Near Yellow Mountain

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Thing I Greatly Feared..............

I was born with what the Japanese call “Rondon Pari” which more clearly stated means “one eye points towards London and the other eye points towards Paris”. My parents did not want me to start kindergarten with the malady so one of my earliest memories is being spirited off to an eye doctor who proposed what at the time was a “cutting edge” surgical procedure – pun intended.

"Rondon - Pari" days circa 1962
I still recall trying to negotiate with the anesthesiologist. I didn’t like the idea of “going under” as it was termed. I was five and JFK had not yet faced down Khrushchev in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

After surgery, I spent a few days in the hospital. When they let me go home, I had to lie on the couch all day every day for a few weeks with eye patches on. It was summer and I could hear the sounds of my elder siblings playing outside. My reprieve from the eye patches lasted about five minutes twice a day when the blinders came off so I could do my “eye exercises”. 

The experience did not endear me to things of a medical nature.

When I was in kindergarten, my health conscious mother decided it would be a good idea for me and my siblings to be tested for allergies. In two tests of 50 toxins each, I proved to be allergic to, as the doctor would say with a smiling face, “just about everything”. This revelation ushered in six years of monthly trips to a clinic for an allergy shot. It seemed a very bad trade – a smiling middle aged lady stuck a needle in my arm and I got a piece of candy as a reward. My grandmother who lived around the corner was happy to dispense an Eskimo Pie, six-ounce Coke or a Heath Bar if I just showed up at her house.

My attitude towards going to the doctor morphed from bad to worse.

At age eleven I had my first positive health care experience. Mom signed me up for a summer camp that required a doctor sign off that I was in good health. She sent me, health form in hand, to a local doctor – an elderly German man that worked out of an office in his house. The house looked like something out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. I made the trek with mild trepidation on foot alone (this was small town America back in the day), his wife greeted me at the door and after a short wait I was ushered into his office. We looked each other over and he finally said. “how do you feel”? I smiled and sensing a potential victory responded, “I feel great”. After a moment of consideration, he asked for my form and signed it without laying a hand on me. This was a doctor I could live with. A few years later, the same doctor performed my high school football physical. It was slightly more rigorous.

Despite many minor sports injuries from high school on, I managed to stay away from serious medical interaction for years. I don't recommend my practice of having only the physicals required by employers or countries granting me a work visa but that was my philosophy for a few decades which saw me get only five physicals from 1977 to 2012. Of course the work visa physical I had in China where I saw about 20 doctors in 3 hours should probably count as more than one. The same person who never missed a six-month dental check-up or yearly eye exam could not face the dreaded annual physical.

I play golf with a group that includes many retirees who seem to go to the doctor about as often as I go to the airport. Rather than the standard on course banter about whether Tiger Woods is coming back or what’s going on in the NFL, NBA, etc; this crew talks about their new knees, hips, or latest procedure, etc. Since I am only a few years younger than many in this group about a year ago I decided maybe it was time to make my peace with the health care system and then procrastinated my way through 9 months of telling myself – "I am going to get that physical this month". Finally, I did what many in my position would do – I asked my wife to take care of it for me. By the end of the day my appointment was set for later the same month.

As the appointment date drew near, a couple of days after Thanksgiving, I tried to talk myself out of going but then just decided to suck it up. On the appointed day I sat in the waiting room with a certain “digital dread” – the digit being the doctor’s index finger not an app on my IPhone. It turned out the doctor was from my neighborhood and a very reasonable guy.  I wasn’t going to get “digitized” (aka “have a prostate exam”) unless my blood work showed a high PSA number – I was warming to brave new medical world already. The other elephant in the room was the tennis ball sized hernia I had been carrying around for a couple of years. Ultimately, I got a pass on prostate exam but not on the hernia. My new doc suggested I get the “tennis ball” dealt with before it became a “grapefruit”. Of course I knew this was coming but I also knew I was actually going to go through with it which was new ground for me.

Long story short – a couple of days after Christmas, I met with a surgeon who looked at my hernia and said “as hernias go that is a big one”. He also said he recommended that I have “regular” rather than laparoscopic surgery which meant a standard surgical incision, general anesthesia, and a longer rehab – none of which was particularly appealing. On the upside, he said the odds of long term success were much better with normal surgery.

So last week for the first time since JFK was President of the United States, I went to the hospital for surgery. The thing I greatly feared had truly come upon me. I signed multiple forms acknowledging the various things that could result in my departure from "the land of the living" in the ensuing few hours,  had my vitals taken – was proud of the fact that my pulse was below 55 (despite being fearful) as multiple IVs were stuck in my arm. I yucked it up with the five different people required to ask me my name, date of birth and what procedure was being done before they allowed the “knock out” juice to flow into my veins. 

putting on a happy face before surgery
I woke up three hours later with my intestine back where it is supposed to be and what is likely to be an impressive surgical scar. Of course what I had just gone through was relatively trivial by the standards of many of my older golfing buddies but it was a big deal to me because of the fear factor built up over decades. Fifty-five years and ten US Presidents later, it was probably time to outgrow my childhood medical baggage.