A Heart Attack Either Way: Tales of Medical Care in the City
Posted on August 29, 2015
“I mean some doctor told me I had six months to live and I went to their funeral.”
Thirty is a good age to start taking your health seriously. It helps that I have a job that supplies me with health insurance, something I didn’t have throughout most of my twenties. Living healthy is hard when you don’t have two pennies to rub together. And only eating bologna and Miracle Whip sandwiches doesn’t count as any sort of diet.
Though, having a job doesn’t make it any easier. Eight to ten hours, five times a week, you’re stuck sitting behind a desk. Forget about actual lunch breaks…. Those are taken while you are still sitting behind your computer and consist of taking a spoonful of yogurt between emails to clients over the next two to three hours. And working late nights often doesn’t leave you with enough energy to go home and make dinner. So, get familiar with Seamless or Grubhub and don’t get embarrassed when a delivery boy sees you two days in a row.
Once Isabel and I moved here, I instantly started putting on weight and, over the next year and a half, I had managed to put on 50 lbs. When I finally got a new, better paying job that also allowed me to have more of a routine, I hit the gym and often 4 or 5 times a week. I did this from March to July and took off 27 lbs and dropped two pant sizes. Then one day, I was in my first mile of my normal 3 during my jog when I started to feel dizzy and my stars were exploding in front of my eyes. I wasn’t getting enough oxygen and it felt like someone with really tiny hands and not enough strength to actually choke me to death was trying to do just that.
My entire life has been chockful with tonsil issues. When I was 9 or 10, they actually started rotting and the smell was putrid. And it didn’t matter how bad it got, the doctors would just shrug, say, “Hey, we don’t remove those anymore,” give me some antibiotics and steroids, and send me on my way. But now they were literally choking me and being 30 years old and having good health insurance, I decided, fuck it, let’s just cut these suckers out and be done with it.
Dealing with doctors has never been my thing. My mind is usually set on waiting it out and hoping it gets better over time. The last time I had to go to the doctor was back in 2012 and they scared the piss out of me for no god damn reason other than to get me to help pay off their brand new MRI machine. What happened was that I was on my way to class and out of nowhere a sharp pain exploded right above my right eye and then I was blind in that eye. “Ye gods,” I thought and went on my way. It wasn’t until later that my girlfriend talked me into going to the Student Health Center. They ended up sending me to an eye doctor who handed me over to a nurse. The nurse looked at my test results and gave me a number to call. “Good luck,” she said and squeezed my shoulder in a way that tells you nothing good is going to come of this. The number on the card was of a specialist in Akron who had gotten my test results via fax and seeing the results decided he could pencil me in the next morning. This doctor looked into my eyes some more and dropped various liquids in them and asked me a lot about my family before breaking the news to me. “Well, you probably have MS,” he stated. “I’d honestly put my money down on that outcome if I were a betting man. We’ll need to run some tests, the first one being your blood work downstairs, and then schedule an MRI. I’ll see you in a month.”
And that was the last time I saw that doctor for a while. I kept getting bounced around to other specialists and doctors until my MRI was scheduled. During this time, I did a lot of research into MS and found out that MRI is usually the last test they run to determine if you have MS or not. Because it is the most expensive and there are other easier and cheaper methods to rule the disease out. But, I already had my appointment and it is what the doctor ordered, so I went through with it anyway. When I finally saw the original specialist again, he just sucked his teeth for a bit and muttered, “Well, it looks like you have migraines and that is all… no MS…” He seemed sad, but he was contempt with the outcome. He still sent me a bill for $4000 after the insurance paid their part, the dirty bastard.
Without insurance it would have been a cool $11K. And all I got out of the ordeal was this picture of my brain:
But why let that spoil going to the doctors for me for the rest of my life? I’ve been to a few other ones before that and the outcomes weren’t that bad. And, hey, everyone here was going, “Get a good Jewish doctor. They’ll treat you right.” Sure, why not. Doesn’t matter to me what religion they practice or don’t practice as long as these damn things are dealt with. So, I booked an appointment with Dr. Katz, who everyone was saying was the guy to see for this.
I headed to the Upper East Side, an area that makes my wallet shiver, and walked a few blocks to find Dr. Katz’s office. In the City, most doctor offices are located in fancy apartment buildings with doormen dressed to the 9’s. And his office was no different. I felt a bit under-dressed for the appointment even though I was wearing a good shirt and my $90 leather work shoes. The door to office was a bit small and my shoulders had a hard time fitting through, so I had to slide in sideways. Once inside, I came face-to-face with a bizarre painting. It was about 3×5 feet and depicted glittery, smiling bagels doing their best Godzilla impersonations through Times Square. On further viewing, I noticed that the buildings had advertisements for “Fine and Klein’s Men’s Wear” and “Schlepper’s Moving Company” and “Ho Wang’s Kosher Chinese Restaurant.” I brought a book to read, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of this thing… It was gaudy and wildly interesting. I must have been staring at it for a good 15-20 minutes when the receptionist called me back to see Dr. Katz.
He sat me down and instantly tilted my head back and asked me what kind of nose hair clippers I used… and that I should probably ask for a refund. Ho ho, we laughed and then he made me open my mouth. “Yep,” he said. “Kissing tonsils. You have kissing tonsils. That’s what we call them. And from the looks of it, they are really into it.” Dr. Katz explained that my tonsils were so big that they were touching and grinding against each other so much so that my uvula basically had a two bean bag chairs to sit on. Then he gave me two options:
- Ignore it and suffer the rest of my life. Or,
- Cut them out.
I told him Option 2 sounded pretty good. He told me that unfortunately, he wasn’t a surgeon anymore, but he knew people. He told me that his former mentee was who he would recommend even though… he stopped and thought about that for a second and told me to forget it, I wouldn’t have much luck with anyone else. It was either him… or, well, anyone in his office. And if he nor anyone in his office didn’t take my insurance, I should contact Dr. Katz right away and he would go through his Rolodex and make further suggestions, though not as good of ones. For the next 30 minutes he asked me about Queens and we had idle chit-chat before he kicked me out.
I was able to get an appointment the next day with one of the recommended doctor’s colleagues. Finally, I thought, things are going my way. But I knew something was too good to be true when I showed up at this second office and it was fancier than the first! And all of the people had small perfect noses that were almost impossible to produce genetically and were the kind that only money could buy. And stacks of it at that. Besides four or five Russian housewives, it was me and a business man in a 3-piece suit sitting in the Waiting Room. I started to have my doubts and some of them would be justified once I saw the doctor.
After 30 minutes, I was called back and made to wait another 30 minutes. It looked like I had been stuck in a storage closet with old records and the diplomas of former doctors who didn’t work there anymore and were fired before they could clean out their offices. Once the wait was up, a tall, good-looking gentleman came into the room and said he’d be seeing me today. Alright, let’s get this done, I thought. And he had me open my mouth. “Oh boy!” he said. “Yup.”
He leaned back and crossed his arms and prepared himself for a long speech, which follows here:
We ENT doctors normally measure tonsils on a scale 1-4. On this scale, 1 is small to normal and 4 is large and we recommend 4’s be removed. But you, you have 7’s. It’s a miracle you can breathe at all. Do you have sleep apnea? Ever been tested? Well, I guarantee that you do even without the test. You snore, right? Yup, I bet your girlfriend loves sleeping next to you. You probably also wake up tired as hell. Well, here it is, and I won’t beat around the bush. Why should I? Anyway… You need to have those removed, but I don’t like to do that. Not that I can’t. It’s just… Well, it takes about 45 minutes. And that’s not a long time, but I only take home at least $300 for doing tonsil surgeries. It’s just not worth my time… At least not anymore. I used to do them all the time, but I, like many other ENT doctors, now focus on reconstructive surgeries, beauty surgeries, too. That’s how we make our livings. But if you were to say to me, Doc, please remove these, I would. BUT, it would have to be on my schedule. Might be three months from now. BUT, you would also need to know a few things. You’re tonsils are so large that removing them would cause so much pressure to build up in you lungs… you see, your lungs are used to getting very little air… it’s like deep see fishing, if you pull up a catch too fast, their eyes explode. Except for you, it’ll be your heart. You might have a heart attack. I don’t deal in percentages, so I can’t tell you the likelihood of that happening.
At this point, I locked up, and I said, “So, no surgery, right, Doc?”
“Oh, no, you need to have them removed. If you don’t, you’ll probably have a heart attack anyway while you sleep. Those suckers will block your airway one night and WHAM! your lungs will freeze up kick-starting a heart attack. Might not be tomorrow or next year, but definitely before you’re 40.”
My brain got hazy and I started talking gibberish. One of the gibberish things that came out was how my girlfriend’s dad was an ENT doctor in Germany and he said this and that and so-forth. The doctor stopped me and he goes, “You’re right! Why didn’t I think of that. Genius! Those German. Always 20 years ahead of us.” What the hell did I say? Did he misunderstand me? Nothing I said was of real value… “We can shave them!” he finally said. “Shave them down to normal size. There would be less bleeding and less worry about pressure build-up. Those Germans!”
And that was that. He set me up to get a sleep test because no one would see me to even shave my tonsils without one. But my brain was still muddled. A heart attack either way. Hot damn, that’s Bad News. The kind that throws you into a wild Funk. And it did. That was until I noticed the heel of my $90 leather work shoes was split down the middle. That was all I needed, the bills from two doctor visits and now the expense of new shoes.
But, hell, I’ve gone through worse. Or at least, I think I have. Hell, this body can take…
I started thinking about this time when I was 20. My fiancée, now my ex-fiancée, drove two hours to see me one weekend. This was before she started cheating on me. Or maybe it was after…. The timeline of those actions have never been clear to me, so maybe it was during or about to happen…. Anyway, my friend Jon, who actually has MS, and his girlfriend/future wife needed help moving before a storm moved in. What the hell, why not. So we did and we finished up before the storm rolled in. We were on the road when it really started pouring buckets and the next thing I know, my fiancèe was screaming. “Shit! SHIT! SHIT!” And everything was spinning. Because we were spinning. And then we stopped rather abruptly. My head bounced off a telephone pole and the door crushed my seat into the shape of an hour glass against the center console of my fiancèe’s father’s Jeep Cherokee. Boy, I felt rough and numb at the same time.
We were taken to the hospital via ambulance after they made me crawl out the driver’s side and stand up to be strapped vertically to the backboard. My parents drove like banshees to get to the hospital. My dad sat with me and ended up having to undress me because the nurses wouldn’t touch me. I was covered head to toe in broken glass and was soaking wet. They wanted me to undress myself because apparently they didn’t get the memo that I had just been in a car wreck and my sternum was broken. So my dad did.
After the X-rays they put me in a wheel chair and said I could use it until I got to the door at which point they would need it back and I would have to walk the rest of the way. By now my fiancèe’s parents had arrived. Later she told me that her father yelled at her the whole ride home to Nashville. That was Mr. Box. He was a chunky, mean, stupid man with a hard-on for going to Church. And it could only be his Church. He almost left his wife once and not because she was an Atheist or Satan worshiper but because she was a Methodist and he felt that conflicted with his core values as a Christian. And, boy, did he loathe that his oldest daughter had fallen in with the Likes of Me. Though, that might have something to do with the first time I ever got teetotally drunk.
It was 2003 and I was 18 years old. I was apart of a high school music group from Tennessee touring Europe. One of our stops was London. It was here that my friend and drummer Danny Wieczynski bought one of the biggest bottles of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey I had ever seen. Why not? We were of the legal age there and we signed papers agreeing that we would only have one Alcoholic Beverage per day of the trip. And we were only going to have one drink each. One giant pint each. But none of us knew at this time how alcohol would affect us. This was our first time at that Rodeo.
The rest is pretty hazy. I do remember wearing kilt, riding the elevator, ending up in the shower, and yelling at a guy about the correct pronunciation of “Canada”, something along the lines of “It’s KAN-nuh-duh, you idiot! Not KUH-nayd-uh!”, before Mr. Box was knocking on our door and getting ready to send us on the first flight back to States. That was Day 3 of the trip and we swore to be on our best behavior for the rest of the tour. At the very least, when people were watching. In the end, we paid for it… the next day involved taking the ferry to France, choppy waters and having a massive, gut wrenching hangover.
Where was I going with this…