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Stroke of Luck or Near Debt Experience – Part 2

I awoke from my dignified sleep and went to brush the ever-demanding teeth. Now there was more numbness. I spit my toothpaste out like I imagine a post stroke Kirk Douglas, although there was no 90 year-old distinguished face staring back at me with the trademarked dimpled chin, but instead a pouty, confused 48-year-old. I struggled with the fact that as I swished water in my mouth and it shot out the right side of the unclosed mouth, I found this mildly funny and entertaining. This attitude needed to change and I think I needed to see a doctor. But I would check with Jim and see what he thought. There’s a distinct possibility Jim would find my Jerry Lewis water bit funny, and maybe I would just go on with my day.

At 9 am Jim arrived. I met him at the back door with a glass of water in hand. I stepped outside and told him I needed to show him something. I told him this was not a joke. I put water in my mouth and swished it around and it spurted out the side on cue. He laughed anyway. I repeated that it was not on purpose. I also told him that my eye had been watering (it just wasn’t spurting out – like the mouth).
“You’re not joking,” He assured. I shook my head no.

“Well, your eye is watering because it’s not blinking, dummy. The right half of your face isn’t moving. You need to see a doctor right now. I bet you’ve got Bell’s Palsy.”

That was a pretty quick diagnosis for a junior high art teacher. He went on to explain that his daughter had Bell’s Palsy as a result of Lyme Disease. Well, ok then. I guess we’re off to the doctor. First I decided to call the hospital’s nurse line to confirm that I should go in immediately. Going to ERs on Sunday is not my norm.

Having spent the last many years as my own “boss” it has made solid financial sense to have an insurance policy with a high deductible. In the long run I’m ahead, but events like this or the occasional $900 trip to an ER in northern Wisconsin to get a child checked out for what we know to be an ear infection, works to lower my win column. This said, especially doctor’s appointments for me often involve asking questions like, “How much will that test cost.”

The woman on the nurse line told me that she had to advise me to call 911 and have an ambulance called. Unfortunately, this was not necessarily medical advice, this is where it becomes advice from a hospital’s legal counsel. I got off the phone and asked if Jim could be an ambulance. He said ok. Jim drives the opposite speed of an ambulance – but the price is right. At some point half way there I was wishing I had called an ambulance.

Jim dropped me at the ER front entrance and went to park the car. The 10 am Sunday morning ER visit is rather peaceful. There were no waiting customers with grim faces, only sunshine streaming in on the glass barrier separating a receiving nurse from the waiting room. I approached the window and the attendant woman automatically pushed a small yellow note pad under the glass to me. The simple pad had only a few questions – probably important in an emergency setting. It asked, “Reason for visit”, “Name”, “Date of birth”, and “Phone number”. I first filled out the bottom information then paused on the “reason” question. I decided the most succinct reason description would be, “Stroke or Bell’s Palsy”.

I slid this under the glass and smiled with half my face. The attendant immediately called a nurse to the front to get me. Once back in the examination room, I explained how I got to my diagnosis. I told the nurse that my friend Jim might be coming in and asked her to understand that he’s not like a regular person. She seemed confused. Then from the other room I could hear Jim saying, “Did a guy just come in here with half his face not moving.” He was talking loud to get through the voice blocking glass. I said, “That’s him.”

The nurse left and came back with Jim. He wasted no time in thinking it was funny to be in the ER room with me and asked the nurse if it would be ok to hold my hand if I needed support. Half my mouth smiled. This would’ve been my expression even if half my face had the ability to move. Funny guy. But now I needed to get serious about this examination. The nurse was wanting to clarify that I was not having a stroke. It seemed like I wasn’t just based on the simple bits of information at our fingertips. My arm and leg worked on the side of the face droop. I had a pain behind my ear which the nurse explained to be the problematic nerve that controlled (or didn’t control) the right side of my face. The final test appeared to be the wrinkling of the forehead. A stroke will allow wrinkling of the forehead. If the nurse couldn’t determine if my forehead was wrinkling, she was going to see if the doctor would suggest a Cat scan. That would be expensive for our hero – High Deductible Man.

The nurse kept leaving the room and coming back to check my face again and again. I thought maybe she was checking wikipedia and should just bring it in so we could all look together. When the nurse came back in the room and had me wrinkle my forehead for the 3rd time I had to let her in on something about my forehead. My forehead makes up a good portion of my head. If one side of my forehead wrinkles, it’s sort of difficult to stop the momentum – like a series of waves – from spreading across a placid opposite side of the forehead. But she looked again – and left the room. I was obviously hoping for a still forehead so a CAT scan didn’t get suggested.

Upon the nurses exit of the room I told Jim that I think my forehead was wrinklable – meaning I could be having stroke – but I subdued and calmed the giant beast so as to not have a CAT scan.

“So you think you totally tricked her into thinking you have Bell’s Palsy so you don’t have to pay for a CAT scan, ” Jim asked sarcastically. “Way to save money. Now what if you’re having a stroke?”

The nurse was coming. I shushed Jim with my forefinger to my gimp mouth. Jim started laughing. The nurse entered. By this point the nurse was getting quite used to all this. She said that I didn’t need a CAT scan. Jim suggested that they do a blood draw to test for Lyme Disease. Like I wasn’t even in the room, Jim went on to tell how I’m in the woods a lot. I disagreed and said I hadn’t been recently. Jim said something about going to my cabin on weekends. I said I hadn’t been there in a few months. I became momentarily embarrassed by our bickering that resembled most people’s grandparents after 50 years of marriage. I said “ok” to the blood draw to test for Lyme Disease – even though, I stated under my breath, I hadn’t been in the woods recently.

Once I was diagnosed I was given a prescription. I received two prescriptions. One was for steroids. Apparently, I was going to be given an “aggressive” dose and this was common. The nurse told me that these could upset my stomach and they could make me “wired”. I said that would be good, because I had a lot of things to get done and this could be helpful. My understanding was that I came to this particular state because of not getting enough rest and wearing myself thin. I thought it a peculiar plan to give me something that could make me hyper and lead me to wear myself thin.

Obviously steroids are used for many things in this day and age, but I’m so simple and juvenile the only thing I can think is that I will want to go to the gymnasium immediately and start pumping iron. In fact, not everybody knows this, but the Zubaz brand was started by two body builders in Minnesota in the late 80s. One of those guys currently attends the neighborhood gymnasium that I attend. And they are trying to relaunch the brand. I may get in on that, in some way, while I’m taking my steroids. I never figured myself a zubaz guy, but now that I’m on the ‘roids things may need to change.

All the way home from the ER Jim and I enjoyed jokes about me taking steroids. In one scenario I would try to get into the Tour de France. He asked what I would do if they asked if I was on steroids. I said I would tell them I thought it was required.

A couple of weeks after my big diagnosis I found a moment to flip on the TV and for some reason I ended up on Wheel of Fortune, again. I quickly turned it off and went about my slurry mouthed business. That night was an early night after my second dose of the medication.

Somewhere between night and morning where the deepest sleeps happen, I suddenly had a vision of Vanna White. Of course, respectable readers she had clothes on. Visions do not always assume a lack of clothes. Ms. White was standing in front of a fuzzy group of letters that looked to be composed of two words. I was a contestant. It all felt like a dream – and I, for one, assumed it felt this way because it was in fact a dream. But, it was so real that I dare not even joke about being on the Wheel of Fortune. I looked to my right (stage left, I’ll assume) and saw Pat Sajak. He asked me to spin.

I grabbed the large wheel and spun as hard as I could. It seemed to spin forever. As it spun I could feel the air coming off the immense wheel. I felt it on my legs. It seemed that I felt too much air on my legs. It felt like I had no pants on, but I would not look down. The wheel slowed and just barely skittered by Bankruptcy landing on $1000. That seemed good.

I looked up slowly. Pat Sajak said, “Famous muckraker”.

What? I needed a new dream. It seemed like this was going to be more of a focus on Vanna White at the outset. I paused and spoke without a slur and blinked my right eye as a normal person. “U”, I said.

Vanna moved quickly to the lit letter with her blessing. There it was. I had solved the puzzle. All the remaining letters were turned over to reveal “Upton Sinclair”, author of “The Jungle”. I was elated, but it felt like I had no pants on. I quickly looked down as Vanna smiled and clapped. It was worse than expected. I was wearing Zubaz. That explained the airy extra comfort.

I awoke in a cold sweat. The dawn was just straightening it’s morning tie and I could see by its awkward first light. I made my way to the bathroom. What did it all mean. I looked in the mirror and was instantly amused by the whole ordeal – that I put myself in Zubaz rather than take off Vanna White’s clothes. Did the “U” stand for Zubaz? I smiled.

There it was. The smile that I used to know. The right side of the lip went up like the left. I was cured. The “U” of Upton Sinclair stood for my smile. Vanna White had blessed me with my smile back. She was a smile fairy. But what did the Upton Sinclair part mean? Should I stop everything and do some kind of documentary or write a book that exposes the evils of corporate America? Or maybe I’m just supposed to entertain and make people happy and not do anything too difficult. I’ll probably do that – and occasionally watch the Wheel of Fortune in my new Zubaz.

Sadly Yours,

Jason Spafford

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