Monday, February 4, 2008

Medic!

A bit of history...I spent a large majority of my junior high school years (7th, 8th, and 9th grades) being shuffled between doctors and hospitals. I was eventually diagnosed with Takayasu's Arteritis (or Takayasu's Disease) and placed on several medications for it and the other problems that cropped up because of it. As the condition causes a narrowing of the arteries, the worst thing that happened was having to have two renal angioplasties performed on my kidneys. That's where they go into the blood vessel with a balloon and inflate the part that is narrower than it should be. I was fortunate enough to have the first of those performed by none other than Dr. Andreas Gr√ľntzig, the doctor who originally invented the procedure (he died in a tragic plane crash a few years later in 1985). I have one of the classic symptoms of the condition in my left arm, termed “pulselessness” because the artery in that arm has narrowed to the point of virtual non-existence, causing me not to have a pulse in my left wrist. It's smaller & quite a bit weaker than my right arm, and tires easily because of the reduced blood flow.

When I started college 5-6 years later, the condition was under control and had gone into an “inactive” state. By this point I was extremely tired of taking drugs every day and dealing with their side effects. I had spent my entire teenage life taking medications & seeing doctors, watching my diet closely (low sodium diet from high blood pressure), and not being able to do anything remotely akin to the level of physical activity enjoyed by my peers ("no prolonged aerobic or anaerobic activity" was the official proclamation from my cardiologist...i.e. no running, playing, hiking, or sports of any kind for fear of a heart attack, stroke, or worse).

I was barely 20 years old but felt like I was an old man; taking a gamut of drugs every morning and having some long-term side effects starting to creep up, especially from the prednisone. So I took myself off medication and decided to let things play out however they would. If the condition came back and things started to get worse, then I'd be old and hopefully be ready to live a medicated, highly structured life by then. Above all I wanted to experience a life without all that worry and stress.

And for the last 20 years I've done it. I've lived the way I wanted to live: free from doctors and thoughts of thickening arteries, free from the routine of daily medications, free from as much responsibility as I could possibly muster. I've drank. I've smoked. I've lived with no regard to my health whatsoever. And it's been glorious. I got to be "normal" for a while and not worry about rare diseases and drug interactions.

But I'm afraid it may be about time to pay the piper. I've been having pretty steady chest pains for the last couple of weeks. It's not a stabbing type of pain but more like a squeezing or pressure in the left side of my chest. I've also developed what may or may not be a hydrocele. So for the first time in two decades, I went to see a doctor last week. Three ultrasounds later, I'm scheduled to see a urologist tomorrow to rule out testicular cancer and a cardiologist on Thursday for an echocardiogram and a more in-depth cardiovascular exam.

And I'm cool with everything. I knew this was coming and I'd have to face it again if I survived off meds long enough. I'm ready to be that "old man" that I thought I was becoming back then. And I wouldn't change the last 20 years for anything. I made the right decision for me then, and I'd do it again given the chance.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Read Vasculitis: Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired by Sheri Lyn Schwar

Hope you feel better!