Its not really a question of abuse these days, its more like what’s already been done was abusive – that is if you really want to go get all technical about it. But none the less no matter how you choose to view it this liver of mine has been quite abused. And now as it seems to be going through a midlife crisis of its own as it occasionally wants some random bits of attention or at least a few soothing words of encouragement while it chugs along processing my bile. Unfortunately however I am so unbelievably ignorant about this whole liver deal that when I was recently experiencing excruciating pains on my left side I decided to go see my doctor and complain about my liver acting up.
Ok, so I don’t know where my liver is. Big deal! Its not like I studied anatomy in high school or even something remotely like it. I took acid in high school and majored in smoking pot so if I come off a little too moronic it’s the acid. Well, at least that’s the best excuse that I can come up with and I’m sticking to it.
So anyway, here I was with my primary care doctor who’s surname has got ten letters and only one vowel leaving me forever slurring it around trying to pronounce it as if I have a clue as to what it should sound like. All the while pointing down at who knows what on my left side. Which is obviously my non-liver side and there I was making a fool of myself yammering on about it. Yet to show you what a compassionate professional this man is he didn’t laugh or point out my mistake until after I had finished stating that my liver hurt and couldn’t he do something about it?
Wherein with a concerned look on his face he then ever so politely indicated that that indeed wasn’t the region where little mister liver resided. Though I might also add that being the sneaky buggers that all members of the medical profession have always been he didn’t say – “but that’s where your pancreas rents space”. Or to save me a little face he could have said – “most people often mistake such pains that just turn out to be their kidneys mulching”. But no! Those bastards want to keep all that knowledge to themselves and who can blame them after slogging through a tediously boring ten years of medical school and internships and having to be some hot shot surgeon’s suture flunky. But what would have been the harm in affording me a quick lesson in organ placement, as in the long run what was I going to do? Open up my own practice or better yet operate on myself or others? I hardly think so!
So anyway there we were as he looked disapprovingly over his glasses at me and while typing excruciatingly slow on his computer with two fingers he asked if there was anything else that I needed looking at? Like what? Oh ghee I forgot, my heart tends to stop here and there and you know now that you mention it I haven’t had a bowel movement in a year or two? Really now, what did he expect? That I sit at home and wait until I’ve got more than one ailment so that in the name of saving ecological resources I try and economize my trips to the hospital?
Yet having said that the truth is that there is this bit of weirdness going on about my finger tips wherein they tend to crack and bleed but I had sort of chalked that up to a slight case of stigmata, and fearing that the cure would be nothing less than redemption from a holy inquisition I remained auspiciously silent. And while no doubt relieved from the burden of having to diagnosing yet another malady of mine that overbearingly concerned “I’m the doctor” look of his once again overtook his face and as he handed me a typed form he leaned over close to my ear and said. “Here, be a good little compliant patient and go downstairs to the lab and they’ll draw some blood and we’ll have a look at your liver functions and then in a week I’m sending you for more test in the radiology department.”
Radiology? What, an x-ray of my liver? Frigg’in barbarians these doctors are, always with the radiation and not to sound too ungrateful here, but what about the pain in my left side? What was that, phantom cirrhosis of the organ that’s not there or maybe its just a wee bit of anthropologic paranoia from my over reactive imagination? But then whose the doctor here anyway and what do you say to a nice prescription of valium so as to calm my fraying nerves during these moments of turmoil?
*Note to the reader: If you’re ever going to attempt to obtain any pharmaceuticals of the narcotic/euphoric nature be sure and never tell your doctor that you were once a dope fiend! They have tendency to remember such remarks no matter how casually one elicits them and forever ban you from attaining such substances, at least from them that is.
So anyway with a stern pragmatic warning on substance abuse still ringing in my ears off I went prepared to be pricked and prodded by some inept nurse who would never have made it as a junkie because if that was the way she found her own veins she’d a never gotten herself high. Yet for some blessed reason this time I got the reigning hematologist from the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine who could spot a throbbing vein from twenty yards away and had me bleeding into a few million vials in no time flat. And while usually I am oh so happy to have another seemingly depleted artery back in business this time after the room started to spin a little I wasn’t too pleased so I grabbed my arm back and said enough’s enough you vampire! Which caused the entire lab crew to burst out laughing and with a little condescending pat on my head she made me go lay down and drink a grossly warm carton of high fructose orange juice.
Unfortunately it was the kind with a lot of pulp floating around in it, the type that claims its natural and all. But which I have a total aversion to as those strands of goo tend to tangle up in my tonsils and I just couldn’t take it anymore. So in a fit of noncompliance I stumbled out of the room and while gagging back tepid citrus bits I dashed out of the lab with a catheter needle still attached to my right arm and an IV line dragging limply behind me.
Now its Wednesday morning and like the printed directions that my physician had sent me home with have instructed me to do – I’ve fasted all night. Which means no usual morning coffee, which means no ability to focus and which means even less of an ability or even a slight desire to make anything close to good judgment calls. As is glaringly obvious because I’ve just driven erratically across town in a rather surly mood and now I have to sneak into the hospital through the back door, because last week the security guard manning the front door told me when I ran out in a spastic fit to never come back or he’d kick my ass. Which at the time I thought that that was a pretty harsh statement to be made from a guy who worked in a profession purportedly for healing people. But then maybe hospital security personnel don’t have to take that same Hippocratic Oath like doctors do? Or maybe it was just because I had been busy struggling to detach the IV and unintentionally had sort of screamed making a slightly disturbing scene as I dislodged its massive twenty gage needle from my arm on my way out the front door?
But whatever the case it had me taking the backstairs two at a time so that I could make it to the 3rd floor’s – Sonogram & X-Ray Department and while keeping one eye out for menacing sentries I enter room 5 and sit down to await my appointment. Wherein after a short wait a very attractive woman called my name and ushers me into a semi-dark room with a computer consol attached to a machine hovering over an examination table and she asks me to remove my clothes and I do so reluctantly before lying down on the pristine like white starched hospital linens that cover the top of the gurney.
And then she says. “Lay back and relax, I’m going to rub some warm lotion on you.”
And you know there’d been times when I’d have thought – cool! Or at least – way cool! But this wasn’t one of those times. And no matter how good looking this woman was I wasn’t feeling it and what’s the deal with the warm lube smeared across my stomach and I didn’t even know her name and why’d I have to be completely naked in order for her to look at my liver?
Then she turned off the lights!
There is nothing and I do mean nothing sensual like in the least about having a woman, attractive or not, press a big rubber spatula like object back and forth across your stomach while she murmurs “inhale” and “very good” as the warm gel sets up and begins getting cold and even though it was pitch black in the room I had my eyes squeezed shut as I impatiently waited for this ordeal to end. However in all fairness I must say that at least she didn’t gasp in horror when my overly abused liver decided to make its debut appearance on her computer’s monitor. Though even after she was all done and had walked out of the examination room I just laid there feeling pretty used and slightly gooey as it wasn’t over yet – I still had to somehow slip out of the hospital undetected without that thug of a security guard catching me.
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Thursday, February 3rd, 2005 at
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It’s about four in the afternoon and I’m standing out in the cold by the liquor store on the corner across the alley from my apartment building talking with Delirious Dan, a prominent member of the local wino community. We’d been discussing the appalling decision of certain distilleries to sell their wares in plastic bottles instead of the traditional glass ones and Dan had stated matter-of-factly that he could taste the difference no matter what anyone else said. And somehow the conversation had veered off to Dan telling me about when he first started to drink as a teenager. Laying down one of those “how I became what I am today” kind a background tales from the past, and as usual I was pretty interested because as fucked up as Dan is he still makes some amazing observations and when slightly coherent he can be funny as hell.
“We’d go up in ta da hills and buy us a gal’in-a-dago-red from this ol’ ‘talian lady and we’d chug it and git ‘r-selves awl stinky – like stink’in drunk stinky, an then I’d a catch me a couple a moles!”
“Moles?” I ask.
“Yeah, those lil’ fur creatures that burrow unner the groun and I’d put ‘em in ma pockets and then af’ern I’d a pass out at ‘ome I’d hear my muther a scream’in for me to cum git ‘ese god dern moles out-o ‘er house. Heh, heh, heh…”
Ah! Obviously another fond pre burned-out brain cell memory from yesteryear because despite the ever present mischievous childlike grin that’s seemingly a permanent fixture on his face, Dan’s a pretty warped individual and been drinking alcohol in one form or another for a very long time. By his own admission, he’s about seventy years old, the last twenty of which have been spent living on the streets and drinking vodka out of bottles hidden away in brown paper bags. And I can attest to some of this, having seen him here on Third Street for the previous two years either out in front of the liquor store or passed out under the freeway.
“Ya know? Wish’in life was still that simple and din’t git so de’press. Sum days I wake up and it all I can do ta make it down ‘er an git me a bottle.”
For some reason that last statement takes me by surprise because I’d never really connected Dan, or any of the people I see out here on the street as suffering from depression like I do. Why that is I don’t know as it is probably a very normal symptom of living on the streets. But for some reason or another I just thought, well, to tell you the truth I never really thought about it at all until now and being someone that has suffered from depression for most of my life I don’t know why it would surprise me in the first place.
For years my depression immobilized me almost into inertia and if I hadn’t found the escape that heroin afforded me then I’d probably of committed suicide a long time ago. Unfortunately the nature of the beast of addiction is that most substances that help at first tend to finally hinder when one’s muse turns to obsession and all the other concerns about health and well being are neglected. And of course that’s what happened to me, so the past decade has been nothing but a battle to try and work out some sort of life without narcotics and to somehow maintain a healthy outlook on life, and somewhere in all that I began relying on medications to keep me undepressed and somewhat happy.
“Ther‘re days when it awl look so fuck’in bad an even shit face drunk I’m a cry’in ma god damn eyes out.” And I guess that having finally said this out loud to someone else it seems to overwhelm Dan and he looks away down the street and I can see his already watery eyes brim over as he wipes them with the back of his dirt encrusted hand.
Right now nothing in my life could be as depressing for me as living as Dan does or any of the other people whose tragic existences I happen to be witness to on an everyday basis. Like that elderly man that I can see from my apartment’s window who dresses in a corset and stockings while wearing a tattered old blond wig on his head and every sunny afternoon he sits alone on his balcony and drinks whiskey from a glass. Or that couple that’s got a spot cordoned off with their shopping carts in between the auto repair shops on Bryant Street; where at night you can hear them giggling as they watch their TV set that they’ve pirated the electricity for from off of the street lights. Or any of the other individuals that I only know by sight that endlessly roam the back alleys all night and day in search of something, anything that will take them away from here.
Unfortunately anti-depressants don’t mix well with the various substances that addicts tend to consume. Or more to the point can even hinder the chemical process that ingesting them usually provides. So in reality even a massive marketing campaign to get these neighbors of mine on medication wouldn’t really be prudent in the long run—unless they were willing to stop doing whatever it is that they are doing and obviously the inability to do so is the reason that they’re out here. I only have to look at Dan to know what it is that he is going through and I empathize with his plight, but in the end it is his decision, just as it was mine awhile back and not everybody is going be able to come inside after living outside in the cold for so long.
Yet ironically right behind Dan—shoved haphazardly against a telephone pole, is a newspaper rack with today’s paper sporting a large color front page photo of the president dancing away at his 40 million dollar Inaugural Ball and that obscene waste of money is just incomprehensible to me while I’m standing here on this dirty street corner talking to a man who hasn’t slept inside of a building for twenty years. And if that isn’t enough to depress someone, then I don’t know what is.
However its getting late and colder and I can see a patrol car slowly cruising the block toward us and so can Dan. So it’s farewells until another time and as we depart Dan shouts over his shoulder “Yeah, ya shoulda bin th’re! Back when I was a learn’in to git stinky. Them’s we’er sum good times!”
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Tuesday, January 25th, 2005 at
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I have been feeling the need to do something different for a while now. And I’ve even talked over with my friends and family about pursuing various other avenues of interests but I just haven’t gotten around to doing anything about it yet—as I find myself continually making excuses and always having to do something else instead. So today, in a fit of trying something along the lines of change, I strolled down to my neighborhood gym and forced myself to check it out.
It’s located only three blocks away toward the better part of downtown from where I live, where there are some nice trees with less trash on the ground and even some little manicured bushes along the edge of a courtyard in front of the building. The property, amazingly enough even for this neighborhood, is free of anyone living on the quaint park benches or passed out drunk amongst those nice little hedges. Obviously there’s probably a couple a really nasty security guards roaming around all the time and they don’t allow such goings on to prevail.
But none the less it still has a sort of uptown feel to the place. Upon entering through the plate glass front doors, I notice a petit walleyed woman busy talking on her cell phone as she’s manning the front desk and I politely interrupt her to inquire as to how someone goes about joining a gym like this. And she immediately hangs up her cell phone and with a really high voice she says excuse me and uses the phone on the desk in front of her to call for someone to come downstairs – “ASAP”, making me wonder am I scaring her that much that she needs to call security to escort me out? But it turns out that that’s just how they do it here and before she will even quote me a price or discuss money, she hands me an application to fill out and says that someone will be down soon to take me upstairs so that I can have a look around.
And in less than a minute a rather attractive short dark-haired girl arrives to take me on a tour of the place. And as we walked around through the different rooms filled with people working out on various exercise machines, she talks nonstop about the benefits of exercising and explains the different features that this establishment has to offer, all the while hinting that if I just play my cards right they will be at my disposal in no time at all.
“So, are you here to lose weight, gain muscle mass or just get in shape?” she asks.
“I really don’t know” was my first response, and obviously not one that she was used to hearing. And with a little wide-eyed what-do-we-have-here sorta look she says “You’ve been to a gym before, haven’t you?”
“No, not really, lifted some weights, done some calisthenics, played soccer about thirty five years ago.”
“Oh, so you’ve lifted weights before? Where did you do that?”
“On the yard at San Quentin. That was of course before the Department of Corrections took away all the free weights and now they don’t have any.”
This elicits another strange look; this time accompanied by a nervous laugh.
“You see the fact of the matter is that I’ve never been to a real gym before and to tell you the truth I find the whole thing rather stupid and just coming here I feel embarrassed!”
Actually even more so now that she’d shown me those people in that other room running on treadmills with their blank expressions and repressed looks of agony. I can only imagine that if I didn’t live in a dirty polluted city like this then maybe I could jog outside on the grass instead of being like these people barricaded in sterility and afraid of the outdoors.
“You certainly do have an interesting way of looking at things.” She said. “But I come here every day, and I’m not embarrassed by it in the least bit”
“Well you should be and as a matter of fact I’m embarrassed for you! You’re an exercise slinger who won’t even tell me how much it is to become a member so that I too can engage in these zombie like activities in the name of health!”
“Sir I was getting to the financial requirements. It’s just that we like our future members to know everything before we ask them to pay. Maybe this just isn’t for you?”
“Unfortunately I really have no choice.” Is all that I can manage to answer her with as the harsh reality is that I live in an apartment the size of a Volkswagen, I drive to work, where I sit at a computer for half of the day and then drive home and again sit at a computer and write all night. And if I did actually do something in the hopes of alleviating my inactivity. Like as if I was to go jogging around my neighborhood then if some crackhead didn’t try and mug me the cops would probably pull me over to see if I’d committed some crime! Besides, on a good day if I walk more than a block to get coffee I find myself gasping for breath! So give me a break! And what was wrong with this smiling woman? Was my money’s no good here or something?
“Now we do have several plans to choose from. One where a trainer shows you what you need to know, especially for those problem areas. And then instructs you on every step of the way including your diet. Or there’s the Super Sports Center Plan where you get precision cardio-vascular measurements while you work out and we computer analyze the results to program a workout regime just right for you. Or there’s…”
“How about the plan where I give you my money and you leave me alone so that I can just come in when I want to and start trying to not be so self-conscious about being here?”
“Yes that could be arranged. But you’re the one that said that you’d never been to a gym before!”
“Ok, correct me if I’m wrong. But from what I can see I’m either lifting something heavy in that room or I’m with the rest of those people over there jogging in tandem as I stare at those food commercials playing on the television that’s hanging from the ceiling. Like how hard is that to figure out?”
“I think you’ll find that there’s a lot more to exercise than what meets they eye!”
“Want me to show you my cardio vascular?”
“Never mind. It says 24 hour on the sign outside. Does that mean that you’re open 24 hours all the time?”
“Ah, no. Only weeknights and then on the weekends we close at 11 pm.”
“So you’re already lying to me aren’t you?”
“Are you sure you want to do this?”
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Wednesday, January 19th, 2005 at
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