad died, and also about the time Mr. X went so far away. It’s been a stable problem, and not associated with other symptoms – and I had a sleep study done once which was inconclusive of anything scary – and I have a deviated septum (the only useful thing that first doc ever told me, not that she ever DID anything about it) – and eczema is actually associated with breathing issues – and I’m only forty-seven – and this visit, as New Doc is kind enough to say, is just to establish the baseline (… “just in case” being left unsaid …).

In case the theme of “and’s” above is not clear, with all these years of not going to doctors like I’m a crank about the whole thing, I’ve been able to sustain the narrative that “there’s nothing wrong, really” (i.e., I am not dying of lung disease).

But you know. It’s no less uncomfortable, not being able to breathe, folks. It’s always embarrassing.

And … the sleep apnea.

It doesn’t happen every night; only several times a year, sometimes with long stretches of not at all. Sometimes with weeks-long stretches of every night, though.

I know enough to know this much. My apnea is autonomic, not mechanical. My BRAIN stops the breathing, not my body; not my weight and conformation.

I’ve had this problem since I was a liddle-LIDDLE kid.

I can remember, from an extremely early age, the nightmares. Nightmares from childhood can be particularly vivid; memorable even into adulthood.

Nightmares that could kill you – that literally stop your breathing – and that you never outgrow, though you outgrow all the other nightmares …

Yeah, those are doozies.


The nightmare is that I’m at the pool. It’s the same friendly pool I knew all my childhood, often, though I’ve been under other water in the odd dream over the years.

I’m at the pool and underwater, my hand over my face, and – miracle! – there is the tiniest bubble of air inside my hand.

This is all I have to breathe.

I have to conserve it.

So I have to breathe really. Really. Shallow.

And then my brain gets the idea. I can’t breathe at all.

And so I don’t.

And I stop for what seems like must be a pretty long time. Not just a few seconds.

I stop for so long my body’s repressed state stills. Becomes almost perfect.

Until I am unable to hold on any longer. And I explode into consciousness. Gasping. Clawing at the air, the air that is not just a tiny little bubble I am holding in my hand, but wide and open and free, unsupressed by water, all mine, all mine. And I need it all.

So. Yeah. I got a new doctor, and almost instantly had three.

Vacation this year was a lot more fun to set up.

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