Some Parts are Better Than Others


ct scan 0919
O as in zero. Cheerios are this same shape, too.

You know — this may be a bit profound — as we go through life we get older. And as we get older, the factory warranty appears to expire on some of our parts. Sometimes we worry about this; sometimes our doctors worry about it for us.

I went to my annual check-up a few weeks back, after finally getting smart and asking to go back to the physician’s assistant I first saw before the clinic got taken over by the hospital, which is becoming this amorphous entity absorbing nearly every aspect of health care in our valley. (I’m not convinced that’s a good thing.)

My PA’s name is Dusty, just like my contractor, and this year she came with a medical assistant named Kim whom I liked a lot. I think the pair of them did a very nice job of listening to me, which I can’t say about last few annual check-ups.

I’m tired all the time, which is not a new complaint for me, but Dusty already knows this, and she’s aware of my past failures with CPAP. She gave me a referral to the hospital’s relatively new Integrative Therapies, which offers services not typically found (until recently) in hospitals, such as massage, ortho-bionomy and acupuncture. (Although she’s really waiting for me to wise up and give CPAP another try.)

I’ve tried acupuncture before, both for my animals and me. The first acupuncturist (for humans — the very first was Tim Holt, for my dog Reprieve) I saw is married to Dusty my contractor, and while I liked working with her (and think she helped my healing post-sinus surgery), she got too busy to return my phone calls and e-mails, which is a problem for me.

So then I tried someone who seems to have almost mystical diagnostic powers (without me telling her, she pinpointed all the issues I was being treated for by my chiropractor), but what I wanted her to do was try the points used in a medical study from Brazil (funded by the U.S. government) suggesting acupuncture can help relieve sleep apnea symptoms — and she never even looked at the abstract I brought her, nor tried any of the points specified in the abstract.

A couple years ago I spoke with the acupuncturist who works at Integrative Therapies, and she seemed amenable to giving the abstract points a try, but I never followed up with her. After two in-person tries this week, a phone call netted me an appointment a week from today.

[This is what I would like to say about our hospital: I have never seen a building so poorly designed, due to multiple remodels, difficult to navigate (unless maybe it’s St. Luke’s in Denver), and taken up with useless space. The “main entrance” soars two and a half stories high, but is only wide enough for a desk and six chairs; the claustrophobic closets the in-take clerks occupy would send me screaming into the streets if I had to work in them for half an hour; there is mile upon mile of hallway, but so little office space that everyone seems to have to double or triple up. Integrative Therapies, which appears to have shared office space with the general surgeon, is now hiding in the back of the OB-GYN’s office.]

In the meantime, Dusty (the PA) wanted me to have two blood tests and a new test called calcium-something that measures the level of plaque in the arteries around your heart. She did tell me insurance wouldn’t cover this test (do NOT get me started on insurance companies), but it is $150 here and $300 in Grand Junction (do NOT get me started on the idiocies of the cost of health care). When I turned my paper over to one of those poor closet cubicle people, she told me insurance wouldn’t cover the test. When I signed up at radiology for an appointment, the desk clerk told me insurance wouldn’t cover the test. Duly noted. (But somewhere I got a discount: it only cost me $149.)

My cholesterol is always a little high, just over 200 usually, and Dusty has been interested in putting me on a statin, which I have not been interested in. She said this test would help show whether I could continue ignoring her suggestion, or possibly put me at a level where she would start arguing her case a lot harder.

So I took the test (after spending half an hour in the small windowless, TV-less, magazine-less waiting room), and guess what? I passed. Flying colors. This test, which uses the CT scan to take pictures of one’s heart between beats (think about that!), showed 0 — that’s ZERO — plaque in my heart arteries. Dusty called that “super exciting.”

The blood tests took some coordination on my part, since the medical clinic seemed to think it was more important that I follow their protocols than receive my medicine, so I had been without thyroid medication for two weeks before I saw Dusty. She wanted a blood test to see how I was doing, but it seemed to me like I actually ought to be on my regular dosage before we measured how well that dosage is working.

However, the other blood test was to measure my iron levels, and I needed to get that done before I donated blood again, which was scheduled for Tuesday last. So I had my blood drawn Monday, roughly two weeks after I got back on my medication but before my blood got siphoned.

Now, I go to the health fair every year, which tests for both thyroid and iron. Dusty said that thyroid test is kind of an “overview,” and she wanted the explicit measurement. (Which ended up showing exactly the same thing as the health fair test.) The iron test was ordered because every year the health fair comes days after I’ve donated blood and my iron, unsurprisingly, is always low.

So this time I waited, a full two months since my last donation . . . and my iron was still low. My hematocrit and hemoglobin, which is what they measure at blood donation to make sure I’m good to give, were both in the normal range, albeit the low end, but my saturation level was 8 percent where Dusty wanted it to be at 40 percent. Some other number was 29 when it’s supposed to be between 49 and 81.

She told me this right as I was planning to head out the door to donate, so I altered that plan (and spent more time at work — what a concept, hm?), and this morning I’m going to give an iron supplement a try. Dusty also told me, since my plaque score was zero, that I could eat steak with impunity.

Isn’t there some commercial that used to say, “I’m not getting older; I’m getting better”? That doesn’t seem to be a real truism, although apparently the heart-healthy Cheerios I’m eating as we speak are doing their job. I guess I need to put a temporary halt to blood donation and heed Popeye’s entreaty to eat spinach every day, but other than that I’ll just keep on keepin’ on, wending my way through wide empty hallways to get to tiny waiting rooms and overfull exam areas to give acupuncture another go. Maybe I’ll be a whole new me.

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