Wednesday, October 14, 2009

On Being Forced

Yesterday, I was dressed and ready for my day before dropping the kids at school, instead of in my usual workout clothes. I was headed into the city for a doctor’s appointment. First, though, I ran in to get coffee to go and, even in line at Parco, I was forced, out of sheer appreciation for great conversation, to give out a gold star.

It started, the conversation, as it so often does, with a dog, a sort of scrawny, short-haired grey-and-white terrier that stood, shivering, outside. I laughed watching him.

“What an expressive dog, I mean, that tail!” I said to the guy who had walked up behind me, standing half in, half out of the doorway, in line. “I mean, it’s shivering and wagging at the same time, saying ‘I’m cold but I’m also happy.’ How awesome! Dogs are so much more expressive than humans…”

The stranger, forced to listen to me rant, smiled and nodded in agreement. “So true…”

Buoyed by his participation, I went on. “I wish people were that expressive, but I guess it would be a little scary if they were…a little overwhelming.”

“Oh, definitely,” he said, seemingly with me, not thinking I was crazy at all or, at least, not letting on.

“I guess maybe all dogs aren’t as expressive as this one, either. Maybe it’s just that only some of every species can be really expressive…”

“It’s true,” he said, “and some species are just generally more expressive than others.”

We both paused, in thought. Fish? Actually, thinking of the one in our fish bowl, that lasted about a week, it did seem pretty outgoing and spunky, not at all, excuse the pun, like a dead fish, like some can be even when still alive. Cats the same, they seem to go either way. Dogs usually are pretty expressive, although some breeds, some particular dogs, fall outside the norm.

“You know,” my new friend said, “The octopus is apparently very smart and I read where this scientist decided to study sound and did this experiment where an octopus actually played the keyboards.”

“Are you serious?” I said, eyes bugged in amazement. I knew they could open a jar…but play the piano? Cool! I love science. I used to think it was a particular thing, science, but I recently realized that it is simply training your attention on something and learning all about it. I hope my son decides to be a scientist.”

I hate to be that kind of mom, deciding for my kids what they should be, but Eli, at 8, is currently deciding between becoming a pro baseball player or a scientist. I imagine the first will be harder to attain, especially if I don’t twist myself like a pretzel to sign him up for every practice opportunity, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the latter. I've so far kept mum on my hope.

I told my friend about the book I’d bought, The Science of Fear, and the trail of conversation moved quickly from Californian’s voting everything out because they realized they could, eliminating the usefulness of government, to Bloomberg’s efforts to create laws that take into account people's unwillingness to change their bad habits themselves for their own or the greater good, among them the one against restaurants using trans-fat, which I'm all for, benefit from personally whenever I eat fries, which is far too often.

"A friend said to me and it's true: 'sometimes what we want isn't what we need.'" I said. "That's why we have to have strong, bold leaders, a bit of benevolent fascism."

It was a whirlwind, even for me, and as I ran out the door, my new friend got a gold star.

I had tried on the train not to think about my visit to the ear, nose and throat doctor and, with it, the running of a tube up my nose to see my strained vocal chords. Yuck. I was reminded of the childhood chant, "Up your nose with a rubber hose..." Finally, it would be true. But I can’t focus too much on these things beforehand or I won’t go or, worse, I'm deathly afraid when I do.

Amidst the construction zone of the office as it got redone, the secretaries were still helpful and nice, and before I had time to make it through Vogue, the doctor herself came to get me. After a few pertinent questions that sought to make me question what I actually know about the workings of my own body, my own self,
she put anesthesia inside of my nose and left me to my post-nasal drip and my numbing. At least I wasn’t in a robe, back open to bare my butt. I had some dignity intact. That is, until she came back and stuffed a long tube further and further down my nose as she reminded me to breathe through my nose. Huh?

The cool thing was I thought about how cool it was, how amazing medicine and science are, how she could actually see my vocal chords and know something from this procedure. She seemed pleased at my amazement at her work and at the fact that, I told her, "Otorhinolaryngologist was, is, my all-time favorite word, ever."

She looked surprised when I told her. “No one knows that word…” she said.

I laughed. “I think it’s why I agreed to come when my doctor suggested it, I’ve always been really into that word, into the idea. Why don’t they use it anymore?”

She shrugged. “We get referred to as ‘The ENT Man,’ we speak English now. “

She was great, just like my internist who had recommended her, who she knew well. Good doctors are a godsend. So, as it turns out, was the diagnosis. I didn’t have a cancerous lump or even a polyp. I had, as my internist had surmised but couldn’t see enough to be sure, acid reflux, and not just a minor case, top o' the charts of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease sufferers.

It is insult to injury, being diagnosed with a disease let alone one referred to as GERD. Wow. I hate to be labeled, especially with such a dorky label as that. Plus, frankly, it doesn’t tell me anything I didn’t know, except that if I don’t avoid foods like chocolate, caffeine, citrus, onions and anything spicy, like I know from personal experience I should but often don’t, and take prescription medicine, which I fear, my vocal chords will not fare well. I could, eventually, go mute. My mother and I laughed at this notion when I called her with the prognosis.

“It’s a good thing you can type fast,” she said.

“That’s right. Maybe I’m a writer for a reason, ‘cause someday I’ll lose my voice and I still have to be able to communicate, constantly.”

Celebrating the diagnosis, I went shopping. I was right off Madison Ave. after all.

I hit a shoe store to see if I wanted those comfy clogs everyone is wearing. I picked a celery color, just to go against the grain. I’ve never seen that color in Park Slope. But the salesman, sheepishly, apologetically, shook his head when he returned from the back. No problem, I settled instead on basic brown, they'd go with more anyway.

“I’m going for it,” I said. “I need to reward myself…I found out today I have acid reflux.” I wasn’t about to say GERD…

His eyes lit up. “Me too!” he said, rattling off the things he couldn’t eat. I laughed, taking the Eating Well with GERD laminated card with all the shoulds and shouldn’ts out of my bag.

“Oh my God,” he said, “I’d love to go in the back and chat more about this,” he said, knowing it was impossible. There were more shoes to be sold.

We bonded, though, agreeing that us GERDers are sensitive souls, which is why our lower esophageal sphincters are so pressured. Must be that. Awesome, I’m in a new group I didn’t know existed, one where I like at least the first member I’ve met! Big gold star for this fabulous salesman, my new friend!

As he walked me to the door, saw me out as if we’d had a great evening together, he told me that he had actually lost 99 pounds as a result of his GERD diagnosis, as a result of the doctor giving him orders to do what he knew he needed to do but wouldn’t do without prodding.

“Hey! That brings me full circle!” I said. “I started my day talking about how sometimes it's good to have our hand forced to do what we won’t do but should unless we're given a little goose. How do you feel now? You look great, amazing!”

He beamed, standing tall and proud in slim-fit pants and a button-down, svelte and stylish. “I feel amazing,” he said.

Awesome. I walked out happy, with my shoes and the conversation, until I went to eat lunch and took out my laminated card. Compliments of AstraZeneca, my options are severely limited. Ugh.

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