Minneapolis, Minnesota,
March 30
Michael Dane is America's favorite middle-aged, Jewish, bisexual social satirist. Or, at least one of them. Often referring to himself in the third person, he used to do standup comedy on the road, but now he just writes down funny things. His book of food humor, called "Does This Taste Funny? A Half-Baked Look at Food and Foodies," is available at Amazon.com


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JULY 25, 2011 12:44AM

seeing a guy about a thing...

Rate: 23 Flag

I saw a neurologist today, and by that, I don’t mean I spotted one from a distance (“Look, there’s one now!”)—I had an appointment. If you know me, you know that I’m dealing with some health issues, and I’m irrationally afraid of going to doctors. But, thanks to the State of Minnesota, I have insurance now, and my friends would kick my hypochondriacal ass if I didn’t at least start the process. So, I saw a neurologist today.

Actually, I told myself I was just ‘seeing a guy about a thing.’ That’s not scary—and it sounds a helluva lot better than SEEING THE NEUROLOGIST. People don’t see THE NEUROLOGIST unless something is seriously wrong. But this is just some guy—just gonna talk to him about some stuff. And besides, I’ve realized something that makes this ‘process’ a little less daunting—whatever I ‘have,' I’ve already beaten it so far.

Now I don’t want you to think you’re gonna have to suffer through regular updates on my condition and progress—I don’t intend to become the inspiration for a Lifetime original movie, “Tingling and Numbness—the Michael Dane Story.” I will let you know if my case gets written up in any medical journals, but if I’m still writing, assume they haven’t found any BSD (Big Scary Disease).

I figured I had an advantage going in, because I know a little something about medicine, having been pre-med for two years as an undergraduate. Still, I think everyone fondly remembers their first ‘specialist.’ I’d seen the occasional general practitioner, but this time I was gonna see a guy who took extra years of school specifically to figure out my shit.

The neurologist’s lobby looked like a cross between an airport Starbucks and a bank, all curved lines and earth tones and a water dispenser that looked like an espresso machine. And the people couldn’t have been nicer. I was glad The Girlfriend was with me, because otherwise I would have been pestering the other patients with my wry observations about the health care industry.

The receptionist/teller asked if I wanted The Girlfriend to be able to access my medical records, and it felt right, so I signed a form. After all, anyone willing to deal with my anxiety and drive me to clinics and wait around calmly while I flip out should be able to find out the results of my paraneoplastic antibody panel.

Awkward moment: figuring how to discretely go outside for a smoke. Yes, I get it. Kinda defeats the whole “getting health care” purpose to burn a cig while you’re waiting. Regardless, I made my exit, and just past the “No Smoking” boundary I saw the charge nurse, enjoying a refreshing cigarette. And I gotta tell you, there’s a perverse fun to smoking in front of a hospital. And fitness centers with big picture windows.

The neuro guy was what you would get if you were casting “a dramedy centering around the life of a quietly witty neurologist” (how have I not made it as a writer with ideas like that?). Good-looking in a vaguely ethnic way, he was easy to talk to and seemed to listen.

After some questions about my history, and what seemed to be an unnecessary amount of time hitting me with a metal hammer, the doc and I agreed there’s something wrong with me. I was hoping he'd say something along the lines of "It's just a bad cold," but since only about half  of my limbs seem to work properly right now, he thought some tests might be in order.

I had hoped that these ‘tests’ would consist of simply asking me a bunch of questions, after which he would deduce what was wrong (“It’s murky, but I’m getting a vision of…it’s becoming clearer…peripheral nerve damage.” Apparently I had ‘doctor’ confused with ‘Gypsy fortune teller.’)

In fact I will be having eight tests: five blood tests, an EMG, and two MRI. And I think I have a punch card that gets me a free procedure of my choice after ten, so that’s nice. The blood tests are no big deal, but I didn’t really know what an EMG involved.

Turns out, an EMG involves someone poking me repeatedly with needles and electrodes. I guess it’s not as fun as that sounds, and I wasn’t thrilled to read in the little pamphlet (“Your First EMG”) that it is used to test for “blah blah blah,” “blah blah,” “some other random thing,” and ALS. That’s right, there’s like fifteen things listed, but all I remember is Lou Gehrig’s Disease.  And not because I'm a baseball fan. That’s how my mind works.

I didn’t need the pamphlet to tell me to “avoid tobacco and caffeine a few hours prior to my test,” since I figured being jumpy and edgy and jacked up might affect their ability to stick needles and electrodes in the right places. And I’m sure there will be highly-trained professionals doing the poking. But I bet they get burnt out on their jobs like anyone, and sometimes just screw with people by making their arms and legs do funny things –“Watch—I can make him hit himself in the face.”

I have free time, nervous energy and an internet connection, so I looked up ‘EMG machines’ online and found a catalog where they sell them. Reading through it I got an idea: right before the test starts, I’m gonna mess with their minds by asking ridiculously detailed questions about the machine, like “This one does have four channels of surface electromyography with analog and USB output, right?” Or, “Please tell me this thing does at least three paraspinal images and has the E-Stim trigger option.”


Speaking of selling things, any idea how much an MRI machine costs? They start at around A MILLION AND A HALF FREAKING DOLLARS! I’m not really familiar with how much big machines typically cost, but isn’t that about what a rocket costs? Am I being sent into space for this test? Because I don’t think Medica covers that.

I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to smoke before the MRI, either (doctors are so militant about the smoking thing). The overly perky twenty-something who scheduled my procedure told me I’d get to see some ‘cool pictures’ of my brain, and I explained that those pictures might show signs of a debilitating terminal illness, which got her to ratchet back the perkiness a bit.

I understand you get to listen to music while you’re entubed, which seems great, depending on who has control over the playlist. What if they pipe in ‘80s arena rock (“Just relax…we’re gonna play Poison’s second album now in it’s entirety.”)? Or if, just as the anxiety of claustrophobia has passed and I’m very calm and still, the lab tech-slash-DJ decides to blast that part of ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ with all the bells and chimes?

I’ve always known that my mind doesn’t work the same as most folk, and the great thing is, now I’ll have the pictures to prove it. From now on, whenever someone questions why I’m doing something, I’ll just whip out a wallet-size copy of my brain scan. They won’t know what it means, but they’ll figure I must have a reason for having it with me and leave me alone. And since I don’t have kids, I’ll have something to show at parties!

In the end, this isn’t about needles, or electrodes, or being in a claustrophobic coffin-like metal tube while someone magnetizes the atoms in my brain. It’s just about me, seein’ a guy. Just checking out a few things. No. Big. Deal. After years of not dealing with my health, if whatever is causing my various infirmities hasn’t stopped me yet, I’m not gonna worry about it.

Author tags:

humor, doctors, fear, mri, emg

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Numbness & tingling - been there, done that. Here are a few tips for the MRI.

1. Don't wear any metal. This includes, snaps, buttons, zippers. If you don't wear any, they let you leave your clothes on.

2. It is adbsurdly loud. So, you don't so much "listen" to music as you hear bits of it between the clacking. I find adding extra noise just makes me more on edge, so I don't have them add sound. I mentally create odd modern music by sampling and combining the various clanks and clacks and rat-a-tats.

3. It's hard to lie still. Make sure you think about whether you are really comfortable enough when you get into position.

Good luck. Hope your brain is just a brain, with no extra spots or glowing areas.
So glad you didn't describe symptoms. I'm way too empathetic to handle them.
Oh i saw a couple of chiropodists early this morning feeding on blueberries beside the lake under an elm....Excellent post and a good laugh from the start. Glad to know things are in order and the humor keeps flowing oh so merrily.
Poked, prodded, punctured, palpitated, pinched--seems words beginning with "p" were invented to describe these specialist visits. And why are MRI people always so damned perky? Is the perkiness obversely proportional to the quality of our experience of the procedure? Our bodies betray us doubly, Michael, first by doing weird things, then by having to submit them to the medicos and their technology. Seriously though, I am concerned about you and if my wishes count for anything in this crazy expanding universe, I hope you are well soon.
Your writing is great, as always. Good luck - and do keep us updated on what they do or don't find.
Had to see the oral surgeon and work out payment details recently, so I can easily imagine what your " wry observations about the health care industry." That guy's place sounded like your guy's place. sheesh.
Hope you are feeling much better soon.
Wishing you the best as you go through all of this, including the MRI.

You are handling all of this very well. I had to see a gal about a thing once too. I had several MRIs and a PET scan too. It is an INTERESTING experience once you get the hang of it. :)

Keep holding on. I am sending good thoughts and prayers your way.
Welcome to middle age. Your diagnostic procedure cherry has been popped. BTW, don't smoke or drink coffee or use stimulants of any kind before your MRI. Coughing, heavy breathing, or even a rapid heartbeat can blur the image. When they say hold still, they mean hold still. Trust me. You do not want to spend a rigid hour in that million dollar sucker only to have to return the next day and do it all again. Good luck!
Getting older and dealing with medical issues sucks. I hope it all goes well. But, just a word to the wise-- if anybody tries to talk you into the new “virtual” colonoscopy, balk. Just do the one where they knock you out, and you don’t remember a thing afterwards.
thanks so much to everyone for your comments, and your good wishes...i've been spending so much time trying to put together my book of foodie humor, i thought it might be good to try to write something a little more personal--
Kate: yeah, i'm hoping for a punch line, too--and it's not really a vacation, just shifting my writing gears...thanks for the kind words...
keri: i needed these tips--i'm with you--no glowing areas...
Chicken Maan: lucky for both of us i try not to think about symptoms too much...
Algis: best 'chropodist' reference ever...glad you enjoyed the piece!
Jerry: i truly appreciate your good thoughts, my new friend...
Jonathan: thank you--just blessed i have humor as a coping strategy...
Jaime: you got it--snarky updates to follow...
aka: 'sheesh' is right...
neilpaul: not selfish at all--i hope can provide a few laughs to balance out the deep and heavy pieces that i love to read but don't really do myself...
Miguela, Mary and DoaHSS: i am very grateful for your thoughts wishes and prayers--i believe things will be fine when i get past the tests...
greenheron: i'ver been historically good at 'staying still,' but i definitely don't want to re-take the test!
Mark: thaks for the heads-up...
Sick minds think alike. I once had electrodes hooked up to my arms to test for carpal tunnel syndrome and I thought the tech was doing things to make my arms move in funny ways just for laughs.
Rated for your humorous approach to life's inevitable health challenges.
With best wishes.
Remember, keep writing, even at the end, be like..."There's a bright light, ooooo, so pretty, it saids....GREYHOUND on the fron..." :D
Trudge: hey, are you saying i have a sick m--oh wait, that's exactly what you're saying...agreed...
Macco: you're welcome to i--my words are your words...
FusunA: thanks for the good wishes!
Tink: i've seen THOSE lights way too many times...
You sound like you've just entered the Over 60 zone, which isn't quite like the Twilight Zone.
Ask for an "open" MRI. Much better! Here's hoping for the best outcome.