Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Silence is golden, which means I am the world's richest man. (Thinking The Lions)


I am, as I type this, almost completely unable to speak.

Which is terrible for a guy who once talked for six consecutive hours nearly nonstop.

I really did that: I had to record four seminars, each 1 1/2 hours long. We did them back-to-back-to-back-to-back, and I was the only speaker, and so for six hours, I spoke to a camera about various foreclosure-related legal topics. The only break was lunch, a 30 minute reprieve during which I told stories about some of my more interesting cases.

But now, I can't talk.






About two weeks ago -- more or less around the time I got out of the hospital -- I began to notice that I was getting a little hoarse as the day went on. Mornings would be okay, but as the day progressed my voice would get a little... sparser.

By this past Monday, two days ago, talking was starting to be difficult, which posed a problem not just because man, do I love to talk, but that is, after all, my job.

On Monday, the 5th of March, I had a 1-hour firm meeting with all attorneys. Then a 1-hour court hearing on a case of mine. Then two hearings that afternoon, and a new client who wanted to hire me.

Tuesday was worse: four hearings, beginning at 8:45 and continuing until about 2:45 with only about a 30-minute break in between.

By the end of the last hearing, it was a race between my need to say words and my larynx's need to curl up in a fetal position and never face the world again.

Here's how that actually went:

Me: [at the close of about a 10-minute argument on my client's side]: And so you're balancing the fairness here. If my client is right, she will keep her house and pay the bank everything it is owed. If she's wrong, then the bank is delayed maybe two months in getting her house. This court may have the power to take away a home under those circumstances, but it should not do so.
The words "... it should not do so" were sort of croaked out in a whisper into the microphone.

The Judge had, during my speech, been looking (at least to me) more and more incredulous that I was continuing. (Before suggesting that his incredulity might have been more about the substance of my argument than the delivery, let me point out that we won.)

Anyway, the opposing lawyer then made a few statements in opposition to my claims, a few of which I felt were somewhat misleading. So when he finished, I leaned into the microphone and whispered hoarsely:

Me: I feel as though I should reply.
to which the Judge responded:

Judge: No, I think I've got this.
Anyway, immediately after that, I went home, and then went to the doctor's office, because when I got home, Sweetie pointed out that the school had sent home a note saying that strep throat was going around the school, and so I probably had strep throat.

So off to the doctor I went -- the same doctor that last time immediately strapped me down and sent me off to the hospital. Sweetie made me promise that no matter what I would not let them do that again.

I attempted to reassure her through a series of unintelligible gaspy whispers and gestures that I would for sure come back home tonight -- but I'm pretty sure all that came through was "arrchasr0ople" along with this gestured message: I am driving a semitruck through a forest of porpoises.

At the doctor's office, I waited in line behind a guy who didn't (like me) appear to have anything immediately wrong with him, which made me suspicious because when you go into Urgent Care (the only way to see a doctor without an appointment made three months in advance. I had to go to Urgent Care because I didn't know back in October that I'd have strep throat or whatever in March, so I hadn't planned ahead and made an appointment.)

I was close enough to hear the exchange with the guy ahead of me:

Receptionist: Reason for visit?

Guy: I cut my nose.

Me: [thinking] Whaaa?

Receptionist: Was it work-related?

Me: [thinking] What kind of job places you at risk for cutting your nose?

Guy: I don't think so.

Me: [thinking] What kind of job do you have where you're not sure if the cut on your nose was suffered at work?
Nose Guy then went in, and he did indeed have a cut across the bridge of his nose, but it was the sort of photogenic movie-style cut, like the kind of cut heroes always get on their cheek when they sword fight -- a flesh wound that looks dashing. His matters didn't seem urgent. Didn't he have Band-Aids? Or, barring that, didn't he have what we use for Band-Aids around our house (paper towels and Scotch tape)?

The receptionist then asked me what I was there for, and I managed to croak out "I think I have strep throat," which was my first mistake: never admit to the doctor that you think you might know why you're there. Doctors hate that. They are the doctors who went to school for 137.2 years and wear white coats and have those things hanging on the wall and know how to read blood pressure cuffs. You are the person who cut your nose and you can't remember how. They don't want to hear from you what's wrong.

I never act to the doctor like I have any clue what's wrong with me, which is good because [SPOILER ALERT!] it places me on even footing with the doctor, in that neither does he know what's wrong with me.





But I screwed up and told the receptionist I was there for strep throat, which means that she checked a little box on the computer marked "Patient has anything but strep throat." Telling a doctor what you think you have immediately rules out, in their mind, the possibility that you have that condition. Doctors aren't stupid, no matter how unable they are to figure out what it is I've got at any given moment. They know that we, and by we I mean you, google our symptoms and then match them up to the most fearsome disease we can find on the Internet, because if we're going to feel a little under the weather, we don't want to say "I've got a cold," we want to say "I've got Jumping Frenchman of Maine Disorder," which is a real disease I just now looked up and which apparently exists:

An individual with this disorder has a genetic mutation that prevents “exciting” signals in the nervous system from being regulated, which causes a number of bizarre irregularities in their startle response. Most notably, an event which might startle a normal person will result in an extended, grossly exaggerated response from a “jumper,” including crying out, flailing limbs, twitching, and sometimes convulsions. Because a jumper is almost immediately susceptible to another jump soon after an episode ends, there have been reports that sufferers are sometimes teased mercilessly by people who find the reaction amusing, and trigger it repeatedly.

Now that I think of it, I may have that.

The reason we want to have something important and weird is, probably egotism. Other people might be slowed by a cold, or the flu, but not ME. Why, if I only had a cold, I'd be fine and probably twice as productive as ever. But these sniffles and coughing aren't your regular ol' sniffles and coughing, they're the onset of Throat Ebola, which is a condition I made up but which probably exists anyway.



I know that I am susceptible to that: when I was in the ER two years ago for my heart attack, they initially diagnosed my heart attack as heartburn, which I would have found embarrassing had it been the real diagnosis. I wouldn't have wanted to come back into work Monday and tell all my coworkers "Yeah, I was in the ER all day Friday, but it turns out I just can't handle chili dogs the way I could when I was young." Had they not finally decided I was, actually, having a heart attack, I'd probably have made something up to explain the diagnosis:

"I had to go to the ER with chest pains and difficulty breathing. It wasn't a heart attack. Not quite. Turns out there's something doctors call a heart surrender. Seems exactly like a heart attack, but in reverse. Really very rare. No more questions."
Doctors are so reluctant to admit that you might have an idea why you're there, in fact, that it's probably best if you don't admit that you're at the doctor's office, period. I suggest that to avoid trouble, in the future, you follow this hypothetical patient example:

Patient: [resting weakly, waiting for doctor, holding his severed left leg on his lap as he sits atop the butcher paper on the examining table.] I sure do hope the doctor comes in soon, because it has been quite painful since I severed my leg with that chainsaw.

[Doctor enters room]

Doctor: Hello.

Patient: Hello. I have no idea what's wrong with me.

Doctor: Well, let's take a look at you. Let me listen to your heart. [Does so. They always check your heartbeat, to make sure you are not a vampire.] Does your visit have anything to do with that severed leg you're holding?

Patient: I have no idea what you're talking about.

Doctor: Fine, fine. Your heartbeat is normal, although it appears there is no blood in your system anymore. Let me look at your ears. [Doctors always look in your ears, too. They do that just to keep you guessing. They can't see into your ears -- there's an eardrum blocking the way. It's like looking into your cheek. But they have that little light-scope and they're going to use it.]

Doctor: Ears are clear, so you're probably not having a stroke. Have you had any strange injuries lately?

Patient: Who are you? What is this place? I thought I was having my taxes done.


Following that exchange, the doctor would diagnose the patient as having "Strep Leg," sew the leg back on, explain why he can't give any antibiotics because doctors aren't giving those out anymore since they want to hoard them for themselves to avoid the supervirus that is coming in 2013, and then tell the patient he needs to lose some weight.

Had the patient told the doctor he accidentally cut off his own leg with a chainsaw, though, the doctor, who has to prove that his medical schooling was worth something, would have had to immediately diagnose the patient with kidney failure and send the leg off to the Mayo Clinic for testing.

I had to wait an hour to see the doctor, probably because they assumed unfairly that inability to speak + sore throat that keeps me from eating leftover pizza isn't really an urgent thing, but nobody else in the room seemed to have anything urgent going on, not even the Mormon with a sprained ankle that sat next to me calling people on his cell phone to cancel appointments for that evening.

I know he was a Mormon because he wore a nametag saying he was "Elder Johnson," and it had "The Church Of Latter-Day Saints" on the nametag, and also because he looked a little like Mitt Romney. He was the first Mormon I've ever met in person, and I'd have struck up a conversation with him except that I didn't know what to talk to him about, and also because I was trying to figure out what he'd done to sprain his ankle, since I'm pretty sure Mormons aren't allowed to do anything fun. And also, I was watching Jeopardy! and not doing terribly well at it, which was frustrating to me. And also, remember, I couldn't talk, so I had to sit there deliberately not talking to the Mormon, which made me worry that he was thinking I wasn't talking to him because he was a Mormon, when really that had nothing to do with it.

I finally did go into the room to see the doctor, after an interminable amount of time in which my cell phone battery died and so I was left with nothing to do but watch the TV or read Michigan magazine, which honest to God was one of the three types of magazines they had there, the other two being Highlights for Children and something about women, and the nurse took information from me, which is when I had to lie to the nurse, because she said:

Have you had any chest pains or shortness of breath with this?
Well, I know where that leads -- to EKG-ville, and I'd promised Sweetie that I would definitely come home that night (or I'd promised her something about porpoises. Either way) and also I was 100% definitely sure despite my lack of a medical background that my sore throat and inability to speak was completely unrelated to my heart. so I said:

"No."

And the nurse called me on it! She said "It says here that you were admitted for chest pains a few weeks ago," and so I had to explain, again in a language of croaks and whispers and grunts and gestures, that while it was true that I had chest pains and shortness of breath and indeed still do, they had tested me with everything they could give me and released me from the hospital and so I still had those things but they weren't "with" the sore throat, they were just separate things. I tried to get across the idea that my chest pains, in relation to my sore throat, were like 8th-grade boys and 8th grade girls at a dance -- technically, they existed together in the same physical location, but they were not in any way interacting and never would.

"Let me take your blood pressure," the nurse said, as I slumped in resignation and prepared myself for the inevitable EKG, before I decided to fight back by throwing down the gauntlet:

"I'm pretty sure I have strep throat," I told her, in as firm a whisper as I could.

She looked directly at me and said "Did somebody tell you you have strep throat?"

It was pretty painful to talk, so I said this, verbatim:

"Note. School. 5-year-old twin boys."

Then I gestured in a random direction, sort of spinning my hand in a counterclockwise circle, before coming back to touch my throat. In case you're not familiar with sign language, that gesture means "I have twin 5-year-olds that go to separate schools and one of those schools sent a note that strep throat is going around, and my wife told me that."

She typed something into the computer -- probably "Has Jumping Frenchman of Maine Disease with associated heart attack" -- and said "I'll do a strep test," but her heart wasn't in it, I could tell, as she took those little CSI swabs down from a shelf to stick into my throat. She had me say Ahhhhh and then had me say Ahhhh again, and I'm about 90% sure that each time she stuck that giant Q-tip in, it didn't touch anything, and she said "The doctor will be in soon," and left with the Q-tips, which she probably immediately threw away.

A minute or two later, the doctor came in and after we exchanged greetings:

Doctor: Hello.

Me: [hoarse whisper]: 'lo, [makes random gesture with hands before remembering that a simple wave can also communicate hello].

Doctor: So, what brings you here today?

Me: I... sore... thr...[points to throat].

Doctor: Any other symptoms?

Me: [confused, thinking isn't that enough of a lead to go on?] *shrug, shake head.*

Doctor: Let me listen to your heart.

Me: [allows heart to beat]

Doctor: Take a few deep breaths.

Me: [takes a few deep breaths, reflects on how breathing seems so easy to do until someone tells you to do it, at which point it's actually kind of hard to do, then realizes that I have forgotten to breath while I thought about that. Hastily take some breaths.]

Doctor: Usually we don't associate hoarseness with strep throat. Does this hurt? [jabs finger into where I assume my tonsil is, ferociously. It hurts like hell.]

Me: [Nods]

Doctor: Yes, that's your lymph node.

Me: [thinking: ????!?]

Doctor: [jabs fingers into my Adam's Apple.] Does that hurt?

Me: [flinches away from the third jab, nods.]

Doctor: So you think you've got strep throat.

Me: [thinking: is that why you're literally attacking me? Nods]. Yes. School... note.

Doctor: Strep throat doesn't cause hoarseness. Let's just check your test results.

[sits down at computer, clicks on a screen, then another, then another. Closes the computer window, which I can clearly see him doing, reopens it, clicks it, says:] The test results aren't back yet. They told me that they were back, and it was positive for strep, but as you can see here [indicates computer, which I cannot read] they're not back yet.

[I should note that the computer could have said anything. It may have been his Facebook page. I could see the screen, but not make out anything other than a few windows being open.]

Me: [Sits mutely]

Doctor: I'm thinking this is more of a virus.

Me: [mentally adds for doctor: despite the fact that I have performed zero tests on you and have not, as yet, actually looked at your throat, even.]

Doctor: Let's take a look at that throat.

Me: [wonders if I have telepathy.]

Doctor: Open up.

[I do. He takes a cursory look inside, and pokes a finger into my "lymph node" for no apparent reason.]

Doctor: Looks good.

Me: [thinking: There is literally no way I could disprove that statement, as (A) I cannot see my own throat and (B) I have no idea what a healthy vs. unhealthy throat looks like and (C) have no idea what my throat looked like before this episode. Mentally, I curse myself for ending up in this position and vow that from here on out, I will on a daily basis have a full-body series of photographs and X-Rays taken for comparison purposes and also because exposure to that kind of radiation might give me superpowers, which would be a nice addition to my telepathy.]

Doctor: [sits down again at computer, clicks to close window]: Your test results are back. It's not strep.

Me: [thinking: I should demand to see that test.]

Doctor: So I'm going to prescribe... [hesitates, stares off into space]: Some antibiotics, and also some cough medicine with codeine.

Me: [thinking: I don't have a cough. I haven't mentioned a cough at all. Also, aren't antibiotics supposed to be useless against viruses? And is viruses the plural? Shouldn't that be viri?]

Doctor: That ought to do it. And you should not talk for at least 24 hours, if not longer.

Me: [immediately breaking that rule]: What... I have?

Doctor: I don't know. Maybe a virus.


He then shook my hand and printed up the prescription and left. And I went and got my prescriptions filled, whispering hoarsely to the pharmacist, and went home, where I had to explain to Sweetie what had happened, and then try to deal with Mr F and Mr Bunches, as well.

I had worried that they would find it odd that Dad could only whisper, at best, and that he wasn't talking, but they appeared to take it in stride, and in fact, I was able to actually communicate with them a little in sign language, owing to the fact that they both understand a bit of that from watching Baby Einstein videos, so don't tell me I'm a bad parent for letting my kids watch upwards of 17 hours a day of television: did your kids teach themselves sign language so that you could, in case of a weird, voice-stealing disease that's probably an offshoot of Jumping Frenchman Of Maine Disease, still tell them to take a bath? I didn't think so.

I, as it turns out, know the signs for bath and sleep and blanket and kiss and Mommy and Daddy, so I was able to tell Mr Bunches it was time for bath and sleep, and that was handy even though he simply responded with a shouted "No," and, not knowing the signs for "I said so," I simply picked him up and carried him up to the bathroom, where he refused to take his shirt off no matter how many times I pantomimed him doing so, and so I then picked him up and put him in the tub, shirt and pants and all, and he gave up. Sometimes the best parenting is done by improvisation.

Mr F, I should note, responded to my signing bath to him by saying "Tickle," so I had to tickle him, after which he went and hid behind my dresser to avoid his bath, and I had to carry him in there, too.

Which brings me to today: I am sitting in my office, having spent the morning not talking to Sweetie or the boys -- it's probably one of the better days of Sweetie's life -- and I have been doubly cursed by the Gods, because not only am I unable to talk -- even whispering at this point is almost useless and also quite painful -- but my cellphone has completely died.

Not "died" as in "ran out of power," but "died" as in "will not be charged up and is essentially a piece of metal."

So I have lost the ability not just to talk but also to text and Tweet and take pictures; by now, I've become so reliant on my cell phone that it's like an extra sense, and while, yeah, I can sit at my desk and type things like this, it's still not the same as knowing that I could, if necessary, stand in the breakroom at work and post a funny comment to Twitter. Saying "You can use your office laptop" to me is like telling an amputee "But you can still hop" and yes, I got how offensive that comment was the moment I made it but I'm sticking by my metaphor: I am more or less exactly like the character from Johnny Got His Gun, if you leave aside the rather obvious fact that I'm in no way like him.

What's interesting is how people relate to this. As I came into my office, I ran into a coworker.

"Hi," she said.

I waved.

"Still not able to talk much?" she asked.

I nodded.

"What's the matter?" she asked.

I stood there for a second, wondering what she expected of me, before engaging in yet another a series of gestures -- I didn't think saying "Daddy sleep bath eat" would be responsive enough, so my sign language skills were inadequate, here -- intended to convey the entire foregoing story to her, and I more or less looked exactly like C-3PO when he explained the Rebellion to the Ewoks, minus the sound effects.

To avoid further problems like that, I have hung a sign on my door which reads as follows:

I have laryngitis and am supposed to talk as little as possible over the next few days.

So you can email me, or I will try to answer any questions you have using my own system of sign language that I made up this morning on the drive into work.

Probably email is better.

That has resulted in almost everyone who sees it coming in and saying "So you have laryngitis, huh?" and I nod, and they say "What's wrong?" and I sit there for a moment and then point to the sign again and they say "Oh, yeah."

A few people have continued on to actually ask me substantive questions, which is problematic because my handwriting is terrible unless I really concentrate, in which case it's slow, so we end up playing Twenty Questions (Legal Version)(TM), them asking me questions and me nodding or shaking my head and sometimes trying more gestures anyway, and you never really know how hard the game of charades can be until what you're supposed to be acting out is "You need to file a motion to dismiss that case for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted because the attached documents plead them back out of court."

(I'm pretty sure I ended up just telling that associate he should go take a bath, or perhaps that he should go rent Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House, starring Cary Grant.)

Luckily, I have no court hearings today, and so I may be able to make my way through this day, thereby demonstrating the level of commitment I have to my coworkers and to my clients. Actions speak louder than words, people say, although as someone on the front lines of that debate, I can tell you that while it might be true, most of the time what your actions appear to be saying are "I caught Jumping Frenchman's Disease from a porpoise."

7 comments:

Grumpy Bulldog, March Madman said...

If your throat's not better soon you'll have to go get whatever computer program it is Roger Ebert uses to talk since he lost his voice. That or carry around flashcards like an Ellen Jamesian in "The World According to Garp."

Really though I'd wonder if it was some reaction to the medications they gave you two weeks ago.

Rusty Webb said...

You should get one of those sound boards that radio stations use to prank call people. Just hit the button that says the closest approximation to what you want.

Also, I once went to the doctor for a sore knee and ended up having my prostate examined. I still don't know how that happened. Stupid doctors.

Briane P said...

Rusty: Are you SURE that was a doctor, and not a singles bar?

Grumpy: we actually have an app on the kids' iPad that helps them learn to talk. I told Sweetie I was going to use that to talk for the next few days, but she strongly implied that I need not go to all that trouble.

Briane P said...

I do like the idea of having sound effects instead of a voice, though.

Judge: "Mr. Pagel, how can you possibly justify this argument?"

Me: "Booooiiiinngggg! Zap! Krsplash!"

Rusty Webb said...

You know, I had been drinking. And now that I think of it, what doctor examines people in the rear stall of a men's room? Well, fool me once...

Andrew Leon said...

You know, I don't really mean to be a smartass, but I really can't help it.

You know how men have less words than women? And you know how you talk all the time? I think you just exhausted your entire lifetime's worth of words, and your throat has seized up because of it.

It is my understanding that doctors now hand out antibiotics because they make people feel better. Not because they make them well, but they make them feel better and make them feel like the doctor is doing his job. So, yeah, "you have a virus; take these antibiotics" is becoming pretty standard even when the doctor explains that the antibiotics will do no good against a virus. They should really switch to placeboes to get their placebo effect instead of helping the evolution of the superbug.

Hmm... I had one other comment, but I don't remember what it was, now, and I have to go tuck in my kids, so I need to stop talking.

I do hope you get better, though.

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

I hope that you feel better soon Briane. I know you take care of yourself but maybe you are working too hard and could use a vacation or something to let your exhausted body kind of catch up.