Updated: 6 days ago
I’m a child of the 1940’s, so you can guess my approximate age and condition. But in so doing, you might be mistaken. I’m still tall and sinewy, cowboy strong, and the embers in my Eros-brand furnace are still burning, if somewhat less vigorously but just as urgently as before. I’ve travelled, been shot at and jailed, and humiliated by women. Well, a man is never too young or too old for that. And that’s what this article is all about.
The Coronavirus taught me that I was old. And here’s how it happened.
Some months ago, I felt a dull pain in my jaw and dialed up the dentist. Sure enough, there was a tooth needing attention; even worse, it cried out for a root canal. About a thousand dollars later, the pain was vanquished and my restored choppers gleamed so brightly that I needed sunglasses while admiring them in the rearview mirror. Then the Coronavirus struck. It was March 2020.
As if to celebrate the subsequent lockdown, the pain in my jaw came back, this time with a vengeance. The entire right side of my face was in agony: earache, eye pain, tingly skin, neck so sore and stiff I could barely turn my head from side to side. Back to the dentist for a full set of dental x-rays and his assurance that, for my age at least, I had a magnificent collection of toofies.
The pain worsened. Not wanting to risk unnecessary exposure given the soaring CV-19 infection and death rates here in our sector of the Mediterranean (>900 deaths/day), a hospital or even a doctor’s office was the last place I wanted to visit. But one Friday evening after a couple of sleepless nights made survivable only by dosing myself with strong painkillers, I broke down and grabbed a taxi for the local Emergency Room.
Now where I live, we enjoy universal free healthcare and prescription drugs are dirt cheap. I’m okay with that. But I wasn’t OK with the reception I got from the attending ER physician, a well-structured young woman who couldn’t have been over 25, tall and dark haired with large Kohl-lined black eyes and a collection of fashion bangles and chains on her wrists and ankles. Even behind the surgical mask, flowing pastel gown and blue vinyl gloves, she was alluring as hell. Well, like I said, the old furnace is still cranking out a bit of heat.
I explained how the condition had been dogging me for over 4 months and was met with a cactus-withering glare.
“Then why are you here?” she demanded.
“Because I’m in pain.”
“You had this pain for 4 months and you come to an Emergency Room? You should be seeing your doctor.”
“I don’t have a doctor,” I tried to explain. “I never get sick. And I didn’t think I could get through another night like the last. That’s why I’m here. But hey, maybe you could recommend a doctor and I’ll go there instead.”
“There are plenty in the phone book.”
“So, you’re not going to help me?” I rose to leave.
As if my visit were the most disgusting thing that had transpired during her entire, albeit short, medical career, she pulled out a gummed pad and scribbled out a prescription for painkillers, the same product that I’d been taking at home. Then she started tapping at the keyboard and a small desktop printer disgorged a letter-size sheet.
“Here. You have an appointment with internal medicine on Monday. You’re suffering from neuralgia is all.”
“Thank you very much,” I replied. “And have a nice evening.”
The doctor didn’t examine me in any way. She didn’t ever leave her comfy swivel chair behind the desk. I could have had a severe ear infection and been on the verge of losing my hearing. My glands could have been swollen to the size of baseballs. My eye pain could have signalled an aneurism. She saw an ‘old man’ and old people are going to have aches and pains, that’s all. So, don’t bother yourself. She was a glamorous young physician with her entire life ahead, working on the frontlines of a global pandemic and this old fart was complaining of a head pain? You gotta be kidding.
Now if I’d been some crush-worthy young hunk (which at one time I was), this so-called doctor would have been all over me. Stripped naked, feeling for muscle tone, tapping my crossed knees with her kinky little hammer, probing every nook and cranny and orifice, middle finger up my caboose to check the prostate; you know the drill. Then maybe she’d have scribbled her mobile phone number on a yellow Post-It along with a prescription for medical marijuana.
But hey, I’m digressing.
On Monday, I reached the internal medicine clinic at 8:30 sharp. Another woman doctor. This time she was around ten years older and, I’m relieved to report, equally attractive but a lot more sympathetic. She glanced at the referral sheet I’d received from the ER doctor and put her rubber stamp on the diagnosis: neuralgia. I needed 2 things, she explained, 3 actually: an x-ray of my jaw, am MRI of my skull, and some very expensive B-vitamin capsules not covered by the medical plan.
The internist, however, never left her station behind the desk. She didn’t examine me in any way but merely assumed that anyone of my age either had to be suffering neuralgia or wasn’t worth examining anyway – too close to the Pearly Gates to merit the effort, I suppose. Remember now, >900 mostly senior citizens are expiring of Coronavirus each and every day. So, does one more ailing senior even count? They’re all going to die of something, CV-19 or no CV-19.
I’d better explain that, under the national Coronavirus Management Program, respirators are strictly reserved for patients under age 50. There just aren’t enough to go around, so the government is quite transparent about who they’re going to save (young people) and who they're going to sacrifice. That makes both my partner and me ineligible for any treatment more potent that we might purchase over the counter. If you come down with CV-19 and you’re over 50, you're advised to stay at home and expire quietly. Otherwise, you might get a bed in the hall of an overburdened hospital, but next stop is not the ICU. It’s the refrigerated truck waiting patiently at the loading dock in the back lane with its motor idling. Worse, nobody is allowed at your side. You get to say goodbye to loved ones via Whatsapp. Then off to the mass grave. I’m not exaggerating here. It’s that grim.
Well, to say the least, the whole experience was educational, if also a bit disconcerting. Within a few days more, the pain had diminished somewhat for no explainable reason. I turfed out the painkillers because they made me constipated and hemorrhoids are the last thing one needs in the midst of a raging pandemic. Then, one sleepless night while staring at the ceiling, I noted that the pain became focused in the very tooth the dentist insisted was 150% A-Okay. Using my intuition and skills as a retired mechanical engineer, I deduced that unrelieved pressure on a healthy tooth might stress a nerve and once that happens, the pain could shoot like chain-lightning throughout the region. The fact that only one side of my face was affected was another clue. So, next morning back to the dental clinic.
The dentist took a few impressions then ground down the crown of the previously restored tooth. Voilá! By next day, I was entirely pain-free.
I did go for the jaw x-ray and MRI of my skull. The technician handed me a CD of images and later a written analysis which, in my layman’s humble understanding, both confirmed that there was absolutely nothing amiss. The problem had been tooth-related all along.
Now if these pretty young doctors had bothered to examine me in any way, or taken into account the dental history that I volunteered but they ignored, then I wouldn’t have needed the x-rays and scans or even the high priced vitamins. I would have submitted to the digital rectal exam, however, with a certain degree of enthusiasm. Nonetheless, it was all worth it.
Why? Because in the time of Coronavirus I learned a valuable lesson.
Old people don’t count.