The Purpose of Pain

When it comes to physical pain, it’s purpose is hardly in question: It focuses us to where our immediate attention and action is required.

We accidentally rest our hand on a hot stove top burner and, without our sense of pain, our hand, if it weren’t for our sense of smell, would become cooked well enough to serve up at the next meal.

We could laugh at this, but sadly and horrifically there are some who do not experience the sense of physical pain due to a rare condition known as congenital analgesia.

Continue reading “The Purpose of Pain”

I Want To Know

I Want To Know
I Want To Know
There has been much news lately about how the Transportation Security Authority’s new screening procedures are upsetting the traveling public and, to be honest, all of the whining is getting on my nerves. On the one hand, we demand our government guarantee us a safe, bomb-free air travel experience, yet we don’t want to utilize the advanced technology to help secure this guarantee because of our own fears and insecurities.

What are we afraid of? That some TSA screener is going to get to see us bare and blemished? Come on. Haven’t we all undergone a doctor’s examination? Haven’t we already had to overcome our pretensions and shyness to strip bare in his or her office to receive a truly hands-on, prodding and poking screening in attempt to guarantee our health security? At the airport all we have to worry about is having a remote image of ourselves being seen by an anonymous government employee who has the unenviable task of actually having to look closely at and examine our scanned image in all its glory. Have you taken a good look at us lately? I certainly wouldn’t want that job. So lets get over it. Lets get scanned. Lets get screened. And lets do it with as little delay and complaint as possible so we all can get through the line and to our destination as quickly and stress-free as possible.

Or is it not our insecurities of public nudity so much as it is our fear of the doses of radiation that the body scanner supposedly emits that forces us out of the body scanning line and into the alternate, hands-on, I-love-you-short-time screening line? Come on. Electromagnetic radiations are emanating at us from everywhere and we know it. We are basically being slow cooked regardless of where we are. Heck, we even carry around portable brain cookers in our pockets and purses–they are called mobile phones. What are the odds that getting an occasional body scan at the airport is going to cause us harm? What do we think is going to happen, that we’re going to get…cancer?

Well, maybe we will.

Maybe we won’t.

Who knows, right? I sure don’t. I have no idea how that airport body scan, or the x-ray from our annual checkup, or our microwave oven, or our mobile phone, or our televisions and computer screens, or the power terminal that we used to play around when we were kids, or all of the other many environmental and life hazards like pollution, in all its forms, and stress, in all its forms, will impact our health.

I don’t know…but I wish I did. I wish I knew how all of the radiation and pollution and stress impacted my health over the years. Does any of it have to do with how or why I became inflicted with leukemia? I want to know.

My not knowing is not from not asking, that’s for sure. When I first was diagnosed with leukemia, I asked just about every oncologist who came within grabbing distance of my long reach what exactly caused my disease. Their pedantic responses, often laced with undertones of condescension and self-serving gravitas, sounded more like a jargon-laden abstract of an article published in an exclusive, onocologists’s-eyes-only medical journal than a clear and thoughtful response based soundly upon their careful study of all of my specific lab results compared against my very singular and personal condition and lifestyle. I soon tired of their tedious and inconclusive answers and stopped asking them.

Perhaps I am being too hard on my oncologists. I have come to learn this past year that one would be hard-pressed to get a definite answer to just about any question asked to them regarding cause or diagnosis to any infliction, whether its concerning my leukemia in general or any of the multitude of subsequent ailments I have experienced as a result of my treatment. It seems that every response is heavily guarded by caveats and suppositions. Maybe they have become so conditioned by fear of litigation.

So I began my own quest for conclusiveness. I cruised up and down the internet so many times in search for answers that I felt like a cross between Sam Spade and Clu. I searched through all of the search engines. I searched through WebMD. I searched through NIH. I searched through CDC. I searched through WHO. I even went retro and searched through my hard copy series of Encyclopedia Britannica and, in the end, the only real answer I came up with to how or why I became inflicted with leukemia is…it depends…which is essentially the short version of the long-winded blather my oncologists gave me.

It depends. Such a disheartening answer to such a profound question.

But there it is so I guess I have to let my oncologists, and the entire medical community for that matter, off the hook for not being able to provide me with a definite answer.

Based upon what I now know, the cause of leukemia may depend on so many different variables—one of which is NOT hereditary, surprisingly—that it really is impossible to pinpoint the exact cause of why someone becomes inflicted with it. But, there are environmental and lifestyles conditions that may increase one’s chances. With this knowledge, I have narrowed the cause for my infliction down to the following few possibilities:

  • Pollution. I have no idea how much pollution I have consumed in my life; but I do know of times when, because of the work I did in the navy early on in my career, I had to breath in large amounts of ash and dust for up to eight hours a time on many occasions. I would cough up and blow out black gook for days after each occasion.
  • Asbestos. I have no idea if or how much asbestos I have consumed in my life; maybe none at all; or, maybe enough of the tiny particle stuff drifted down from the insulated pipes in the old school and office buildings I used to labor in to impact my health. There was a time in the navy, however, when I may have been exposed to trace amounts of it when I was involved with a team conducting a thorough inventory of my ship’s supplies. The team, including me, was immediately sent to medical for an occupational health asbestos screening.
  • Radiation. There are many ways to be radiated and there are many types of radiation. Types of radiation can be broadly categorized as being either ionizing radiation (xray, gamma) which are known to cause cancer, and non-ionizing radiation (microwave, radio wave), which is disputed within the medical and scientific communities as to whether this type causes cancer or not. I have no idea how radiated I have become in my life; but, as a telecommunications specialist in the navy, I was constantly working around transmitters (I know, non-ionizing) and many other sorts of electronic equipment for most of my career.
  • Lyme Disease. I’ll be honest, I have found nothing that links Lyme disease with leukemia; but, I contracted it in 2005 and, before the leukemia, it was the most horrible thing medically that ever happened to me so I really, really would like to be able to blame it for my leukemia.

Unfortunately, neither I nor anyone else can say with any degree of certainty if one or all or none of these conditions caused my infliction. But here is to hoping and praying that someday a test will be developed that will. For once there is a way to determine the cause of leukemia, it seems to me that, in addition to providing a balm of understanding and a level of closure to the inflicted, it may also help facilitate the discovery of a means for preventing and eventually eliminating the disease all together. Until then we will just have to hope, pray, wonder, and wait.

But there is one thing I am certain of—if I am ever standing behind you in a security line at the airport and you start making a scene about not wanting to go through the body scanner for whatever reason and it has a negative impact on my travel experience, you will know that the sharp smack you receive to the back of your head and its resultant pain was definitely caused by me.

Finding Out – Part I

Finding Out – Part I

Of course once I was diagnosed with leukemia I immediately understood why I had become so tired so often beginning sometime around the end of July 2009. Physically, the year started out great. I had ankle surgery in 2007 for a dislocated tendon on my left ankle so I had not really worked out since then. But at the beginning of 2009 my ankle felt pretty good and I began running and working out. I kept it up until mid-August when I had to stop because I just did not have the energy to work out any more. I assumed it was because of Lyme disease. I was infected with that garbage way back in 2005 and had been suffering from its symptoms–lethargy and achy joints–ever since. As a result, I was not too concerned about my health at that time.

It was not until mid-November when my body made some physical alterations that forced me to take note. I was out mowing the grass, typically a three-hour project, when suddenly all of my energy drained from me. I was only about an hour into the job but I had to stop. Football was on so it was not too hard to convince myself to take a break. I made it to the TV room, put on the game and kicked my feet up. Because I was so exhausted, I fell asleep almost immediately but was soon awaken by severe cramping in my left calf and foot. My feet and ankles occasionally cramp up when I sleep so, again, I did not think much about it, even though the cramps continued through most of the afternoon.

When I woke up the next day I had what I thought was a big charlie horse in my left calf. Also, my left ankle was swollen and sore. I wrapped them and off to work I went. This went on for a week when I went to the doctor’s for a check up. I still thought I was suffering from a muscle cramp so that was how I articulated the symptoms to my doctor. He checked out my leg and told me to come back in a week if the condition persisted. The condition persisted and by a week later, my entire calf and ankle had swollen to what seemed was double its size. Back to the doctor I went. My doctor was not available so I was seen by my wife’s doctor. By this time I knew I was not suffering from a muscle cramp. I thought that perhaps I got bitten by a bug or some other poisonous critter and that is what I told my wife’s doctor. She took one look at my leg and without hesitation told me that I was suffering from blood clots.

Blood clots!? What the–! What is a healthy, forty-four year-old guy like me doing with blood clots? I do not eat too much junk. I do not smoke. I drink too much wine and coffee perhaps, but is seems that they should thin my blood, right? And what the heck did I do all that working out practically all year for if I still ended up with blood clots? I did not have too much time to reflect in the doctor’s office because she immediately sent me off to the emergency room. On my drive over, I did reflect. More accurately, I stressed out on the fact that I may soon be on blood thinning medicine, perhaps even the same medicine that my father is on. I was still battling with my current state of affairs when I limped my way in to the emergency room.