Near the end of last week I had good news that probably is bad news but since it's not worse news than it is, it is good news. Let me explain (actually, if you're here-try to stop me). In recent years, I've had a problem with my legs that I've spent years believing was part of the 'this is why I can't do nice things' aftermath of a lot of knee surgeries despite my orthopedist's physical exams to the contrary.
Anytime I've attempted to accelerate beyond a slug-a-bed pace of walking, through power-walking or even, bleary-eyed optimist that I am, actual running, within seconds I have shooting pains from behind my knees all the way to the tips of my toes. Warm-ups, no warm-ups, hanging upside down like a bat, slow pace that speeds up, a fast start that slows down, it makes no difference.
This has gone on for years and has resulted in nearly crippling cramps in my leg, in my foot across the soles of my feet all the way to my toes, usually when I am sound asleep. It scares the bejabbers out of my wife who thinks the dweeb she married is being attacked by Ninjas with pinking shears. And it doesn't do much for me either.
I couldn't get any of my doctors to successfully figure it out (= cure me). For a doctor, a successful diagnosis is a success-if you, the patient, feel better, that's a bonus. I learned that watching House-and with one episode now left after nine years, I have no idea what I'll watch on Monday nights and have no use for Fox at all. That I Did Love the Rupert, cried Desdemona hitting the TV remote. And we ain't talking bears here, brother.
I had started to believe I was crazy, which, much to my chagrin and dismay, came as nothing even vaguely resembling news to almost anyone who knew me. Nearly all of them greeted my voicing of that fear with but a one word response, more? I really hate people and then I wonder why they hate me. Turnabout, I guess.
When I went for a stress test last month, after hitting speed on the treadmill and the measurements had concluded, I grabbed the back of my legs as the lab tech wondered aloud what I was doing. When I stopped being in so much pain I could construct a sentence, she suggested I mention to my cardiologist what had just happened.
I was flummoxed, quite frankly. The rheumatologist had found more arthritis in my lower spine, a tale for another visit, and my primary care guy had run out of people to send me too, who didn't engage in discussions about the difference between Janov and Jung (at heart?). But, my cardiologist suggested lower body scans and he called me last week to talk about the near blockages in arteries or veins (I forget which because I went numb right after he said 'we found something' and heard nothing at all for a number of minutes) from my knees on down. (I also learned I'm not nearly as big an atheist as I think I am.)
Sounded like it was too bad I wasn't taller so I could have even more of whatever it is that's interfering with the blood flow to most of my lower body when I start to exert and my muscles demand more oxygenated blood and my arteries/veins say "HA!" He explained he wasn't surprised since I'm the guy who smoked three packs of cigarettes for twenty three years; who has carotid stenosis every six months so he can keep an eye on how those blood vessels are holding up around my neck (not well, is the short answer).
And finally, we both recalled, I'm the man into whose heart he had to run a probe up from the femoral artery near my groin (adding a whole new meaning to Careful with that Axe, Eugene) less than a month before my left knee was replaced at the request of another of my other doctors who had feared I wasn't strong enough to survive that surgery. I showed him.
Neither of us chose to mention my least favorite part: how the flow of blood after the probe was withdrawn couldn't be staunched and wouldn't clot. I had two sets of nurses' hands as well as my doctor's applying incredible amounts of pressure dangerously close to the Mr. Whipple Zone. I looked him in the eye, he was three inches away from my face after all, and kvetched 'dinner first would've killed you?' He laughed like the crazy person I feared I had become at the worst joke of that day on the fourth floor of the hospital. He's my guy.
I'll see him Thursday and we'll talk about stents and other remediation. I'm lying. He'll talk about them and I'll listen the way dog hears, mumblemumblemumble MY NAME mumblemumble and hope like hell my wife, who is going with me, is concentrating on him and doesn't see how absolutely terrified I am of dying but also how afraid of living I've become.