Sunday, January 15, 2017

Agony and endorphins

Since my last post, I have started a couple of entries, only to be dragged away for long enough to lose the thread of them.

As this strange winter began, we seemed to be getting a reasonable amount of snow for cross-country skiing. Way back in 1980, when I was dedicated to training, I heard about cross-country skiing as a winter sport that integrated well with competitive cycling. I now know more about how that works -- and doesn't work -- but that isn't the topic today. The point is, I've valued snow and the things you can do on it for many years, rather than wishing it away or going out pedaling in it when there are far older and better established ways to use it as a transportation and recreation medium.

Then the weather broke. I don't mean the weather broke in the classic sense of a sustained period of one type giving way to another. I mean it really seems to have broken into chunks of April and January, shaken together and dumped out in a cycle of warm wet followed by cold dry.

The transformed snow pack, combined with a few scheduling issues, threw me from the regular rhythm of the bike commute into a relatively sedentary lifestyle. Drive. Work. Drive. Do domestic tasks. When I did manage to get out to poke around the woods for anything, it was at very low intensity.

The deeply cold air is very dry. Heat that air inside a house and it becomes even more dry. I wake up in the middle of the night with absolutely no moisture in my mouth, even if I was not sprawled on my back, snoring. I keep a bottle of water by the bed, and drink most of it by morning. Even so, dehydration sneaks in, because I seldom sense thirst. And so, for the first time in my life, I had to pass a kidney stone.

Dietary factors contributed, I'm sure, even though I try to eat a fairly plant-based menu. I like meals that are made from scratch but easy to prepare. Ideally, they spin off leftovers I can carry for grab-and-go lunches. As I writhed in agony on the couch on Friday night, I researched factors that contribute to kidney stone production, and found a few of my regular items on the suspect list: nuts, green leafy vegetables, wheat bran…any and all of these, combined with inadequate hydration and sedentariness, could have played a part in the waves of pain that ramped up steadily as my little rock made its way through the ureter.

Worse than the pain is the unknown, especially for someone with no health insurance.  Even though health insurance is a deceptive product that is actually one of the reasons all medical things are ridiculously expensive in the United States, it is the accepted norm when you present yourself for care. And it was Friday night going into a holiday weekend. Not only would I be unable to get anything but emergency care, I had to be at work the next day, and the next day, and the holiday Monday.

If all I had to face was the mind-blowing agony of the stone's passage, I could deal with it. I thought I was going to puke or pass out or both, as it reached its crescendo, but then it was over, and the aftermath was bliss. But if I had an infection or had developed some weird chronic condition in which this was the new normal, I would have to consider suicide, because I am too poor to indulge in long-term illness and decline. As soon as I can no longer take care of myself, I have to go. And I don't want to go. But the reality of a market-based approach to human value is that you have no value when you are not creating cash flow.

The middle of a winter night, racked with pain, is a perfect time to swirl down a dark whirlpool of mortal anxiety.

This time, I got through the pain and a day of fasting and water, facing a light tourist load because they all thought the weather had ruined the skiing. I have no signs of infection, and will return to the forest to forage until some other crisis comes along. Whatever I can do with diet and exercise, I will do. When the thing comes along that is finally too serious for that…I'm not looking forward to it, but there's no good alternative. Something takes you out eventually. It irks me to know that I could easily go down from something that would have been treatable, but since we ration care on the basis of ability to pay, someone has to be left out.

The bliss that followed the pain reminded me of the same peace that follows a good workout or a serious bike crash. That's how it ties to the theme of this blog. And the blog is about the life of a person, not about obsessive compulsive cycling.


Coline said...

Been there, done that and do not want to do it again! The pain is supposed to be much the same as being shot and with me it came on just as fast and wished I could just die!We are supposed to be lucky having a national health service but it shuts down on Friday afternoon and slowly gets going again on Monday morning and at weekends you have to call out of hours service which is an untrained person with a list of questions and a standard answer of take a paracetamol. As if you did not do that as soon as you could!! I gave up because they would only speak directly to the "patient" who was sweating so much they could not hold the phone and the pain was so great thoughts were almost impossible. Finally my partner did as I had first asked and called a retired general practitioner who took about 8 seconds to confirm my suspicions so redialing the out of hours got an appointment to a walk in clinic mostly used for distributing methadone! They gave me a shot of morphine and assured me the pain would be gone in a few minutes but it did nothing!

How you got through it just by yourself I have no idea. I still live in fear of a second stone and drink a lot of lemon juice to try and avoid a relapse and a second night with the drug addicts. Sadly society is still incapable of understanding that some of us do not wish to spend our final time suffering pain or indignity and should be allowed and helped to have a dignified and easy way out...

cafiend said...

Coline -- I got through it with a lot of screaming and sobbing. I felt desperately alone. But I also considered that non one else could do anything anyway, so why make them witness my wall-pounding agony? I do NOT want to go through it again. I'll do what I can to avoid it. Meanwhile, the expensive labyrinth of medical services is pretty discouraging. American health care is the market-based solution to overpopulation.

Roger Blake said...

I have been reading your posts for a long time. Without insurance medical payments, particularly in hospitals is more expensive because they bargain from those prices with insurance companies. If you can last till medicare and if the powers that be don't change it.

Coline said...

Our system in the UK is straining but we manage.

We look on with incredulity at the inhuman heathcare system in the US. If only the Fake President could spend the night alone like you did with no hope of help, perhaps sense would start to seep into that thick skull...

RANTWICK said...

Good God that sucks, man. I'm happy you got through it, of course, but I'm left feeling awful about the disparity between our health care outlooks. Very best of luck staying well.

Anonymous said...

I can only repeat what Coline has said. Our hearts go out to you. I am so very lucky as to have a Nordic State Health Care System at my service. It too is straining, but I am told that it is noticeably better than the UK system by Brit ex-pats here. I had at one time contemplated returning to the US in my old age (that is dawning just now these years...), but recent developments and lack of developments have decided for me, that I stay here and try to realize how fortunate we are.

A pox on the fake president.