Friday, June 29, 2007

The Medical Bait and Switch (aka "Medical BS”) - PART 1

I have a deep distrust of doctors, but not for the same reasons that most other people do. Years of experience have taught me that there are some total incompetents out there, for sure -- but I've also worked with some truly wonderful physicians possessing both skill and personality. But almost all of them, from the nice and competent to the nasty and dangerous, are guilty at one time or another of an unforgivable sin.

They are guilty of pulling a medical bait and switch. (I like to call it what it really is, plain ol' BS.)

This type of BS is really no different than that practiced by appliance salesmen with cheesy mustaches who reek of cheap after shave and wear bad suits and too much hair gel who promise you a brand name appliance and deliver the same…if you live in North Korea. Doctors do the same thing: tell you something they will absolutely do for you and then start backpedaling on their way to delivering something completely different.

The BS I'm talking about has nothing to do with the reality that medicine is an art, not a hard and fast science. I'm talking about flat out deception, the total bullshit of promising something with which you don't come through.

My first experience with a BS doctor occurred when I was 15, the year after my first tumor surgery. I had begun to have bad neurological symptoms again -- muscle weakness, sweating 24/7 like I was wearing wool during an Ecuadorian summer, loss of sensation, and I would fall over as easily as my spouse did when he bent over, placed his forehead against the tip of an upright baseball bat, spun around five times and then tried to run. This was years before the invention of magnetic resonance imaging, so I had been admitted to the hospital for a myelogram by the same surgeons who first diagnosed and partially removed the spinal cord astrocytoma that plagued me for two years before someone finally figured out what was wrong..

Myelograms, as anyone who has been misfortunate enough to have this procedure will attest to, are horribly painful to endure. After being placed, face down, on a tilt table under an x-ray imager, doctors insert a hollow needle between two of the vertebrae in your lower back and use it to drain out some spinal fluid ("CSF"). This sample is sent off to the lab to check for blood and infection while the doctors inject an iodine-like contrast material into the spinal canal. Once the contrast is in, they begin to tilt the table down so the imaging material can be photographed as it runs up around your spinal cord toward your brain. And even though these early parts of the exam may sound only slightly better than, say, slamming your hand in a car door, the really excruciating pain comes after the scan is complete.

For reasons that will remain unknown to me, it is necessary for the doctors to remove the contrast once they've captured all of the x-rays they need. That's why the doctors performing the test leave the needle in your spine while you're being rotated ass over teakettle. Extracting the contrast isn't nearly as easy as taking out the CSF at the beginning of the myelogram, which dribbles out slowly, and without any discomfort, under its own power no matter what position in which your body is aligned. The pseudo-iodine, on the other hand, needs to be coerced out with a syringe. So once these medical sadists are satisfied that they've seen all there is to see of your nerve centers and your blood pressure is high enough to be seen by the pilot of any 757 that may be at cruising altitude over the hospital, they crank the table 180 degrees to transform you from a imitating vampire bat at rest into a Buckingham Palace guard at full attention.

Having the contrast material forcibly withdrawn from your central nervous system can only be described one way: its as though the women and men in the white coats have slipped the best Hoover on the market into the room when you were, um, "distracted" and are now attempting to suck out a sample of gray matter from your brain by way of your bum at the same time someone has stuck a bicycle pump up your nose and was attempting to inflate your head, cartoon-style. It is agony that rates as some of the worst I'd experienced, and one of only two forms of pain that have made me pass out. (The other occurred during electromyography on my hands and arms, which involves long needles and electric current. Enough said.) And as if that wasn't enough fun to top off this little carnival ride from hell, you can be plagued with knock-you-down-and-make-you-cry-for-your-mama headaches unless you lay flat on your back for at least 24 hours after the needle is finally plucked from your wrung out, and probably passed out, body.

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