I went to see my doctor a couple of weeks ago. Sick enough — stomach pain, nausea, achy body and exhaustion — to cancel my only summer vacation plans. My doc put me on a stomach acid blocker and said to check back in a couple of weeks.
Today I went for my follow up appointment.
At the visit I went over all my persistent (waxing and waning) symptoms for the last two months. My doc and I both shake our heads. She wants to give me pills for each specific thing.
I say, Doctor, you know that I don’t like to take pills; I wanna know what’s going on.
I tell her I think there is something underlying my symptoms, an unknown reason, a mystery. Before I decide on treatment I want to solve the mystery.
She says Let’s start with blood tests.
I said Ok.
She says If that doesn’t show anything, then maybe we’ll do some ‘imaging’.
I said Ok.
She looks at me, like she wants me to give her another piece of evidence, something that will crack the code, make the diagnosis blindingly clear. I look back, shaking my head. I’ve offered up all my clues. I hope she’s not starting to think I’m a nut case. The symptoms don’t fit an obvious diagnosis. I get that. Yet, I’m pretty sure there’s some explanation, something tying the symptoms, the clues together, if only she won’t rush me into pills.
I say to her. I know, I know. I don’t get it. It’s almost embarrassing. I tell her When people say, so you’re eating this super healthy vegan diet, you must feel great? I want to say yes, totally. And intermittently I do. But for the last two months, I have often not felt well at all.
In addition to this recent bout with flu-y symptoms and stomach pain, I’ve had Reynaud’s for decades. Cold weather or stress can trigger attacks. Now, suddenly, I’m having more frequent and more severe attacks. Why? Is it connected to the other symptoms?
It’s been a classically cold San Francisco summer. But this is happening even when I’m inside and not cold at all. I tell my doc I haven’t been feeling that stressed out lately, that my life and relationships are going fairly well. I’m smiling as I say this (somewhat surprised and happy at my own good luck) and we both nod in gratitude to the universe.
We’re both searching like crazy for clues. Then I remember and I tell her the only thing I am actually pretty stressed about is… Trump. I’ve told her this before. We’ve commiserated before. She, herself, is worried about the health system and about people having access to healthcare. She gets it.
We talk about balance. We agree balance is important. For me that comes down to resisting Trump’s policies AND also not getting too stressed out about it. She agrees, encouraging me not to get overwhelmed with news, then says, of course it’s possible things will get worse.
Now I can’t help myself. I tell her, ok things are not worse yet for you and me (two middle class white women) right now, but they are already not only worse, they are horrible for millions of people. To make my point, I tell her the story I read this morning about the Mexican-born coffee plantation owner in Hawaii, married to an American woman. Together they have built a good and decent life and have three children, He was brought to America (without papers) by his own mother when he was fifteen. He’s lived in the US for 28 years, hadn’t been in any trouble. I tell my doctor they’ve deported him back to Mexico. I am fit to be tied. Families are being destroyed. Children left without parents. For NO good reason. My doctor is clearly moved and disturbed. I apologize.
I say I am sorry for telling you all this.
I’m sure she’s already spent more time with me than the ten minutes she’s allotted. I’m sure she has other patients waiting to see her. I didn’t mean to say so much. I thought I was balancing my citizenship responsibilities and my stress better. Now I can see, I’m really not.
Then, despite the fact I know I have already said too much, I add a story about an acquaintance, Jeff Gillenkirk, who, a couple of weeks after the election, wrote an article describing Post-Trump Stress Disorder. I tell her how two days after the article was published, at 67 and in apparently great health, he dropped dead of a massive heart attack. She looks horrified.
She’s a lovely person, my doctor, empathetic and kind. Now she’s backing out the door. I’m sorry I’ve burdened her with my reportage. Perhaps the underlying thread of all my symptoms, that which ties them together is Post-Trump Stress Disorder. I go get my lab tests drawn. I head to the parking garage, my car, the day, my to-do list. I manage to find beauty here and there as the hours pass and I photograph some of it. I am hungry for it. I am scared and furious, and I am hungry for beauty, wisdom, and kindness. For a return to a certain degree of national sanity.