It is a beautiful spring day here in North Carolina and although I worry constantly that the United States is seeing the emergence of a full-scale white supremacist fascist party from the husk of the Grand Old Party, I have it in mind to write about personal things, some trivial and of no importance whatsoever, others of very great importance to me.
Let me start with a little comment that I shall call Life Imitates Art. For the past several weeks I have been binge watching the American “medical procedural” called House, starring Hugh Laurie, which ran from 2004 to 2012. For those of you who do not know the show, it concerns a brilliant diagnostician working in a New Jersey hospital who is tortured, screwed up, absurd, intense, and always intuitively brilliant. Each show focuses on a mysterious medical case which has his assistants running off to perform all manner of invasive medical tests until, near the end of the hour, he comes up with the solution. (I will leave it to the armchair psychologists among you to figure out why I should be devoting so much time to this show just when I am dealing with my Parkinson’s.) After watching it for a while, it occurred to me that I actually had two medical experiences somewhat like a real-world version of what is represented in the TV show.
Nine and half years ago Susie and I returned from a Paris trip by way of Heathrow Airport outside London, which, I observed at the time somewhat facetiously, is an enormously expensive medical facility devoted to collecting and redistributing germs from every corner of the world in the most efficient possible manner. When I got home, I started to run a fever and felt perfectly awful. (I told this story on my blog at the time but not all of you have been with me for 10 years so humor me.) My doctor ordered a number of tests including an x-ray which revealed fluid on my lung. A nice young man stuck a needle in my back under local anesthesia and withdrew some of the fluid which was observed to be bloody. He remarked casually that there was a 50% chance that I had stage IV terminal lung cancer. I had every blood test known to medical science (which revealed that I was HIV negative, thank you very much) and a CAT scan, and then under general anesthesia had a biopsy of the lung. Prior to this procedure, my primary care physician gently recommended that I focus my attention on the best possible end-of-life courses of action. When the biopsy revealed that I did not have lung cancer, the doctors threw up their hands, and sent me home with a recommendation that I take some Ibuprofen. In time I got better and to this day have no idea what strange bug I picked up in the enormous Heathrow waiting room. It was very like a real-life version of a House episode except that instead of the hero stepping in with a dramatic diagnosis at the end, I was sent home with a shrug of the shoulders.
One final word about Heathrow and my rather odd association with a Paul Bunyan tall story. The airport is so large that next to the announcements of the gates from which various flights are departing is listed the number of minutes it will take you to walk to that gate – 17 minutes, 23 minutes, 18 minutes, and so forth. It reminded me of the great Paul Bunyan story about the logging camp where there were so many loggers that at breakfast the waiters bringing pancakes to the workers traveled up and down the long tables on roller skates. At one camp, larger than all the rest, the waiters would set out with a large stack of pancakes in hand and their grandsons would return on skates with the empty plates.
My other real-life experience occurred several years later. My doctor, whom I liked very much, left to take some big job with Medicare and found me another doctor on the UNC medical service to take his place. I developed terrible pains in my arms and shoulders so bad that it was torture simply to turn over in bed. My new doctor ordered all manner of tests which turned up nothing and finally in despair I decided to find a new doctor. My son, Tobias, the law professor, who had had some experience with a class-action suit brought by professional football players against the owners, had some connections in the medical profession and hooked me up with a professor at UNC medical school. I went to see him about my terrible pains He took one look at me, announced that I almost certainly was suffering from PMR (polymyalgia rheumatica) and prescribed prednisone. In two days I was pain-free and after slowly, over more than a year, reducing the dosage I have remained pain-free ever since. It was, I think, the coolest thing I ever saw a doctor do.
Next up, the serious stuff.