Tuesday, April 7, 2020

"Ordinary" Medicine During a Plague

Last week I woke up to find an itchy spider bite on my leg. The next morning it was surrounded by a circle of little red dots. 

When I found similar mysterious bumps last year, my hypochondriac daughter eventually convinced me to visit the urgent care clinic. To my surprise, they determined I was infected with the “superbug” MRSA. The doctors at the clinic ordered a round of industrial strength antibiotics.

This time, however, I just sighed and went back to sleep. These days theres no point visiting the St. Joseph-PeaceHealth campus and risking exposure to coronavirus.

My most recent trip to the urgent care clinic occurred right before the pandemic changed everything. 

It happened the day after I ushered at Vancouver Men’s Chorus’ annual fund-raiser “Singing Can Be a Drag.” I apparently fainted and fell down the backstage stairwell. I still have no memories from those two hours, including the allegedly hot firefighters who responded to someone else’s 9-11 call. My theory is a couple of fierce Canadian drag queens pushed me down the stairs. All I remember is driving across the border a few hours later in a low blood sugar daze.

The next morning I got a worried text from one of the show’s producers. He described the whole fainting/stairway tumble/hot firefighter episode. None of it rang a bell. As I wrote in “Falling Can Be A Drag,” I therefore decided it would be prudent to seek medical advice. 

Even though I don’t have a personal or family history of stroke or heart problems, I’m a stressed-out middle-aged dad who’s convinced he has a brain tumor. The triage nurse at the clinic sent me next door to the Emergency Room so I could get a CT scan. Fortunately, everything checked out fine during my very first visit to a hospital as a patient. The folks at the ER told me to stop by my regular doctor’s office that week. 

Everything still looked fine when I visited my doctor a couple of days later. We scratched our heads, hoped for the best, and scheduled a follow-up appointment a month later. Dr. Heuristic ordered one more heart test, which was scheduled for elsewhere in the hospital complex later this month.

As the date for my follow-up appointment with Dr. Heuristic approached, I got a call from his office suggesting we meet by telephone instead. According to my calendar and the confirmation text from PeaceHealth, our telephonic visit was scheduled for last Friday at 11:30 am.

Last Wednesday morning at 11:29 my phone vibrated with a call from Dr. Heuristic’s office. I was just finishing up a grocery run to Fred Meyer, where I’d finally found toilet paper, hand soap, and Tillimook Wafflecone Swirl ice cream. I was in the checkout line, suitably distanced from other customers. No reason not to take the call. 

A couple of days before my remote consultation, a three-page letter arrived from my discount insurance company. The letter said the heart test ordered by my doctor was both approved and denied. It was incomprehensible.

Dr. Heuristic got a copy of the same insurance letter, and didn’t understand it either. He’s been a doctor about as long as I’ve been a lawyer. Collectively we have six decades of experience dealing with insurance companies. Either of us could have figured out what the denial/approval letter meant – after at least thirty minutes of rigorous textual analysis. Both of us have better things to do. 

I’m sure the heart test seemed like a good idea way back in ordinary times. However, as Dr. Heuristic pointed out, the last thing I need right now is a trip to a health care facility. So we agreed to pretend the test referral never happened. 

The New York Times has an article today from a doctor at Yale New Haven Hospital asking “Where Have All the Heart Attacks Gone?,” ever since the coronavirus pandemic arrived. It’s all a mystery.

In the weeks since the drag queen attack I’ve felt perfectly fine, other than the fact that I’m trapped 24/7 in a house with three kids, two dogs, and no school. Plus I have a twinge of tennis elbow from writing too much.

Dr. Heuristic concluded my fainting spell and memory loss was a one-time event, likely caused by the combination of too little food and an intense emotional experience. As usual I defer to Dr. Heuristic’s keen diagnostic instincts. Even over the phone.

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