I was meeting with a Gastroenterologist about my stomach. He was a short man with a bald head, in his mid-30s, a small gut, and brown skin. He was cocky. Everything about him, from his lab coat, to his scrubs, to the way he held his nose just a little higher, was about letting me know that he was a doctor.
He read through my chart, lips slightly puckered, grunting every so often. Then he asked me about my medications, poop, pee, and exercise. He asked about whether I smoked or drank. They were the same questions that every one of the three doctors I’d seen in the past week had asked. This seems to be the way of the medical system. I went to an urgent care doctor on a Saturday because of stomach pain, who sent me to my regular doctor, who sent me to a specialist. I live in a small Oregon town, and am part of an HMO that only has locations nearly an hour away, so all of this required me taking significant time off from work, and each doctor had given me at least one prescription, and now I was taking about five pills at night and morning, and experiencing drowsiness at work and diarrhea.
It was awesome.
I told the Gastroenterologist about my pain, how it had lasted three weeks, mostly in the evening. “It feels like I’ve been punched in the stomach. Sometimes I just have to lie down on the floor for a couple hours, curled up, and wait for it to pass. Most of the doctors I’ve meet with think it’s an ulcer.”
The Gastroenterologist leaned his head to the right, stuck out his lips, and said, “I don’t trust other doctors.”
“Wow,” I said, laughing. “How’s that working out for you?"
“Just fine,” he said.
He asked me more questions and I told him that I’d had this pain before. Years earlier when my daughter was in the NICU for two weeks. I had it before that, too, when my father died. And as I traced back the pain back, to my father, I told him about my Dad’s surgery. How he had an ulcer when I young, back in the 80s, and how doctors cut open his gut and removed part of his stomach. “He became addicted to pain killers after that and died about 10 years later. All this talk of an ulcer is really scaring me,” I said. “I don’t want to talk in life or death, but I’m afraid this is going to kill me.”
And at the mention of my father, he seemed to soften up a bit. “I don’t think you have a ulcer,” he said. He asked me a few more questions then he said, “I think it’s stress.”
“No. No.” I said. “I mean. I don’t think that’s it stress. I don’t feel stressed.”
He leaned against the counter behind him, folded his arms, and said, “You don’t have all that many symptoms of a ulcer. You just have the pain. Tell me about what’s going on your life. Have you had any big changes?”
I thought about it for a moment. Then I told him about my 10-month-old baby, our third child. Then I told him about my new job at the University. It was more money and responsibility. I told him about my blog, and how it was doing well. Then I told him about my new church calling. “I’m Mormon,” I said. “They asked me to be the Elder’s Quorum President. I’m not sure if you know what that means, but it’s a lot of responsibility.” Think back, I used that word a lot: Responsibility. Every year, as a parent and adult, I seem to get more of it.
We talked about Mormons and basketball for a moment. He mentioned how some of his medical school friends were Mormon and they always played basketball at their church. I hear this a lot, and I find it frustrating because I don’t play basketball, but being Mormon has made me feel like I should.
As we spoke, I thought about everything that was going on in my life. So much of it was exciting. Most of it was a good thing. The new job was more money and a lot of new responsibility. Our new baby was sweet and wonderful, and yet, a baby means little sleep and a lot of crying for a good year (for both the parents and the baby). We bought a house, which meant the responsibility of a mortgage. Everything that was going on in my life was good, and yet, perhaps it was too much good. I felt this enormous pressure to fulfill all of my responsibilities, and somehow it has started to manifest itself in a physical way. I was in pain, serious pain. Pain that was making me sit down, slow down, change my diet, and my actions. In the past week, when this pain came on in full force, I’d lost ten pounds from not eating. With my father’s drug addiction and death, I knew that bad things could cause me stress. But I’d never thought that good things could do this to me, too.
“I suggest limiting your stress as much as you can,” he said.
For the first time since meeting this man, he smiled. “You can manage it.” He started to type up a list of things I could do to make things better: yoga, exercise…
“Could you add sex to that list?” I said. “I could take that home to my wife.”
He laughed and said, “I will add other and you can define that how you’d like.”
He wrote down a few more things, gave me another prescription, took away some others, and said, “Let’s try this for two weeks. If it doesn’t get better we will have a look in your stomach.”
“So what you are saying is… I’m not dying?” I asked.
“No,” He said. “I think your religion and your children are going to kill you long before this will. I hope that gives you comfort.”
“Surprisingly. It does,” I said.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley