“Everything Is Killing You” is an ongoing series on things I think you should be worried about.
A month ago, I got off the treadmill at the gym and felt a twinge in my left hip. I rolled my eyes, stretched, showered, took some Ibuprofen, and tried to put it out of my mind. I’m really, really good at injuring myself doing stupid things. I’ll never be that person who breaks her arm sky diving. I’m more likely to be the person who breaks her arm Dumpster diving. Or better yet, I’m the person who walks down the street and puts my foot down wrong for no reason at all and winds up with a sprained ankle that takes three months to heal.
It was January, and I was doing my semi-annual fitness purge, so I went to the gym a few more times in the next week or so. By the time ten days had elapsed, my hip was definitely bothering me for real. The little muscle that runs from the inside of your leg to the front of your thigh felt strained, but worse than that, the actual hip joint felt … stuck.
“My actual hip joint feels kind of stuck,” I told my chiropractor.
“That’s no good!” he said. “We’ll fix that.”
And he did. Crack, crack, all better. Before I left, considerably relieved, he said, “You know, I looked at your chart, and this happens to you every year in January.”
“No way, really?”
“Yup, last January, and the one before that.” Which made me realize that I’ve been with my chiropractor only slightly less time than I’ve been with my husband.
“Why do you think that is?” I asked him.
“I don’t know. I was wondering if you had any thoughts.” He looked at me significantly, in that way that I never care for, because it means, I am a nice person, and will not be the first person to mention that maybe this problem is psychosomatic.
“Must be all that travel,” I said evenly.
He nodded and let me go on my way. If my hip was still bothering me next month, he’d probably bug me about it then, but the better part of valor, for a chiropractor, is not pestering your clients about their weird mind-body issues.
While I was waiting for the elevator outside his office, I shifted my weight to my left leg, and felt my hip joint catch again.
“No, no, no,” I muttered, shaking my leg as if trying to dislodge a bunch of snakes that had crawled into my pant cuff. The elevator doors opened and everyone inside studiously avoided looking at me as they got out and I got in. I trying shifting my weight again, standing up straight, snapping the joint. Nothing helped.
I went home, and put my foot up, vaguely hoping that gravity would draw the inflammation away from my hip and give me an enormous Kardashian ass or something instead. I put ice on the joint, then heat. I tried Ibuprofen. Then I did what hypochondriacs always do: I tried Dr. Google.
“You might try going to a regular doctor,” my husband suggested, when he came home from class and found me Googling in-joint tumors and weird bone diseases.
“I really hate going to the doctor,” I said.
“Yeah, but it doesn’t seem like you’re having much luck on your own.”
“Actually, I’m having a tremendous lot of luck. For instance, I’ve discovered this horrible disease called ankylizing spondylosis that rots your whole skeleton and turns you into a perfect replica of the letter C. I’m pretty sure that’s the one I have.”
Adam looked over my shoulder, “I think that’s ankylosing spondylitis, actually. And I’m not sure it rots your skeleton.”
“It starts in the hip joint,” I said, pointing at my screen. “I’m almost positive that’s what I have. It’s even related to the weirdo autoimmune disorder I already have. Oh my God. I’m going to need a cane. Possibly a walker. Almost definitely a wheelchair. Will you still love me, when I have to be rolled around after you in a giant plastic bubble like a gerbil?”
“It can start in the sacroiliac joint, and it sometimes occurs in people who have Behcet’s disease, but it doesn’t necessarily,” he said, looking at his phone, which has a magic app on it that gives you real information about diseases. Because of meanness, they restrict this app to nursing and other medical students, keeping it away from people like me, who really need it. “Hey, I’ve got an idea: how about if you call your doctor, and ask him?”
I did. They gave me an appointment in two weeks, which is the perfect amount of time to really obsess about possibly receiving horrible news. In the meantime, I spoke with my shrink.
“If it’s not this ankolosing whatever, do you think it could be psychosomatic?” I asked her.
“It could be,” she said. “Although, as you know, if it is psychosomatic, that doesn’t mean it’s made up.”
“So how does that work? I get tense and then my muscles get tense and then I decide that I have a horrible injury and get even more tense?”
“Well, sort of. Depression and back issues are often interrelated.”
“I’m still really worried that it’s this … arthritis-y thingie.”
“When do you have your appointment?”
“Well, let me know how it goes.”
Appointment day finally came. As you might recall from my earlier whinings, I used to have a nurse practitioner whom I particularly loved. Unfortunately, she left the practice, but the doctor I see now appears to be just as nice, so far. He’s sympathetic, but also seems to have twigged to the fact that I’m often worried about things that are not necessarily related to real-life problems.
Sample comment from our previous visit: “OK, so, we’ll get you the A1c, for the diabetes, which you don’t have, and I’ll call in a week, with your results. Which will be fine.”
So you can imagine my concern when he listened to my litany of complaint about my hip, looked at my chart on his screen, and said, “I want you to see a rheumatologist.”
Up til that point, we’d been handling my autoimmune troubles through his office. It hadn’t been a problem, because my symptoms were pretty stable. Every six months, I’d need a blood test to make sure my liver wasn’t borked from my medications. Other than that, I was free to go on my merry way, ignoring the existence of the actual medical profession while relentlessly diagnosing myself with horrible diseases over the internet.
“OK,” I said. “Why?”
“I’m concerned that it might be related to the Behcet’s, or that it could be a related condition,” he said.
He nodded. “Possibly.”
“Well,” I said, trying to look on the bright side, “I was thinking I should get a rheumatologist anyway, because I’ll need to figure out what to do about my meds while I’m pregnant.”
“When are you thinking of trying to conceive?”
“We were thinking about a year and a half, when my husband’s done with school.”
“Yeah, I wouldn’t put that off too long,” he said, looking at my chart again on the computer. “You’re what, 36?”
“I know. I know that. But anyway, I thought it’d be good to talk to someone ahead of time, sort of make a plan. I mean, I’d hate to accidentally get pregnant and then be like, Whoops! Guess I need to figure out what to do.”
“If you accidentally get pregnant,” he said, gently. “I’ll be very, very, happy for you. But….”
To be honest, I couldn’t deal with that conversation, so I let it go. I didn’t want to get into whether he thought I’d was barren because I’m a thousand years old, or because of my medical history, or whether he had some kind of psychic powers that told him, just by looking at a woman, whether her womb was full of dust and tumbleweeds. I just took my enormous sheet of referrals — rheumatologist, sports medicine doctor, with the attendant complicated insurance information — and left the office. I still think he’s very nice, and all, but we’re sort of in a fight he doesn’t know about, anyway.
Tomorrow, I have my first appointment with the sports medicine person. I’m trying to be as chipper about the whole thing as possible, but I have to tell you, it sort of feels like I used The Secret in reverse. Remember a couple of years ago, when everyone and Oprah Winfrey was convinced that we could manifest our goals and dreams by thinking about them real hard? Well, as I ponder tomorrow’s appointment, I wonder if I did that, but the wrong way around.
Then I remember that The Secret is bullshit and feel a little better right away. Manifest my ass, universe. And while you’re at it, see if you can arrange for this problem to be a pulled muscle and mild mental illness, not a serious problem. Please, thanks, etc.