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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Shangri-La


At age 62 it’s not unusual to have a few aches and pains. The only people my age who don’t have any pain are dead. And I have good reason to have a few aches and pains. Life takes a toll and then you are dead. I think Warren Zevon said something like that.
There have been numerous surgeries to correct problems. Carpal tunnel and tendon releases, spinal surgery for severe arthritis, shoulder surgery to remove a bone spur and repair a rotator cuff tear. The latter the result of walking two dogs who both saw a squirrel, make that two squirrels, at the same time.
And then there are the minor things, some of which are the most painful. A little strain in my ankle, that seems to only hurt at night. And bursitis of the hip, following adoption of a puppy who required an unusual amount of chasing after. Either that or I’m just getting old and forgetful of what chasing after a puppy requires.
I know this starts to sound like a litany of complaints about physical ailments. But there is a moral to the story—or at least a metaphor.
The good news, or so I thought, was that along with liberal doses of cortisone by injection in specific, particularly painful areas, water exercises, lots of physical therapy, and regular doses of Celebrex, a non steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAI) that seems to dial down the pain, most of these conditions were manageable. Then I developed stomach problems.
After six months of discomfort and other unmentionable gastric symptoms, I had the medical equivalent of an insider’s tour by the gastroenterologist: an endoscopy and colonoscopy. I was due for the latter test anyway since my mother had been diagnosed with colon cancer at a young age.
I won’t bore you with the unpleasantness of the procedures or preps. But I will mention that the medical staff assured me of two things in advance. One, the gastro doctor in question would answer all of my medical questions before I was sedated. And two, a very light anesthesia is now used and I would be awake and alert moments after the procedure.
Not really on the first one. The gastro doc did speak to me before hand, but that was while I was in the operating room, me on my side, with tubes and so forth inserted, and he, with his back to me as his dictated and reviewed my medical chart on a computer. As the nurse was inserting a plastic retainer-type thing in my mouth, the good doctor asked: “So—you take prescription strength vitamin D?” I gurgle what I hoped sounded like a “yes.”
After the procedures I was awake and the gastro dr said to me and my husband only two words, “Everything’s fine.”
But then as we left the hospital the nurse gave me a card that said I had gastritis, with some other unreadable, hand-written words, and an instruction sheet that stated what I might to do to make the gastritis better.
At the top of the list was stop taking NSAI’s. The other things on the list were all things I don’t do: eat spicy foods, eat late at night, and drink large quantities of alcohol.
So my conclusion was that my beloved Celebrex, that had eased life’s many aches and pains, was to be a thing of the past. I had stopped taking that medication several days before the procedures since it has to be taken with food and I hadn’t been allowed to eat for the day of or the day before the tests.
Already nearly every body part: neck, shoulder, arm, hip, and feet hurt. As well as my stomach.
And as far the quick acting anesthesia, two days after the tests, as I studied the dishwasher and tried to remember how to stack various dishes therein, as if it was a new and exotic mental test,  I realized I was still experiencing slow-thinking, apparently the result of the anesthesia. So much for the anesthesia wearing off more quickly than the old, slow kind.
During and after the tests I had taken to watching “bad TV”. You know, the sort you don’t really want to admit you watch. Everyone has their favorite bad TV. I found myself drawn to the Bruce Willis “Die Hard” series of movies. But in my mind’s eye I kept thinking about a movie, “Lost Horizon”, which had fascinated me as a child.
A plane crashes in the remote area of the Himalayas. The crew and passengers are rescued by a group of hearty, beautiful, and young locals who take the survivors to their gorgeous village. Some of the survivors are hell-bent on getting back to civilization. As you can imagine, though, some of the survivors decide they like Shangri-La and even fall in love with one or another of the beautiful villagers. The problem occurs when some of the survivors do both, that is, try to return to civilization and also take some of the beautiful, young villagers with them.
SPOLIER ALERT: The surprise ending occurs when one of beautiful young villagers who actually is an old lady dies suddenly of old age after she leaves Shangri-La.
You may wonder why I’m doing a review of an old movie in the midst of a recitation of aches and pains. Well, Shangri-La is analogous to me on Celebrex. No, it didn’t make me beautiful or young looking. But it sure did make me feel a lot less like an achy, old lady.
When I stopped the medicine I felt like I had suddenly aged several decades and was ready to fall over, or at least get a walker and start acting like an old lady.
But unlike in “Lost Horizons” this story has a sort of happy ending. I recently say my dear, primary care doctor, who actually sits down and talk to me face to face about my health. She suggested that I try taking a generic acid reducer for the gastritis and then see if with that medicine I can resume Celebrex.

I know that all medicines have side effects and possible problems. And I don’t take any medicine without considering its risks and benefits. But for now, until I find Shangri-La, I may try following my primary care doctor’s advice. As for the gastroenterologist, I don’t plan to make the one month follow up appointment. If I need a doctor with that specialty in the future I intend to ask about his or her communication skills and whether the doctor will actually look at me when we talk.

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