Thursday, February 17, 2011

Health,Wealth and a Working Dryer

Well, one out of three ain't bad.

The regular reader 1 will know that I was sick over Thanksgiving, sick again over Christmas and sick in the early New Year. All respiratory infections, and thus all made me short of breath.

Once the illnesses were finally over, imagine my surprise to find I was still feeling short of breath. Not "gotta suck air as fast as I can" short of breath, but in the middle of my chest there was the feeling you get at the same time you are sucking air trying to make it go away after a really long run. The same feeling, sans pounding, that you get when someone really cute announces they aren't entirely averse to the idea of removing their clothes in your presence and will let you touch them afterwards.

I had a long think, interrupted by memories of some of the young women that actually enacted that scenario in my presence2, and remembered that in my case this feeling had once been my body's way of saying "Hey, guess what? Your pancreas's capillaries are all blocked with that stuff that looks like toffee again. Prepare for unspeakable agony!" and the clarion call to start ingesting nothing but clear liquids until I was capable of straightening up and not screaming every 30 seconds as I was wracked by spasms of sensation of the sort that alter one's perceptions to the point one can see God.

It generally took a few days.

Accordingly, I switched from solid food to Ginger Ale, and in no time at all I felt like I'd been kicked in the kidneys and was peeing clear, odorless fluid that all-but fizzed. Amazingly no pancreatitis occurred and so I started eating again. The feeling came back, faded away, came back stronger and finally moved in permanently. Then my legs started hurting really badly

Time to see Doc Rubberglove.

The doctor's staff was obviously in need of some entertainment because they got me an appointment the next day, so reluctantly I announced I was taking a sick day in order to deal with the chest discomfort and the slipped disc I suffered when I leapt into the air and clicked my heels upon being told I would have to take Tuesday off. Anything is better than the Tuesday meeting.

That night I celebrated by laundering some clothes and popping them in the dryer.

The next day, around noon I departed for Doc Rubberglove's House O' Humiliation, noting in passing that The Stevieling must have loaded the dryer with clothing before she left for school as it was tumbling away to itself.

The Doctor's staff weighed me with their special scale that adds 50 lbs to your true weight and stuffed instruments in my ears and up my nose, though they couldn't actually muster enough energy to even pretend they were looking into said cavities. I don't blame them; I've seen what's in there myself and there are limits. Then a med student tapped me in various places, fondled a few limbs and declared the doctor would be with me "soon".

A mere half hour later Doc Rubberglove breezed in and prescribed an EKG3 which involved sticking electrodes to my (hairy) chest, running some sort of inkjet printer for five seconds, then ripping off the electrodes and writing down the ones that caused the loudest screams of pain. Then, while the staff went out to watch re-runs of it all on the surveillance system I was allowed five minutes on Doc Rubberglove's Patent Electric Fog Bong, which didn't cure the problem but made me care slightly less.

Eventually the Doc stopped prevaricating around the bush and scheduled me for some tests, effectively using up the rest of my day in medical froofaraw. It was all very trying.

First there was the Chest X-Ray, for which I had to drive to the other end of the island so some young woman could irradiate me with enough monster-creating hard X-Rays4 it made my ribs glow in the dark.

While I was there, another young woman ultrasound-scanned my legs in case I had a thrombosis or phlebitis or whatever a blood clot in the leg is called. The gel used to make the ultrasonic gubbins work properly got soaked up in my leg-hair and thus when I made my way to Good Samaritan Hospital for blood work I had shiny legs that shone with a sheen that would have looked not out of place on the head of someone around 1985.

It felt nasty too. which was, I believe, the point. Naturally, when I showered that evening it turned to glue, but I'm getting ahead of the story.

I drove to the hospital, having no idea whatsoever where the outpatient lab was. Never mind, I would drive past the Emergency Room drop-off on the left side of the hospital looking for signs saying "Lab", and park at the back if I didn't see any sign and check in at the information desk at the Baxter Pavilion in the rear of the hospital. It's actually more of an annex than a pavilion, but that was a conundrum for another day.

There was no sign for the lab

So I parked and walked to the Baxter Pavilion doors. Once inside I noted with a class three Word of Power that there was no-one at the information desk, and from appearances hadn't been since the desk was installed. Another plan foundered on the rocks of reality then. No matter, the hospital is really one big building linked together by zigzaggy corridors; I would simply walk them until I discovered a sign for the Lab.

A sad mistake.

I managed to walk to the front of the hospital in only about 15 minutes, where a young woman barely out of the Zygote stage laughed at my English pronunciation of "Laboratory"5 before directing me to the right side of the hospital. I then traced a zigzaggy path in which a straight-line distance of what could have been no more than 300 yards became about a half-mile of staggering and moaning. I hadn't eaten since the previous night because I knew that any blood work Doc Rubberglove would order would require an 8 hour plus fast, and since it was now around 4 pm I was getting a bit spacey.

Finally I found the lab and had the blood drawn, two tubes of it.

"Is that it?" I asked dubiously.

"Yep" answered the technician.

"How come? I have these tests done every three months and they always take four tubes full".

"Nah. We can do most of the tests with just this one". He held up a single test tube of blood with an anti-clotting agent added to it.

I knew it. I knew it was not necessary to suck out pints of blood for those damn tests. Those bastards at Gouge Laboratories (my usual blood thieves of someone-elses-choice) were clearly inflating the bill and bleeding me dry into the bargain. Gits.

I asked the girl manning the desk which would be the quickest way back to my car (I had no wish to repeat the epic journey I made on my way in) and was told that if I went out of the door and walked about three hundred feet I would be in the carpark.

And so I returned home in high dugeon, and went downstairs to unload the kid's stuff from the dryer.

When I opened the dryer the awful truth became apparent. I was greeted by no outrush of warm, moist air, and the clothing in there was mine. The damned machine, instructed to dry until the heat sensor indicated the clothes were done, had broken down in such a way that the clothes had tumbled for about 36 hours.


I unloaded my dry and very, very soft clothes and one towel. Then I sighed and pulled the lint filter, and removed the mattress of downy lint that had been sucked off the towel as it was pounded into submission for a day and a half.

Fortunately, Doc Rubberglove had decided to hedge his bets (and mine) by scheduling a Stress Test for the next day, so I had another day off in which I might scavenge a few hours in which to effect dryer repairs.

And so to bed and the sweet oblivion of Lethe.

Wednesday dawned and, once the women had decamped, I got up and removed the dryer faceplate and drum. I jumpered the door switch circuit6 and started the dryer so I could observe the gas jet in action.

Or not, as it turned out. The igniter didn't even glow7 so with a sigh I pulled the entire machine (what was left of it) out from its niche and removed the rear panel.

As usual, this was accompanied by the sudden deformation of the razor-sharp pressed steel panel and the consequent infliction of a couple of dozen minor wounds to hands, face, upper arms and anything else not covered by clothing.

I spent some small time bleeding, crying out in pain and so forth, the stuff that Mrs Stevie categorizes as "wasting time", and got back to work.

A quick poke around with the multimeter showed a suspicious open circuit on one of the components.

Aha! Or, after a bit of thought, perhaps not.

Some of those components are supposed to be open circuit until something happens 8 so I had to pore over the circuit diagram for a bit to confirm my diagnosis, then jumper the component and check that the dryer lit when the circuit was closed, which it did.

Okay, so I would get a replacement from Sid's Appliance and Taxidermy Store on my way back from the cardiologist, who apparently was not planning a stress test, just an initial examination according to the human I finally was able to speak with after a battle with the phonebot- no need for towels, shorts and a change of shirt then, and most of the day not wasted in gasping for air in the quest for health.

I excised the mutinous part and put it...somewhere. I remember it was on a small table at one point and I remember distinctly picking it up, but that would turn out to be the last I ever saw of that particular piece of junk. Then I drove to the cardiologist, who took one look and said that he wanted me to have an echocardiogram and a stress test. Right now.

And so I had my chest hair dry-shaved in patches, then the bare spots scrubbed with a scouring pad because "we need the skin to be more sensitive". It worked, too, and much kudos to the scouring pad-wielding nurse who gave her eardrums in the cause.

After that I was hooked up to another EKG machine with industrial strength sticky pads and was made to walk very fast on a treadmill until my vision became tunneled and I was begging for mercy and/or death with every ragged breath.

There was a Big Red Button for turning off this Torquemadaesque Machine, but it had been placed cruelly out of reach of anyone likely to need it.

I was allowed to dangle from the handlebar of the treadmill for a few minutes while my lungs sucked in volumes of life-giving air, then it was time for the ripping off of the sticky pads which revived me by the expedient of exposing the stuff that grows underneath my skin to the air.

Next, I was conducted to a room where an attractive young woman attempted to stick more pads to me but failed on account of the wringing wet condition of my body (which now resembled that of a mange-riddled Gorilla that had been fished out of the East River) squirted yet more gel all over me and began to use ultrasound to show a student my heart (and presumably gather important health-related data) but got discombobulated when I asked if I could have a look.

She made up some excuse for having me lie on my left side (the machine was on my right) and I acquiesced rather than provoke her into some inventive "test", but I felt - and still feel - that if anyone is going to look at a person's organs using technology that person's insurance is paying for, then top of the list of gawkers should be the person who is lying on a hard couch covered in gel with holes shaved randomly in his chest hair.

She spent the rest of the exam driving the probe into my chest so hard I have bruises.

Well, too bad for her. I've been married to Mrs Stevie for 22 ambush-filled years now. Her attempts were pitiful compared to the ministrations that vile harridan has visited upon me at the drop of a hat.

Mistress Ultrasound wanted the student to practice on me and I agreed to let him do so on me provided part of the process was him showing me my heart.

"You really want to look at it?" she asked.

"Damn straight. It's my heart, I wanna see it too" I snarled.

I was somewhat short tempered by then on account of the bruises and the gel which was doing for my patchy chest hair what the other woman had done for my legs 24 hours before, and the fact that once again I hadn't eaten all day.

It was eventually over, and I was conducted to the certificate- and bookshelf-lined office the cardiologist lived in when he wasn't actually examining anyone.9 He waved me to a chair and told me that according to the tests he had done he couldn't say why I was short of breath. He said he'd be happier if he could've run a test with radioactive dye, but my insurance company wouldn't agree to pay for it. Once again I was confronted with direct evidence that the American Health Care System is dysfunctional10. Oh well.

So I left the doctor and prepared to talk to Sid, or perhaps Sid. Which was when I got my first inkling that all was not well with my foolproof "component replacement" plan.

I emptied my pockets and searched the contents. I searched my car. I drove home and searched the house. I searched my car again. All to no avail.

There was nothing for it but to do without. I did the Bonehead Dance, then drove down to Sid's place where Sid and Sid were in residence, and described the part using mime and interpretive dance. I did okay too, against all expectation, and in a surprisingly screw-up free session with my socket set I had the dryer reassembled and working.

True, I did manage to crush a connector into a wad of useless brass with my Leatherman pliers, and I got a teensy shock when my finger brushed up against that connector's mate because I'd forgotten to unplug the dryer but all-in-all a fiasco-free repair, mostly, if we ignore the losing of the part debacle, the squished connector screw-up and the amps up the knuckle joint of my little finger inattention to detail.

If only the Doctors could pull off the same trick with my body.

  1. there is one, but I've forgotten where he lives
  2. Alright, all three of them
  3. Why is an electrocardiogram an EKG and not an ECG? First order obfuscation so the plebs don't pierce the miasma of jargon the medical community throws around to avoid telling you what exactly is wrong with you
  4. Has no-one but me seen The Quatermass Experiment for Azathoth's sake?
  5. I was exhausted and starving and couldn't be bothered to concentrate on accommodating Americans and their crazy pronunciation and slipped up by saying "la BOH ra tory" instead of "LAB rote ury"
  6. The dryer is designed to cut off power to the motor and shut down the gas jet when the door is opened as a safety measure. Part of the process of removing the front panel involves prying apart a connector that hooks the door sensor into the machines electric circuitry. It goes without saying that the designers viewed the practice of firing up the dryer while it was in bits as dangerous and had designed the circuit so that with the door sensor disconnected nothing would work. However, they then undid all of that careful handyman protection-from-self work by including a circuit diagram (taped inside the control console so it wouldn't be found by just any incompetent fool, only by those with access to tools) from which it was possible, with the aid of a multimeter, to figure out how to run a bypass with a u-shaped bit of wire. We handymen laugh at such concepts as danger and culpable liability. Actually, we usually don't spot them in time but it amounts to the same thing
  7. Plunging me into new territory. A glowing igniter but no flame is a problem I've fixed twice before
  8. usually something getting hot given that a dryer only does two things other than sit in a room: it gets hot and it spins one component, slowly
  9. I'm absolutely certain that there is a company somewhere that supplies doctors with appropriate bookshelf fillers. There's always a large selection of books with the name of the specialist's target organ(s) on the spine - there was actually one called "The Heart" front and center of the case directly behind this one - and a selection of new, worn and worn-out spines crammed in there. All too convenient, if you ask me. Who in Azathoth's name would actually read something titled "Congestive Failure Modes of the Human Cardio-Vascular System"?
  10. Either the doctor is asking for too many tests or the insurance company is being overly tight-fisted at the risk of my life. I can guess which is the actual case in point here

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