St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Medicare and President Obama in the Decline of the RRR

Last December, I turned 65 years old.  My family doctor said “It is time you have a complete physical.  Medicare lets you have one for free as you begin coverage.”  So, although I was feeling reasonably well except for my bad knee, I agreed to go through some tests based on a few minor problems I had noticed including an irregular heartbeat and some tiredness – both I attributed to being old and out of shape.

A month later I was on a cpap machine for my bad sleeping – leading to more energy each day.  I had found that my irregular heartbeat was due to PAC’s or APC’s (premature atrial contractions) making my beats inefficient, but not really treatable or life threating, and on my way to a new knee in March. 

The new knee has turned out great and I was prepared for a very active and ambitious summer, buying the makings for a long pasture fenceline, planning to repair my Cletrac crawler, and redo part of the cabin roof, planting two large gardens and lining up dozens of jobs for Margo.  

Then, two weeks ago while mowing Mom’s lawn I started having double vision.  A few doctor’s visits later led to a diagnosis of myasthenia gravis, an auto immune disease—where the body determines that part of your own body is the enemy and builds anti-bodies to attack it.  In this case, attacking the interface between nerves and muscles decreasing needed chemicals and killing off muscle receptors and making my double vision, now with the addition of a weakening of the chewing and face muscles on the way to more damage if left alone.  

Today, I found from blood tests done last week at Mayo that it is likely the thymus gland run amuck.  The thymus gland produces part of your body’s protection from disease, mostly while you are still in the womb, gradually withering away and being unneeded as you get older.  Anyway, sometimes the thymus gland gets a tumor (starts growing) and producing attack chemicals that go after your own body.  It appears that is what mine is doing.

I had a CT scan today to see if the thymus is abnormal looking and tomorrow see a neurologist to discuss it.   That visit was rather hard to come by.

When you search on Mayo Clinic and myasthenia you get an advertising link on Google bragging how Mayo is rated #1 in neurology by U.S.  Something and Reports magazine.  Sounds like the place to go to get seen.
“The soonest you can see a neurologist is June 22 (more than 3 weeks off).  Having read up on OMG (ocular myasthenia gravis—the eye version) and finding out that it has progressed beyond the eye and making eating a bother, and being told by the Eye guy that I should start treatment immediately or I might have a respiratory failure if things progressed, I was pretty motivated to see the neurologist right away. 

“Waiting 3 weeks to see the neurologist is not acceptable,” I told the pleasant desk attendant.  “I need to see one this week!” I said firmly.   

She called again and finally setup a morning appointment tomorrow with the “Chief Resident.”  That means the doctor has finished medical school and is likely in her third and last year of on-the-job training, ready to be released on the public next year to be on her own. A foot in the door and probably a prescription for prednisone to beat down the thymus while the attempt to get in more fully proceeds.  

By the way, the eye department has it's own emergeny room onsite--you can drop in and they see you later in the day depending on your seriousness.  Otherwise you have to go through the emergency room--waiting until you have something life-threatening.  

In the mean time, I went online to look at my lab tests from the blood draw(Mayo puts them online where I can log in and view them and the doctor's notes).  The tests showed that I definitely have MG and likely have a thymoma, a tumor of the thymus gland that is screwing up my blood chemistry.  They also said that these tumors are normally not cancer, and often removing them (using the modern method with small openings and a camera inside instead of cracking your chest) gets rid of the MG symptoms eventually. 

So, having gone into age 65 thinking I was in pretty darn good shape, I have found way too many problems!  I blame Medicare and President Obama for it all.  I see my conservative friends blaming him for everything else, so I guess I might as well pile on too—makes about as much sense ;-)

Tune in again and find out the next stage in the “Decline of the River Road Rambler.”