Monday, January 12, 2009

Turn your head and cough!

So today I took the next necessary step towards recruit class, as I went in to have a physical. You could see why this would be important information to have on hand before you go running into a burning building, because you don't want to wait until that point to discover that you have lung problems or something like that, but all the same I've never really enjoyed going to the doctor (who does, right?). Maybe it's because if something were really wrong with me, I'd almost be happier not knowing (silly, but true).

Anyway, the first thing I had to do when I arrived at the doc's office was to fill out a large stack of paperwork. I know that's standard operating procedure for most medical facilities, but the redundancy of the whole thing drove me crazy, and the software developer side of me just cringed at the repeated questions. Several forms required the same information: name, birthdate, address, social security number, etc. A software system could gather this information once at the beginning and not have to have the user input it on every form. Then there was the list of things my "job" would require me to do (Firefighting in this case), questions like "do you need to be able to lift more than 50 pounds?", or "will you be asked to breathe through a mask or respirator?" etc. That's just an organizational oversight: 15 new firefighters come through that office for every recruit class, they shouldn't each have to fill out the same job requirements for firefighting. A software system in that office could just ask "Are you here for a physical for the fire department?" and if the answer is yes, all the relevant job requirements would already be known from preloaded data.

Enough on that point, though, I'm not volunteering to implement a medical records system or anything.

After contracting carpal tunnel from all the paperwork, I turned the mountain in to the woman at the front desk (who smiled at me quite sympathetically) and then sat down to read while I waited. Being a technology guy, the first thing that caught my eye in the magazine pile was an article on Steve Jobs (CEO of Apple). Apparently he has fought a bout of pancreatic cancer and every public appearance seems to show his health waning. Awesome. Just what I wanted to read about before going to find out if anything is wrong with ME. I picked up an issue of sports illustrated instead...

After a short 20 minutes, I got asked back into the examination rooms, and was promptly asked to stand on a scale. Not having worked out much recently, I was relieved to see that I still weigh in between 155 and 160. It looks like my slowing metabolism hasn't caught up with me yet.

Then I had to do the thing where they give you the cup and ask you to go in a room and pee in it. No big deal, really. I do this everyday. But it's different when there's someone listening right outside the door. Not wanting to appear to be nervous about this thing, I went about making a noisy show of loosening my belt buckle and unzipping my fly. Happily, I had no pause before commencement and was able to begin filling the cup quickly, but no sooner had I started than I realized that the lady who had handed me this cup said she needed "At least 450cc's" which was about 1/4 of the total cup. I had already reached that mark, though, and thanks to some overzealous pre-physical-hydrating I was FAR from finished. What's the etiquette on this point? What did the "At least" qualifier mean? Would she prefer a full cup, if I had it in me? Or was that overkill? Or even impolite? Can you even BE any more impolite than handing someone a cup full of your own urine?

Already having exhausted my desire to think about the subject any further, I aborted the operation while half full and safely moved the cup out of the way before continuing, figuring that this was the closest to compromise I was going to get.

Immediately after surrendering the sample, I watched with interest as the nurse used a small disposable device to test for any sort of drug use.  Now, I know I don't use drugs, but I'll admit I get a little nervous waiting for these things to develop.  After all, what if there's a false positive?  It's not like I can accuse my urine of lying!  Fortunately, I did not have to ponder the moral moorings of disloyal fluids for long, as I ended up with a clean slate and a pass to the next part of the physical:  the hearing booth.

This was actually pretty neat, because my natural interest in technology led me to marvel at the apparatus they had for testing my hearing.  A headset with color coded earpieces was placed over my head, and a thumb stick similar to the device contestants use on jeopardy was given to me with instructions to push the button whenever I heard a beep.  Then the door to the soundproof room was closed and I was left to concentrate.    As I sat, clicking away at the infrequent and faint beeps, I wondered absently whether my past days as a drummer would affect my hearing at all.  My wonder grew to mild concern as I saw the nurses face when she pulled the test results.  Maybe I hadn't gotten as many as I'd hoped.  Still, I participate in normal conversations everyday without any problem, even in crowded rooms, so I couldn't believe that it was all that bad.

I was wrong.

"Mr. Vizitei, do you have any trouble with your hearing?" the doctor asked as he scanned the results of my test.  "No, not that I'm aware of"  I replied cautiously.  I tried to glance down at the test results he was holding in his hand, and realized immediately that they were very unbalanced.  According to what I could decipher from the print out, I was entirely deaf in my right ear.

How could this be?  How could I not have noticed this myself?

The doctor excused himself momentarily to talk to the nurse and I sat thinking about what I had just found out.  Deaf?  It wasn't possible!  I plugged my left ear quickly and started making noises with my hand on the desk, trying to test how far gone my hearing really was, but it seemed no different from normal, I felt like I could hear everything without a problem.  Or was this just my brain being very used to the level of hearing I had from my damaged right ear?  I pondered this for a moment before the doctor walked in and told me that the right channel in the hearing booth had not been plugged in correctly.

Oh.  That made more sense.

A wave of relief flooded over me, and I realized how ridiculous it had been that I began to doubt my own body as soon as some piece of advanced technology told me something was wrong that CLEARLY was not the case.  Lame.

The doctor went through a series of exercises that must have made it look like we were sparring as he tested the flexibility and functionality of my body.  Push here, pull now, resist this, lean back, etc.  I must have passed OK as he had no point where he looked concerned.  At the speed he was proceeding, I wondered how many times he had gone through this same ritual.  Hundreds?  Thousands? He could almost have been bored.  

His unconcerned look continued unfazed as he blithely asked me to take my pants off.

I knew that was coming, so why the hell did it surprise me so much?  Still, determined not to be singled out as nervous, I lowered my pants faster than was probably necessary.  The doctors hands were cold against my flesh as he asked me to turn my head and cough, and although I knew the answer I asked him very professionally what exactly he was looking for just to ease the uncomfortable silence for myself.

Allowing me to assume my clothes again, we proceeded through a list of questions to lengthy to mention here regarding my health.  Short version:  I'm doing ok.

Then I went back for the EKG.  If you've never had one of these, this is where they put electrodes on several different points on your body in order to check your heart rhythms.  The test itself is no big deal, but I didn't enjoy it very much for a reason I'll be you can guess given 2 clues.

1) the electrodes are held in place with adhesive strips (think "tape").
2) I have a lot of body hair (think "wolverine").

Once that uncomfortable experience was past, I just had to prove I could see correctly and then it was on to lab work (in a different building down the street).

This part was kind of fun, because this was the first time I was having blood drawn when it wasn't because I suspected I had cancer or something like that.  As I sat down and rolled up my sleeve, the nurse told me I had "wonderful" veins.  Thanks, I guess.

Instinctively I looked away as she descended on me with the needle, but I recovered instantly as I thought to myself "Some firefighter I'll be if I can't even watch my own blood be taken".  Bracing my other hand against the table in case of sudden dizziness or something, I looked directly down at my arm as the needle broke the skin.  No problem there.  I was then nothing short of shocked as she screwed a vial into the needle;  my blood shot into that thing like it was being squeezed from a grapefruit. I asked the nurse if I had high blood pressure, and she said that speed was normal.  I guess people with high blood pressure must shatter the vial.

And then after a chest x-ray, I was done and headed home.  One more checkmark on the list towards achieving my goal.

As I walked into my house I checked my phone to see a text message from my brother: 

"has the doc played with your balls yet?"

I smiled wryly as I responded:

"Yeah, but he was a gentleman about it"

1 comment:

  1. Interesting! I haven't had a physical where I've had to undress in several years. Kind of makes me wish I was still seeing my pediatrician. At least he was more thorough.