Lab Animal

That would be me. The lab animal, I mean. Since my physical last month I have been twisted, poked, prodded, pierced and probed like I was one of Dr. House’s patients. All these medical tests are merely preventive, although there were some warning signs: cholesterol above where it should be, and periodic blood pressure readings above that magic 120/80 level.

All these tests and consultations mean that America has a great medical system if you have excellent insurance, as I must have. Still I have to wonder, are all these tests necessary? Or is their primary purpose to keep doctors and clinicians in business? Shouldn’t there be someone who says, “No, this test is really not necessary.” Maybe there should be.

I am fifty-one after all, and will soon be fifty-two. Yeah, I weigh probably twenty more pounds that I should but considering the obesity problem in this country, I am doing far better than most. I also have incorporated regular exercise into my life since I turned twenty-four. It is a rare week where I am not at the gym at least three times. Most workouts include not just aerobics but weight lifting.

Currently my cardiologist has me the most worried. It seems that my aorta, which when it leaves my heart has a diameter of 3.65 centimeters quickly expands to 3.9 centimeters. Getting above 5 centimeters is bad but any enlargement is a cause for concern. My condition might be congenital or it could be a sign of cholesterol buildup or worse. Anyhow, she doesn’t like it so neither should I. At her urging, I will be joining Weight Watchers. Now I can count on yearly heart echograms. The good news was that after three tests this was the only thing about my heart that troubled her. Still, when a cardiologist uses words like “heart surgery” and “stints” a little paranoia is in order.

My primary care doctor, who initiated all these tests, tells me that his goal is prevention. It sounded like good advice. On his orders, I endured an Echo Doppler of my carotid arteries because one side sounded weird (no abnormalities found). My cardiologist ordered three other tests. The first was a nuclear stress test. First, they starve you overnight, then they inject you full of radioactive material while warning you not to go through a metal detector for a week. That’s reassuring! Before and after the test some fancy machine took fancy pictures of my unfancy abdomen. During the stress test itself, they pushed my heart rate up to 170. Three clinicians were monitoring me all at the same time. As you reward you get some crackers. By the end of it I was wondering if I had turned into a parrot. A few days later, I returned for a Doppler test of my heart. All these tests to learn that my aorta was a wee bit big in one spot, which might mean nothing at all!

My primary care doctor also sent me to a neurologist because I was concerned I might have early symptoms of Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, the condition that killed my Mom. He quickly assured me that I have none of the symptoms but that does not mean I might not get it someday. He was surprised to hear that my Mom had developed it at such a late age. He said most people come down with it in their fifties and die of it in their sixties. He said research suggested it could be fought with antioxidants so I now make sure I now get daily does of Vitamin C, B12 and some pill I have never heard of, Coenzyme Q.  Every morning I now have close to a dozen pills that I swallow with breakfast. None of them to actually cure a condition or relieve any symptoms but strive to prevent something that may never occur.

The neurologist also sent me to get a MRI of my neck. Apparently, I have hyperactive reflexes in my elbows and feet, which can indicate a pinched disk or something in my neck. I was asked before the test if I was claustrophobic. Well, I didn’t think I was until I got into the MRI machine, which is the closest experience you can get to being buried alive. I immediately decided that the best way to get through an MRI was to close my eyes and think erotic thoughts. It worked, sort of. While I sat there, wind whooshed past me at high speeds while the machine itself made noises like a machine gun that half deafened me. You must do this without moving a muscle. I have no idea how much the MRI cost but I bet it cost thousands of dollars. Is there a problem in my neck, which before seeing the neurologist I never gave a second thought? I will know after my follow up.

I really do not want to know how much all this is costing. I suspect a fair amount of it is unnecessary. Yet who am I to say? It is not as if I went to medical school. I just know that overall, I feel pretty darn healthy. I don’t smoke, don’t drink and excise regularly. If I have a vice it might be from having one too many bags of Dark Chocolate M&Ms. Surely a middle aged man is entitled to one little vice?

Alas no, not anymore, not once you are in the clutches of our medical system. I’ve decided that no matter how enticing those Dark Chocolate M&Ms may be, I’d rather forgo them then have to deal with being a lab animal for another month. Now that I am a post fifty older American, I suspect that this is just the beginning. No matter how much weight I lose, no matter how much exercise I get and no matter how heart healthy my diet becomes, the medical establishment will find reasons to make sure I remain their lab animal.

After all, I am insured.

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