on being fine

This post was clearly not written by me, as you will see from the first line, because I see a doctor almost once per week and have for the past year and a half. That means it’s guest-post time again! This one was written by Bill Lascher, an old friend and a Portland, OR-based freelancer. If you like what you read (and I think you will) or if you’re tired of cancer, check out his Kickstarter project. It’s pretty cool.

This Friday I had my first doctor appointment in years.

I’d finally made an appointment because I know that at some point I’ll need a doctor’s advice, and because I believe prevention is a powerful tool and because I don’t want to take for granted the fact that I’m a–seemingly (and we’ll return to this)–healthy young man. I’m “fine.”

One reason I made the appointment was because for the first time since grad school, I have health insurance coverage. I’d been looking for nearly a year before I secured it. But I decided to look for coverage one more time, partially after starting to read Lindsey’s blog and learning more about her experience, and because I know there’s much I may not know about my health.

I’m lucky to finally have the financial flexibility (barely) to pay for insurance, despite my struggles as a freelancer. But getting that coverage, even with me essentially saying to insurers “here, take my money,” wasn’t easy for a “healthy” guy like me. It’s a wonder anyone has coverage.

Even after I finally found coverage, I was shocked how confusing it can be to actually get care. I mean, how was I supposed to know what kind of doctor I needed in the first place? For my checkup, did I need to see a general practitioner or a family practice physician? Was there a condition I didn’t know about that a trained professional would see? Could I be a hypochondriac? Could I be overthinking?

My health insurer’s web site lists dozens of doctors with no more differentiating information than their gender, age (and not always that), and location. How does that help me make efficient use of my coverage?

All these questions come from someone who is, for the most part, just living a normal, healthy life. I’m not experiencing any weird pains or inexplicable nausea (well, not usually, as you’ll see below). I’m fine (there’s that word again). If it’s this much of a pain for me, what can it mean for someone pondering having one of her organs replaced with someone else’s, among many other things, as Lindsey is?

For me, it turned out, at least for now, there not much of great concern. I’m fine.

What does that mean, though, fine?

How do I really know whether I’m fine?

It seems ridiculous, and possibly smacking a touch of hypochondria, to ask this. I don’t have cancer (at least, I don’t think I do–a tumor certainly could be growing undetected inside me). I don’t have a heart condition. My lungs function well. My blood pressure is low. I haven’t contracted any infectious diseases. Everything functions as I generally imagine it’s intended.

But even if everything didn’t, would that mean I’m not fine? By many definitions, Lindsey’s fine. I’ve know her for a few years and she’s really not much different now than she was back then. When we talk, it’s often about our shared fascination with transportation. Our conversations aren’t “How’s your cancer?” this and “How’s your cancerlessness?” that. When we do talk about cancer, we may discuss whether she’s feeling well, but we’re more likely to discuss her latest wrestlings with her insurance. In other words, our conversations are the kind of conversations I have with any of my friends. There’s nothing different between Lindsey and I that’s not any more or less unique than the differences between me and the two strangers sitting across from me at this coffee house.

And, of course, everything’s different. We all have our own things.

And that’s what I wondered at the doctor. What was my thing? Do I have a thing? How will I know what my thing is? Is that even a question for the doctor, or is it a question for a therapist–or a philosopher?

Anything could happen to me. I thought about that yesterday morning when I woke inexplicably nauseous. I hadn’t been drinking. I wasn’t otherwise feeling ill (though my back pain persisted). All I could imagine was that the night before I’d eaten a meal of roast chicken and vegetables from the grocery store deli counter. That must have been it. It must have been tainted. It must have been! And if it wasn’t, did that mean my nausea was something?

It’s this kind of thinking that illustrates what a mess we’ve made of our collective health. It’s not rational to think I have a life-altering illness every time I feel a little out of the ordinary, nor is it wise to avoid seeking an informed opinion when my instincts tell me something’s unusual.

I don’t know whether health care reform would solve this conundrum. But perhaps if our interactions with health care providers weren’t laden with bureaucracy and ID numbers and bills and payment plans we’d be less likely to wait to ask questions when we were truly concerned about our health; and perhaps if these interactions were simpler, and more regular, we wouldn’t make our health something we pile onto an increasingly crowded “to-do” list, something about which we make New Years Resolutions and about which we don’t feel empowered to make informed decisions.

I couldn’t help wondering if that nausea was a thing. Fortunately, it didn’t return today. As far as I know, my sour stomach could have been the product of all the fretting I’ve been doing about my Kickstarter, about my career, and about my life. Perhaps it’s not something. Perhaps everything is back to normal. Perhaps I’m fine.

Whatever that means.

Bill also has a blog. And i’ve written about being “fine,” too.

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