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I’m Cured...I Guess

John W. Pinkerton


I try not to talk about my health.  I suspect it's the most boring subject ever invented by Beelzebub.   I managed my first 60 years without seeing a doctor other than for the usual: mumps, measles, flu and such.  From the time I left the service until my retirement, I may have visited two doctors briefly and without prescriptions---false alarms.

Shortly after retiring, I lost forty pounds, developed trembling in my arms and legs, lost strength in my already weak muscles: I assumed I was dying. 

I finally got to the right doctor who diagnosed an extreme case of hyperthyroidism which had resulted in Grave's disease.  Can't fix Grave's disease which really isn't a bother, but the docs can fix hyperthyroidism:  upon the daily ingestion of 10 PTU pills, the symptoms mentioned almost immediately ceased.  After thirteen years of a gradual reduction of the number of daily pills, my doc, an  Indian fellow, declared me well.  Actually, the Indian fellow is the son of the Indian fellow who first started treating me.   Apparently I drove him into retirement or at least helped to make it possible.  Both are fine fellows, and I still visit the young fellow occasionally.


About two and a half years ago, I again assumed I was dying---well, I didn't miss it much.

I remember the day my misery began.  I, along with Linda, were setting up at a  gallery in Waco on the second floor of an old downtown building that didn't have an operating elevator.

I noticed that I was having trouble breathing.  Of course, I faked it, and no one noticed.

Home the next day, I was still having trouble breathing.  I still faked it.  Linda didn't realize anything was wrong.

Okay, I need to take a moment out to discuss why men don't tell people when they're not feeling well.  I think it's part of men's genetic defense system.  We don't want to be put afloat on an ice flow or left behind as the tribe moves on.   That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

The breathing problem was becoming worse.  I finally told Linda, and, of course, she wanted me to go to a doctor.  Well, I thought that eventually I'd figure out what the problem was and delayed the doctor option for weeks.  It got to the point that the only way I could be comfortable and breathe in enough air to feel comfortable was to sit on our front porch and remain absolutely still.  Okay, okay, I ain't figured it out, but it's time to see a doctor, and I'm probably dying.

Of course, my first visit was with my thyroid doctor.  After blood work, he “found” a liver problem.  Of course, I was presented with a liver doctor who had me do an ultrasound which he told me had revealed a pleural effusion problem, and he asked me if I had a lung doctor.  Yes, as a matter of fact, I did:  The lung doctor was a guy I'd been seeing for about ten years who kept insisting a couple of small spots on my lungs were cancerous.  I told him from the beginning they weren't cancerous, but we visited and I took CAT scans and x-rays for years---still no cancer.

Following the advice of the liver doctor, we set up an appointment with the lung doctor.   After an x-ray, he said he thought it was pneumonia.  I started laughing.  He seemed offended.  I explained that I was relieved because it could have been so much worse.  I don't think he ever got over my attitude.  Oh, well.

He shot me up with antibiotics and steroids, and I actually began to feel better.  I think he was right about the pneumonia, but he didn't recognize the underlying problem of pleural effusion.  I got worse.  We visited the doctor again.  We talked about it, and he realized that it might be a pleural problem, and he said the pleural cavity needed to be drained.  He first said “tomorrow” but he accommodated my desire to have it done “today.”  Within 30 minutes of the draining (a simple process), I felt like a new man---or at least an old man with improved breathing.

Again I seemed to do well, but not so fast, John.  (I'm leaving out a lot of x-rays and CAT scans because they were legion.)  After another CAT scan, we visited with the lung doctor.

The doc came running into the room saying that I needed an operation.  I don't know about you, but when a doctor says “operation,” I want some details.  He became a little hostile and, frankly, insulting when I tried to slow his roll, and he stormed out of the room.  I turned to Linda and said, “I think I just got fired.”

Linda got me an appointment with a different lung doctor in a different hospital.  I inquired of a couple of folks who happened to know the new doc about his qualifications.  Both said he was very, very smart.  I like smart.  When I first visited with the doctor, I asked him if he had ever cured anyone.  His response assured me that at least he was honest---“Not very many.”

I took a lot of tests some of which I suggested myself like a heart test.  All of the tests did not lead to a cause for the problem.

The doc said that he had discovered an enlarged gland that he could get a sample of by going through my throat.  He said that he was the only doc in the area who could do this particular operation.  I okayed the procedure even though I knew the “enlarged gland” wasn't the problem and that he was just showing off his skills.

I need to digress for a moment.  I don't do well with anesthesia.  Without going into details, I'll just say that I suffered a little after this operation because of the anesthesia.

A few days after the gland procedure, we met with the doc again.  He confessed that he had learned nothing.  We had a few more drainings of my pleural cavity which each time made me feel better.  By the way, the last draining he did filled a couple of 500 cc bottles and a couple of smaller ones.

At last the doc said that he needed to install a tube from my pleural cavity that I could drain twice a week.

I okayed the tube installation, and we agreed to do it without anesthesia.  It was simple enough, and I had the opportunity to talk.  If you know me at all, you know I like to talk to folks.  During the procedure, I asked the nurse what she did for a living.  It seemed to confuse her for a moment.

After the procedure, the doc came by the recovery room where we chatted.  He told Linda to make an appointment to see him in the coming week.  We shook hands and he departed.

Linda, of course, called his office the next day to make an appointment.  The receptionist responded, “He didn't tell you, did he?”  The doc had departed for a greener venue: apparently, he had performed the procedure, dropped his scapel, and left town.  The receptionist scheduled us to visit with another lung doctor at the hospital.

No. 3 was a nice, young Puerto Rican lady.  She was very pleasant with an easy laugh.  She bought a couple of small paintings of horses from me, so I liked her even more.  Of course, she wanted to do more tests.


The first test came back with an indication that I had some kind of rheumatic problem, but because no rheumatologist was available locally for three months, we made a trip to Waco to see an older fellow who was from Pennsylvania and had only been in Texas for about three months.  Well, at least he had had the good sense to move to Texas.

After a quick exam, the doc said I had no signs of having arthritis.  Well, I could have told him that.  While we were chatting, he was pecking away on his computer.  He stopped the pecking long enough to tell us that he had found a case of pleural effusion which had been caused by taking PTU for ten years, the medicine I had been taking for my hyperthyroidism for thirteen years.  At that moment I was totally convinced that we had found the cause of my pleural problem.

Not so fast, Johnny.  We told the Puerto Rican doctor and my Indian doctor about what we had found.  They both agreed we should discontinue the PTU to see what changed.  Guess what---nothing changed.   However, after further testing of my thyroid, the Indian doc concluded that I no longer needed to take the PTU and that I was healed.  Humm…we'll see.

So it was back to the drawing board.  We continued the home drainings of my pleural cavity performed by my nephew, Josh, a medic and veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts; we visited with the Puerto Rican doctor pretty regularly during those months and after about a year and a half, the doc confessed that if the drainings were going to do any lasting good, it should have happened by the third month.

Of course, we continued the drainings twice a week.  The drainings began at about a liter and gradually decreased over time, but it would stay at one level for weeks and even increase at times.

Unexpectedly, the drainings were only producing a trace of fluid, once, twice, three times.  My nephew and I surmised that the tube was clogged.

We visited with the doc, and we had a couple of x-rays and a CAT scan done in the next week or so, and she concluded that we needed to remove the tube.  Apparently, the fluid buildup had ceased.  Go figure.

The fellow who did the removal of the tube seemed friendly and talkative which was a good match for me (again no anesthesia).  He got the tube out without much fuss and caused me little pain although I did scream occasionally.  I had told the surgeon before the operation to pay no attention to my screams…they meant nothing.

Of course, more x-rays were taken to verify that the pleural effusion had concluded.  The pleural effusion ending is great, but apparently we'll never know what caused it in the first place.   My second lung doctor had told me that never discovering the cause of pleural effusion was pretty common.

Okay, for two years I didn't move much.  My lack of energy was the main cause.  This lack of activity of course has worsened my emphysema.  Although the term “COPD” has become popular, I prefer “emphysema.”  I've known this was headed my way when I first began to smoke.  I'm certainly not surprised by the results of smoking two to three packs a day for over fifty years.  I guess my next project is trying to reduce or eliminate my smoking.  Good luck with that.

By the way, after my visit with the rheumatologist in Waco, I was able to schedule a visit with a local rheumatologist.  He agreed that I had no rheumatodal problems but was interested in my case prescribing what is considered a long shot to cure pleural effusion.  That didn't help either.  He's a nice fellow, and he asked if I could return for further visits because he was interested in my case.  We've chatted several times.  He was a military doctor for twenty-two years---nice fellow, well-rounded.

Okay, what have I learned?  Well, doctors become frustrated when the cause of a problem is not cancer.  I guess it's because they've had a lot of practice dealing with cancer.  I've been tested for cancer so many times I feel as though I should have been issued a medical bracelet which said, “He ain't got cancer.”  Blood tests, x-rays, and  CAT scans  are the doctors go-to helpers.  I wish I would have kept a record of the number of each of these I've had: I think we would both be a little surprised.  Doctors are an amusing bunch.  Each has his or her own little package of defects which is the reason I find them interesting…oh, and by the way, not all are geniuses.

The worst habit of doctors is not listening respectfully to the patients' dumb theories.  The best response to one of my dumb theories was a soft laugh.  I got the message and was not offended.

By the way, being that none of my numerous doctors ever determined what caused my pleural effusion, I guess my dumb theories are just as good as theirs.