Tuesday, July 25, 2006

My Trial in Bleak House or An Amerikan Carol

Let me sum up my experience with the SSDI doctor, er, I mean “medical consultant” with a tagline, the way they do in the movie biz: Kafka meets Dickens. If this doesn’t sound like a movie you’d go to see, just imagine being in it.

I exaggerate.
It really wasn’t all that bad, if you don’t count the two times I almost started crying: once when the medical assistant told me to stand up straight so he could measure me, which of course I couldn’t do (I used to be 5’5, I am now only 5’2 because of the stooping forward-ness) and again when the medical consultant told me to walk without the use of the cane, which I also couldn’t do without bracing my hands against my thighs.

I arrived at 9:13 for a 9:30 appointment, even though I had been warned by SSDI not to arrive early. The time of my entrance, whether transgression or simply a bureaucratic requirement, was noted on the bottom of the paperwork I brought with me and which followed me from room to room throughout my exam. I was first taken in to see the psychiatrist. He looked like an aging hippie; he had long grey hair and was wearing a guayabera and sandals with socks.

I explained that I had Degenerative Disc Disease and he asked me if I had ever “used one of these,” proudly whipping out a pillow from behind his back. (See this ) I had to bite my tongue to not tell this guy just what he could do with his smelly old hippie pillow while his hand was back there. He then gave me a list of five things to remember for a few minutes later, which I am surprised and slightly afraid to admit, I could only remember four (was it boy? a car?).

I think he must have nevertheless concluded that I was in my right mind, as he allowed me to exit his tiny windowless room and “make myself comfortable” in the quite large and at this point completely empty waiting room down the hall. There were five rows of 8 blue plastic chairs each and one wall was unaccountably covered in large mirrors with a metal hand rail screwed on, like some kind of jokey ballet barre. The walls were painted a dismal sickly yellow, as were all the walls throughout the office and festooned with sheets of white paper on which had been boldly printed a number of instructions and admonishments in several languages: “Absolutely No Cellphone Use,” “Stop at the front desk on your way out” and in huge letters, “DO NOT MOVE CHAIRS.”

Just as I was reading the “do not move chairs” sign the medical assistant came in and began to move the chairs, straightening the rows with painstaking precision. In the front corner a TV sprouted from the wall just out of reach of any of the disabled folk who would find themselves waiting there. I suppose having some kind of disability is not enough, we have to be made every kind of miserable there is by being held captive for an interminable period in a room with TV but no cable (OK, shades of Sartre here, I couldn't resist). It was tuned to a local channel playing one of those courtroom shows, and not even one of the well-known ones, like Judge Judy, but some lesser-known-also-ran-wisecracking-no-nonsense judge with what seemed like, at least for the 10 or so minutes that I sat in the room, a docket exclusively made up of strippers and former strippers suing each other over various broken contracts and infractions. The program was interrupted by commercials for ambulance chasing law firms and, ironically, disability attorneys.

Just as I was beginning to get interested in a case involving a sexy dance class teacher (and ex-stripper) and a former student (and current stripper), my name was called quite loudly from just over my shoulder into the empty waiting room. I rose and was shown into a room just a few feet from where I was sitting by a bony, bird-like man with a stretched out pointy nose and thin extra-long fingers who I could have sworn said his name was Mr. Tingle. Of course, I was unable to ask him to repeat it for fear that I had heard correctly and his name was, in fact Tingle, and for fear of the irrepressible laughter that would have surely been produced had he repeated it.

Mr. Tingle, as we’ll continue to call him, for no one is looking or listening now, proceeded to ask me questions about my condition and take sloppy notes on a white pad (yes, they looked like chicken scratch! I was avoiding it, too obvious) which he then dictated into a small tape recorder that had been lying prominently in front of me, face down. I just assumed when I walked in and sat down that it was on and recording our conversation, and mentioned the same to Tingle when he first picked it up, to which he responded, “that wouldn’t be very ethical, to record someone without telling them!” I tried to joke in reply, “Hey, who am I to argue with the government?” Tingle cracked a tiny smile, revealing widely-spaced teeth encrusted with what I can only compare to barnacles.

He proceeded to dictate with, and I kid you not, the speed of an auctioneer, his lips barely moving and his barnacle teeth not impeding the rapid-fire flow in the least. I couldn’t really catch most of what he was saying except for the occasional comma or period, each of which he pronounced with the appropriate amount of pause. What I did understand, to my great surprise, was that he seemed to be inexplicably translating everything I’d told him into the most catastrophic terms imaginable. Was that what I said, I wondered? Was I really that bad?

When he was finished with me I stepped out into the waiting room, now half filled with a collection of men, some walking with canes, others moving about quite ably and socializing. No one was stretching out at the barre or changing the channel on the TV. I stopped by the desk on my way out, as I had been instructed by Doctor, oops, Mr. Tingle the “medical consultant,” and reminded to do so by the numerous signs on all the walls.

As I stepped outside and used my cane to flag down a taxi, I started to get paranoid. What if it was all a trick, with Tingle beefing up my symptoms in order to elicit a confession from me that I was making it all up? Was I making it all up? Had the hippie psychiatrist with the pillow really only given me four things to remember? Would Tingle expose me, the way “someone must have traduced” Joseph K?

Of course not! The cab rattled along and my aching spine reminded me that I, indeed, was not making any of this stuff up and that if Tingle wanted to act as my “mysterious benefactor” and make it easier for me to be disabled, then so be it. Hey, who am I to argue with the government?

Friday, July 21, 2006

People say the dumbest things ...

Is it just that I’m now a crotchety disabled person, or are people really this stupid? I’ve been told that I have a great attitude (just again the other night, so, there!) and I generally keep a smile on my face, but it’s hard enough with everything I’m going through then to have to deal with comments/questions like the ones that follow, and yes, these are actual things that have been said to me. I've written out my imagined responses for your reading pleasure and also as a warning. If you see me, please oh, please DON'T say any of these things to me, or at least don't expect me to smile at while you say them.

A neighbor, upon seeing me shuffling along with my cane: "Oh, is your back really that bad?"
Me: “Oh, good gracious, no! You know how it is, I really like to walk around with the cane, it slows me down so delightfully, I think I’ll never be without it again!”
Alternate response: “Sshh! I’m faking it for the sympathy! Now get the door for me before I nail you in the shins with this thing!”

A neighbor, upon seeing me shuffling along with my cane: "Are you still waiting for surgery?"
Me: “Actually, I’ve had myself taken off the list for surgery; I’m finding walking around in pain and exhaustion incredibly uplifting. Do try it, it’s better than yoga!”

A neighbor, upon seeing me shuffling along with my cane: "How’s your back?"
Me: “How’s it look, asshole?”

A neighbor, upon seeing me shuffling along with my cane:"Have you tried yoga/a chiropractor/acupuncture/swimming/stretching/physical therapy?"
Me: “Have you tried being a sentient being? Dear GOD, can you see that I can’t hold up my upper body on my own? Why don’t you figure out how much your upper body weighs and then carry that weight around in a backpack on your back and see how able you are to do yoga/swimming/stretching, etc. And don’t get me started on physical therapy. I’ve made more progress on my own than I did with the PT harassing me about ‘making progress’ with her cookie cutter ‘back strengthening’ program that was causing more damage than good.”

A neighbor, upon seeing me shuffling along with my cane: "Glad to see you are improving!"*
Me: "What are you comparing it with that *this* looks better than anything? I mean sure, at least I’m up out of bed, but I’m walking like an old crone with a bag of sticks on her back, all bent and slow. Even though the pain is better, the walking gets worse by the week. WTF?"
*Special note for blog readers, don’t come here and just skim the entries and then make a thoughtless comment like the one above. It's just insulting is what it is, and it really pisses me off.

Wanna know what TO say? Compliment my cane, my attitude, my smile, my hair; things like that are a LOT easier to smile through.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

SSDI Medical Exam

I have an exam with a disability doctor on the 24th, which I am not looking forward to. I'm sure it will be a singularly frustrating experience, as has all the rest of my dealings with SSDI. Does the fact that they've scheduled me for this mean that they don't believe that I really am disabled, or is it, as the Disability Secrets website claims, because I haven't been to see my doctor in a month (though I did have a phone consultation with him two weeks ago, that should count)?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Synthes US approval for ProDisc Expected Soon

According to this, US approval for ProDisc should be coming very soon. Yay!