Friday, September 08, 2006

Irony Served Cold

For those that emailed their concerns for my ailing health in recent days, I appreciate the well wishing. I’m not completely better yet, just well medicated and floating around in the foggy mist that only OTC drugs could provide. Last night, Kara ran out and bought me a variety of pills that I happily devoured, earnest in eradicated the intense pain my head was suffering. After about an hour, thanks to the good people at Excedrin—especially those working in the Migraine Department—I was feeling, instead of a massive vice squeezing each brain cell individually and thoroughly, a low drumming burn that seemed to swirl around my temples whenever I moved my head… or thought about moving my head.

It was a wonderful respite from the usual agony I’ve been experiencing.

This morning, the headache was back, full force, and thanks to the loads of caffeine embedded in each and every green and white capsule, I was up until 2am, counting the tiles on the ceiling (then I realized that we don’t have tiles on our ceiling). After that, 2am instantly turned into 7am with neither dreams nor brief periods of wakefulness to remind me that I still have time left to sleep. I hate “instant sleep,” and when you experience it, I truly understand Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Time means nothing to reality, and the five hours I slept last night lasted only a fraction of a second, while those same five hours from the point of view of a night watchman at the cookie factory dragged on forever.

Despite the dire warnings on the bottle that the contents therein should be used sparingly, specifically only once every 24 hours, I took two more pills this morning along with some nasal decongestant in case it was sinus related. As it turns out, it isn’t. Another interesting thing to note on the box of Excedrin is a list of things that you should see a doctor for, and one of those items I found particularly funny. It said: Consult a doctor if this is the worst headache of your life. The funny part was that reading the half-point font on the box and struggling with the child safety features made my headache the worst headache of my life.

But let’s make one thing clear: I don’t take medicine. It isn’t because I’m a member of some quacky religious sect, it’s just that I’ve never believed in hiding from the healing process behind a chemical only to come out on the other side with a slighted sense of victory over what you suffered from. I never have. If I was sick, I’d suck it up, sniff it up, cough it out, sneeze it out or blow it out. I felt that it made me stronger, and as a result, I am rarely ever sick. And if I am, it doesn’t last as long for me than it does for whoever gave it to me.

And by no measure of any standards do I go see a doctor for any reason short of something broken or bleeding uncontrollably. Thanks to substandard health insurance during my childhood, that is just the way I was raised. In fact, soon after Kara and I were married, she caught a common cold and to my astonishment, she actually went to see a doctor. Gasp! It lead to an argument about what a doctor was actually for; she proclaimed that they were there to improve your health no matter what and I testified that doctors were for only setting broken bones and stitching up gaping holes. I was set straight by my mother who explained, much to my amazement, that my folks, besides regular checkups, of course, never took my brother and I to the doctor for common ailments because their health insurance wasn’t as comprehensive as Kara’s is. I never knew that regular people actually visited a physician for the common cold. Who knew?

Seriously, I honestly didn’t know any better. Yeah, all those years.

Well, still, I don’t visit the doctor for petty illnesses; I’m just not built like that, as I don’t like to sit on the examination table covered with crinkly butcher paper only to have the doctor come in, barely glance in my direction much less give me a thorough going over, then reassuringly pat me on the head and send me off with my tail between my legs and a sucker in my mouth.

And they have always told me things I already knew:

“It looks like you’ve got a little cold there, Ryan.” Yes, that’s what I just told you.

“You have an ear infection… Can you hear me? I said, YOU HAVE AN EAR INFECTION.”

And my personal favorite: “You have a virus, and you just have to let it run its course. Ten dollars please.”

Today ended up being a day of desperation and exception, and at 4:30 this afternoon, I found myself sitting on the crinkly butcher paper with my legs dangling over the side of the examination table (which I refused to sit on until the doctor instructed me to) like a five-year-old with the sniffles. The doctor, who was actually a real and genuine nice guy, strolled in, asked me what was the matter, to which I used the Excedrin example that “this is the worst headache of my life.” Then we started to tick off the possibilities like I had been doing all week. He first asked me if I was in any trouble, and I thought that to be an odd question to lead off with because I never saw myself as someone who appeared as though he were in some degree of trouble. I don’t even have any tattoos.

“Not that I know of,” I replied. “but I’ve got a couple of things out there that I haven’t been caught at yet.” Yeah, I know, always the funny guy.

“Are you undergoing any stress at work or somewhere in your life?”

Stress? I actually laughed. I couldn’t help it. It just blurted out. Stress? Me? I told him I worked at home as a freelance writer and that the biggest stress in my life right now is worrying about what color sweats to wear with what color shirt and whether I should brush my teeth with the electric toothbrush or the manual. Stress! Me? Ha!

At this point, he produced that fancy flashlight and looked down my throat, in my ears and he shined the light in each of my eyes (which really smarted). Satisfied that he was able to pierce my pupil with his light and see the back of my brain, he consulted the computer to input his results.

The dead air in the room made me chatty, so I offered my thoughts on the situation. I told him what I had been mulling through over the past few days, the salt, the caffeine, the sleep, the computer, the dehydration, my diet. I told him that I haven’t been eating very well and that most of my meals have consisted of ham sandwiches and that I ate a pound of ham in three days’ worth of meals. He stopped what he was doing and flashed me that “ah ha” doctors must love to experience.

“Was this ham processed?” he asked.

“Is there any other kind?”

“Nitrates,” he exclaimed. “Processed meats like deli-style sandwiches, hot dogs, and dried meats contain a high concentration of nitrates.” He suggested that I eat more vegetables, and my insides tightened up at the very suggestion.

I asked what nitrates were, and he didn’t have a good enough answer for me so I came home and turned to the World Brain. That’s right, the Internet is the keeper of all. It seems as though nitrate itself is not too dangerous but when the nitrate is converted into nitrite, then you should take heed. Meat products account for less than 10 percent of nitrate in the diet, but 60 to 90 percent of the nitrite consumed. This is basically because sodium nitrite is added to foods such as hot dogs, bacon, or ham. Cured meats such as cold cuts and hot dogs, use nitrates to preserve color and maintain microbial safety. Nitrate by itself is harmless, but it can convert to nitrite, which can form nitrosamines, a powerful cancer-causing chemical, in your body. That is most of my entire diet, as those three foods would constitute a perfect three meals for me! However, fruits, grains, and dairy products contribute almost no nitrate or nitrite to people’s diets. Great.

It seems that too much nitrites/nitrates in your bloodstream can lead to a disease known as methaemoglobinaemia (don’t try to pronounce it), more commonly referred to as “blue baby” disease because it is mostly known to affect the blood’s ability to carry oxygen. For babies, it is very serious and is usually contributed to drinking tap water that contains a variety of chemicals, one of which is nitrate. It leads directly to death…do not pass Go.

The usual symptoms of methaemoglobinaemia are those related to impaired oxygen delivery—headache, weakness, increased heart rate and breathlessness, of which I experience the first two symptoms without question—and develop gradually as concentrations of methaemoglobin rise above 20 percent. Kara did notice that my eyes looked unusual today.

So, what can a guy do to keep himself away from these obviously harmful chemicals? Whenever possible look for nitrate-free preserved meats. When you do eat foods containing nitrates, have a glass of orange juice at the same time (for instance, orange juice with your morning bacon—so that’s why orange juice is part of a well balanced breakfast). Vitamin C is known to inhibit the conversion to nitrite in your stomach.

So, there you have it. The good doctor was more interested in my career as a journalist than he was about my health, and after he offered me some “stronger medicine” I contemplated really giving Einstein’s Theory of Relativity a proper test by getting loaded on prescription pain killer to see what it would feel like to completely skip from Friday to Monday in a matter of a fraction of a second. But I responded in the same way I always have when drugs have been offered to me: I politely say no thank you and leave.

I didn’t even get a sucker.

So, the depressing part in all of this is not the debilitating headache or the loss of productivity this week, but it is that my safety foods, all of the foods that I have grown to love since they offer me such comfort and happiness, my beloved ham sandwiches and my irresistible hot dogs—which I buy the cheapest brand possible, of course, made with real dog no doubt—are actually bad for me. Who knew?

I guess I’ll have to step outside my victual comfort zone and embrace a new food as part of a new diet to improve my overall health and longevity. I wonder if there are any nitrates in pork rinds.

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