The Athenaeum
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The Athenaeum

I Want to Share Something With You

The old operating theatre of Saint Thomas Hospital, London.

You know, in the early days of blogging we used to tell each other what we ate. We also described the little aches and pains we were having and what the cat was up to. Take, for example, the account of flying-blind on LiveJournal.

I joined LiveJournal in 2002. flying-blind (rejectomorph) was already there and had a permanent account. If you read the post above you will read the work of a true soul blogger. That guy has been writing those diary tone poems since before 2002. On Sunday he attaches a selected poem under the heading “Sunday Verse”. On March 12th it was “Probing” by R.S. Thomas.

Anyway, as far as I’m concerned flying-blind is the world’s greatest blogger. Does he include what he eats for dinner? Yes. Does he mention his colds? Yes. Does he talk about his cats? Yes. Does he describe the difficulties he has with his evil computer, ‘Sluggo’? Yes. Now, get ready for the logic… if he, flying-blind, blogs about these things, these things must be essential to blogging!

So, we need more sharing. We need cats and colds and Sluggo.

That seems to be happening less and less on Medium nowadays. I’m sure many of you think it is a positive development. I don’t. My addiction to Medium is based on my desire to read the literary mundane. Like when Lisa Renee finds the metaphors and meaning in making bread:

What is most intoxicating about Medium are the posts that offer a genuinely different perspective on life. That’s obviously subjective. I find the post on testosterone treatments eye-opening while someone who has had them does not.

And by seeking what is “different”, I’m not saying that I am searching for the “most extreme” perspectives. That’s the problem with Vice News and reality television. If exploring differences doesn’t reaffirm our common humanity, it is simply voyeurism, and voyeurism is bad.

One element of flying-blind’s posts is a description of the weather. I’m often reminded just how different his world is from mine based on just the weather. While we might share the phase of the moon and both have had a frozen burrito for dinner, our days are different for lots of reasons, but one of them is the weather.

So, same but different. Plain and non-commercial. That’s the essence of a good blog post. I often use this as example:

Let’s hear it for talking about the specifics of our lives; not as a “status update” intended to curate and promote a projected image of ourselves, but just the opposite. When you write about the fact that your ass itches and you’re not really sure why, you allow us to connect with you and experience our shared humanity in a way that no advertiser wants any part of.

The above posts by Lisa Renee and Emjay Em offer good examples of sharing. Now I’m going to give you a bad one.

A Timeline of My Peritonsillar Abscess

Monday: Sore throat! A sharp, localized pain obviously not from a walk in the cold (I don’t walk in the cold) or from sleeping with my mouth open (I do that every night, why would today be different?). Seems like trouble.

Tuesday: Bad and not getting better. Rest and fluids… yes, yes, yes. My mother said that all my life, but I didn’t believe it until I saw it on a sign in the Emergency Department waiting room. Right into bed after work. Chicken soup for dinner! Alternating ibuprofen and Tylenol. Lots and lots of fluids. I am in pain.

Wednesday: This thing is trouble. I decided to make an appointment with the doctor. When I called the office in the afternoon, the best the nurse practitioner could offer was Thursday at 3:45. I took the appointment. Did I mention that am in much pain? The stash of “properly discarded narcotics” in the back of my medicine cabinet is starting to call to me.

Thursday: Woke up with a uvula so swollen that it is making me gag. Call in sick to work. My throat is in agony. I can’t talk much, but when I do I sound like drunk impersonation of Vito Corleone. All of the people in my life who, at the sign of any sickness, routinely say, “I told you that you need to see a doctor” are marvelously vindicated. They are not happy; they are concerned, but in their concern is the satisfaction of being right. You might think that the Boss is one of them. You would be right. She is perhaps the most forgiving. There are at least five others, culminating with my 88-year-old father, who, I must say, takes pretty good care of his health.

I have to go to work to do a couple of things. Given that I’m up, I go to my doctor’s office and ask if there is any way someone can see me before 3:45. They can’t. I uncork a weaponized response taught to me by a guy in a suit who came to tell us about our newer, shitter, health-insurance.

My bombshell, which is diminished because of the sound of my Froggy throat, goes like this: “Well, then, if you can’t see me I’ll just have to go to the Urgent Care Clinic in [name of nearby town that calls itself a ‘city’].”

The folks at my doctor’s office don’t physically react to my “wicked diss,” but I know somewhere in their mechanistic innards they are sorry they didn’t do more for me.

Thursday: Urgent Care Clinic: The urgent care clinic has excellent open WiFi. The place is clean. They offer snacks. The woman who takes my information is very nice. She is wearing scrubs but has a French manicure. “Shouldn’t people working in health offices avoid long nails?” I want to ask, but I have taught myself not to have opinions about medicine. When I was a kid, my hard-drinking, overweight doctor used to smoke cigarettes with my mother while they discussed my asthma.

I get to see the urgent care doctor after they swab me for a rapid-strep test that comes back negative. I don’t want to talk bad about the doctor. People love to blame doctors. I am a huge fan of my primary care physician, but this guy? The rapid strep test seems to be all he needs. He takes a look at my throat, says, “yea that uvula is really swollen, I bet you want to pop it with a pin” and then he leaves. When he walks out the door I tell the Boss, “He’s going to give me whatever he gives 99% of the sore throats that he sees.”

He comes back in ten minutes later with a multi-pac of prednisone. I question this, saying that another woman at my job had something similar and was put on antibiotics. He says, “A lot of viruses look like bacterial infections.” I ask him if the prednisone will reduce the pain and swelling. He assures me it will. I am convinced. The truth is, while I’m somewhat convinced that my childhood use of prednisone contributed to the development of Type II diabeters… I fucking love the stuff. I do the “Big Day” (six doses!) with relish. I’m still in pain, but the pain is going to go away.

Friday: Wake up feeling much better. Still in pain, but much better. By the end of the day, however, I’m really, really, hurting. It’s OK, I have more steroids! This is day 2. Five doeses! I’ll be fine.

Saturday: I am so not fine. I am in mind bending pain. The taper pack offers four measly doses. Four can’t do what six failed to do. This is not working. I call my PCP office. They are closed. It is time to go back to urgent care.

A different woman in scrubs with a similar but more colorful manicure takes my information. I wait and then am ushered into the exam room. It doesn’t take long for the nurse and doctor team to make their diagnosis: they can’t handle this. The doctor is thorough. She touches my face. She takes an x-ray. She sends me to the ER.

When I arrive at the ER it is very quiet, and I breeze through triage because the urgent care clinic has faxed over my information. The triage nurse asks me if I was “driving a bus” because as soon as I am seated, the place starts popping. The dude having an MI jumps me on line.

A while later, they put in a port, give me a shot of Toradol (thank goodness), do another rapid-strep test (also negative), and tell me they are going to send me for a CT scan. Since I take Metformin for my diabetes, and Metfromin doesn’t play nicely with the contrast from the CT scan, I have to fill out extra paper work. After the scan, they give me IV antibiotics and then tell me that I have a peritonsillar abscess and will have to have a “procedure” to drain the abscess. Since there is no covering ENT doctor at the hospital, I am to report to the ER of a nearby hospital the next morning at 9:00 AM.

Sunday: The Boss drives me to the nearby town. We are escorted right into an exam room. I have showered and shaved, carefully making sure that the port left in from the previous night did not get wet. I am expecting them to pump me full of something kind and wheel me away, but when the ENT walks in wearing a flannel shirt and carrying a handful of instruments I realize that that’s not the way this is going to go down.

He says that he is going to describe the procedure and give me all the discharge orders before he begins because, “afterwards, you may not really be able to take them in.” This sounds bad. He puts the bed I’m on in an upright position and I’m suddenly sorry that I’m not in a barber chair instead. He asks the tech to get him a couple of things, and each item sounds like an instrument from a low-budget medical horror film. I catch the words “15 gauge needle” and I wonder if the gauges of needles and shotguns are in any way related.

We get down to business. The tech tucks in a series of bibs so I look like I’m at a lobster dinner. The ENT holds up a needle. He says it contains a local anesthesia and some adrenalin to “stop the bleeding.” Then he looks at me and says while holding the needle before me, “this is going to pinch. You will feel some pressure.” I open my mouth and he begins jabbing the back of my throat with the needle.

I like dentists. I take pride in the fact that I am an A+ patient in the dentist, or dental hygienist’s chair. I have had teeth pulled, braces, and wisdom teeth removed. I give blood regularly. I am not afraid of needles. I don’t flinch when I get the local shot for a filling, but this guy is driving the needle into the back of my throat with some purpose. After the fourth or fifth stab I realize that HE IS PROBING FOR THE ABSCESS and when he hits it… when he is on the abscess… everything goes involuntary. I start screaming. Long screaming moans that coincide with the duration and depth of the needle stick. I am being really loud. I’m sure the entire ER can hear me. He hits the abscess four more times. Each time I scream. I don’t know what he and the tech did to hold me down, but my head didn’t move.

As soon as the needle is out of my mouth, he looks at me and says, “that was impressive. You did a great job.” Then he looks at the Boss. The Boss is a hot shot nurse who worked in the ICU at Bellevue when we were young and beautiful. Her face is as fixed as the northern star. He says, “You too. You did a great job.”

But we are just beginning.

[Those who are squeamish should stop here]

He takes out the big needle. I believe this is the “15 gauge”.

He punches it into the back of my throat which, now numbed, doesn’t feel as bad. He removes the needle from my mouth and looks at the band of yellow in the syringe that has come from my body, approximately 30cc’s of puss. He says, “this is what we will culture.”

I am horrified. Not only by the fact that the yellow band of disease came from my body, but also because some poor lab tech somewhere else in the state is going to have to squirt that shit into a petri dish while reading my name.

He picks up a scalpel and says “open wide.” Because I am numbed, the scalpel pinches but is not as painful as the first needle. I can feel the incision. He is carving an X in the back of my throat.

My mouth is suddenly filled with blood and puss. The tech has a plastic bucket in front of me and tells me to spit. I spit. The smell is horrendous. I spit again, and then look up and say, “That is the nastiest thing I have ever seen. How many of these do you do a week?”

The tech looks at me and says, “We did one yesterday.”

The ENT now has the vacuum going. He tells me to open my mouth and then starts sucking. It’s like a scene from the Coen Brother’s movie “A Serious Man,” except the art direction isn’t as good and there is no humor.

After a rinse, he spreads the incision slightly larger with a pair of forceps and does more vacuuming, we are done.

The pain is gone. I am officially on the mend.

Final Thoughts

I believe I now know what it is like to have a 19th century medical procedure. Sure, everything was sterile and the local anesthesia was more efficient than a good dose of laudanum, but the doctor came in, cut me open, and drained the puss from an abscess. If we had all been wearing cowboy boots it would have been a lot cooler.

Knowing the George Washington died from a similar problem, I asked the ENT if, given an time machine, he would go back, save George Washington and maybe give the country another five or ten years of founding father greatness. He said, “that’s a pretty good idea. I would consider that.” I was kind of stunned. How could he be so open to suggestion? He must really work at his job. I, on the other hand, have spent countless hours at my job contemplating what I would do with a time machine. I have a list of 20 things I would do with a time machine that I’m already committed to. If someone “suggested” what I would do with a time machine, I would laugh at them and say, “OK, I’ll make that number 46 on my list of ‘things I would do with a time machine.’”

Last, The tech, a millennial male football-playerish kid who I would have called “meathead” before being eternally indebted to him, was really kind and had a comportment that allowed me to keep some semblance of dignity in this, a most undignified moment. Remind me, JB and Ellie Guzman, when I mock millennials that one of your generation held my puss-filled spit bucket and bore it so like a soldier that his face blanched not. You kids are great.



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Tribune of Medium. Mayor Emeritus of LiveJournal. Third Pharaoh of the Elusive Order of St. John the Dwarf. I am to Medium what bratwurst is to food.