Russ Ringsak

Physical

March 11, 2005

I went down to the Mayo Clinic. Sounds like the opening line of a blues song, except the place wasn't gnarly like the St. James Infirmary and my baby wasnít layiní there, so cold, so white, so fair. It was just a routine physical. This was last Thursday morning. I got hooked on the place years ago when the youngest daughter got painfully sick and was misdiagnosed into an appendectomy when in fact she had a disease you get from drinking unpasteurized milk. Campylobacter jejuni, I think it was. From a trip to a natural farm. It took a speedy ninety-mile drive down to Mayo to find this out and they had her on the road to recovery in a day. I liked the place so much Iíve been going back ever since, although not as often as a person should.

Itís large, itís impressive, itís classy, itís right in downtown Rochester and itís friendly; patients and staff walking around on air-sole sneakers. Doctors wear suits and polished shoes of course, but the paying public generally looks like the same crowd youíd see at, say, Universal Studios. The various buildings are connected by wide underground tunnels, opening onto outdoor sunken courtyards.

My first appointment was at 9:00 with my primary doctor, in Internal Medicine on the 17th floor of the Mayo Building. I hadnít seen him in four years and he looked good. His color was good, he seemed to be mentally alert, his general humor was good, weight was under control, his hearing was normal, and he showed no signs of depression or chemical abuse. So that was okay. We talked for a while and he did the usual tapping and thumping and took my blood pressure, 128 over 78, pulse 66. On my way out they gave me a three-day schedule and an empty bottle in a plastic bag for a urine test, and she emphasized it had to be first void the following morning — and drop it off at Station S. So if you get up in the night and go at, say, 4:00 AM, Iím wondering, would that be the last void from the day before? I didnít ask.

The Venipuncture Specimen Collection, what they call blood work, was set for Desk C in the Hilton Building, Subway Level. I got there early and didnít have to wait long. One of the four doors opened on the waiting room and a cheerful lady called my name and I went in and bared arm and she put on a one-piece plastic eye protector, like a hockey player, and slid the needle in so easily as to be hardly noticed. She took four vials full, clicking one off and another on; it looked dark as beet juice but she didnít comment, so I guessed it was good enough. I asked if this is what she always did, take blood every day. She did. I said it was good you could take multiple vials without having to take a new stab at it every time and she laughed: ďIf I had to do that, I might have to quit my job.Ē

I went for breakfast down the block. They wanted me back for a chest X-ray at 2:30 on the third floor of the Mayo Building and I got there at 1:00. The X-Ray lady told me to take off everything on top and she took my picture like it was for a passport, good-humored and professional. ďTake a deep breath — hold it — hold it — hold it — (click) — breathe.Ē Two portraits straight on and one silhouette. I didnít see any metal objects in the images or any dark masses and left there grateful, guessing I passed.

On the elevator Iím thinking that everyone is thinking the same thing: ďI wonder what heís got. He acts like itís nothing. Maybe itís just testing, but some of these folks, I dunno... That one. I bet sheís in some kinda trouble. Her colorís off and she looks a little worried... I wonder what they all think Iíve got.Ē The ones in wheelchairs, if theyíre in a cast they generally look in better spirits than the ones with a blanket across their lap.

Next stop is the electrocardiogram guy at desk SL West in the Gonda Building. Heís young, smiling, says take off the shirt, has a big sheet of flexible sticky sensors with little tails for wire hookups and starts slapping them on my chest and upper back, and a couple on the calves. He hooks up a big handful of wires quickly, like heís done it before, day after day. Goes in the booth and turns knobs and pushes buttons and comes back and says things look just fine, one little skip now and then but nothing out of the ordinary. Iím flashing on the old Buck Owens song, ďMy Heart Skips a Beat,Ē (ď— when you walk down the street — I feel a trembling in my knees —Ē) but this guy looks maybe too uptown to be into Buck Owens.

Iím out of there two hours ahead of schedule and I need to stop at their pharmacy for a gallon of polyethylene glycol for the big test tomorrow. Itís like some college marathon drinking challenge, that gallon. Sounds like itís antifreeze, and my confidence in these people is such that if the label read Texaco Iíd go ahead and drink it on their say so. In fact it bears the whimsical brand name of GoLYTELY and you drink an eight-ounce glass of it every ten minutes until itís gone. I start at 8:30, down the sixteen glasses on schedule and ride the porcelain bus until about one o'clock, with a 5:00 AM wakeup. It cleans you out real good.

Iím at the ninth floor of the Gonda Building before 7:00 AM, at the dreaded Division of Gastroenterology, meaning weíre taking a little video ride through never-never land. The old colonoscopy. They seriously invite you to be sedated for this but I decline because I want to drive back. Technically you are DUI if you donít wait for 24 hours after sedation.

They say take off all your clothes except your shoes and socks and put on this gown and this robe, and lay on your side on this nice clean sheet. To be more specific they might have said to take it all off and then put the shoes back on, but I was able to figure it out on my own. Once they get going itís uncomfortable, some real hard cramping but no piercing pain, and you can watch your pulse rate and blood pressure on a second screen below the big full-color live-action video of the pink tunnel. You breathe deep and make a game of it, to see if you can keep your pulse below 70 beats a minute and your pressure under 135. They pump air in to keep the walls tubular, and the video reminds me of my first trip on the New York subway, standing in the front window of the first car watching the tunnels curve and twist and dip as we passed through. Not meaning to brag, but my tunnel did look cleaner than the New York City subway.

It takes maybe twenty minutes and then they wheel you to the recovery room, where they dock your gurney amongst six other folks, half of them asleep, and you are supposed to get rid of as much air as you can before you go back out among civilized folk. The nurse told me it was the only room in the clinic where they liked to hear people pass gas; I asked her if they had a special nickname for the room and she smiled and finally said, ďNooo...Ē in a way that told me they did but she wasnít letting me in on it. It was odd to be laying in sheets with your shoes on, in with a bunch of people trying to fart. The sedated stay about an hour, but they let me go in fifteen minutes, all bright-eyed.

After that they gave me shots for tetanus and pneumonia on the 17th floor and a hearing test on the 5th floor. I told myself I wouldnít do this one thing and I was determined not to right up until the young man walked in the door and introduced himself and said, ďSo howís your hearing today?Ē and I couldnít hold it any longer and I just screwed up my face and cocked my head sideways and said, ďHUH?Ē

He looked at me. I said, ďMan you must get sick of that, donít you? Probably every day, I bet you get that.Ē And he allowed as how it did happen fairly often, and that he was used to it and it didn't bother him. Anyway, we did the testing and he got his revenge, told me I was a borderline hearing aid guy. And he wasnít kidding. But I kind of already knew that.

I drove down again Tuesday but the place was so jammed up I went home. I should get my test results by mail in a few days. If the news is bad I probably wonít want to talk about it, and if itís good Iíll try not to brag about it. As for the Campylobacter incident 25 years ago at the natural farm, they have been drinking pasteurized milk from the grocery store ever since it happened. And the unnecessary appendectomy, well, sheís traveled a lot in the last twenty years, sometimes to places where emergency surgery is just not going to happen. Places like the back mountains of South America and so forth. So it could have been a blessing in disguise.

You just never know.

©R.Ringsak 2005

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