I’ve always found that New Year’s essays pondering the year past and the road ahead leave me yawning. Whether good or bad, glorious, dull, inspiring or crushing they leave me unmoved. Everybody’s Oprah in January, proferring dreams and possibility–“you get a car and you get a car and you get a car” – but after it's read and done, all one’s left with is the emotional equivalent of smoking way too much strong weed while watching a really bad rom com. All promise, no punch, and the insatiable desire to crawl back into bed.
Yet here I am at it once again, with my own tale of that was then and this is now. So if the read ahead is a snooze and as interesting as talking with an addled, lonely and permanently confused old relative don’t blame me. You’ve been warned.
Life’s Candy and the Sun’s A Ball of Butter Unless It’s Not
Despite 30 years of living with HIV my body’s been remarkably resilient.I didn’t start treatment for six or seven years after diagnosis. I was on a work trip to Baltimore with what I thought was a nasty cold. Towards the end of my travels I had night sweats and was feverish and soon discovered my t-cells had dropped below 75.
But Fate/God/Biology/Goddess/Chemistry/Luck was on my side. I’m happy to give all of them the credit. My persistent chest cold and fever wasn’t from PCP, TB or any other opportunistic infection. It was instead a double sinus infection, one that had been misdiagnosed for over a month. I started antibiotics for the nose and anti-retrovirals for the rest of me. I was back on my feet very quickly and the 48-count package of toilet paper I bought in case the meds caused trouble lasted a very long time. My new drugs and I got along just fine.
I’ve been spared the ravages of HIV and the smaller travails of it and aging, gravity and inattention too. And for most of 2015 my good health continued. Thanks to ObamaCare I now had health insurance and my job driving a pedicab put me in the best shape of my life.
But towards the Fall things were different for the guy my colleagues call Old Man Hustle. In August I started having an ache in my gut. It was off and on, frequently worse after working and sometimes so painful that it hurt just touching my stomach. A month later, as the pain in my gut worsened, my upper body started screaming at me as well. Out of the blue, while doing nothing but reading, a searing knife-like pain ricocheted from my shoulder when I moved my head to the left or put the slightest pressure my arm.
I was despondent, worried about my ability to work and my body’s ability to heal. When the pain was strongest it felt like a hard ball was stuck in my gut. I could feel it, sensed it moving, pulsing and the gentlest touch hurt intensely. At first I thought I strained my abdominals, then wondered about appendicitis and/or an ulcer. I hoped that my family tree, one rife with relatives killed by colon cancer, hadn’t sprouted a new oncological disaster inside me and worried even more if the peace treaty between ‘my’ HIV and the rest of me had ended and a new war had begun.
Acid, Acid Everywhere
Yet after trying to figure it out for a month I found it was nothing more than acid, simple, nasty, sharp, mother-fucking acid, of the reflux kind. I never knew that it hurt so much.
Before I even started taking Prilosec I got into action, gave up coffee, ate smaller meals, stopped drinking seltzer (a three bottle a day habit), no longer wore tight bike shorts and realized that if I’d chewed my food rather than inhaling it my gut might not be so pissed off. So I gave up my living impression of a human vacuum cleaner and started, for the first time in my life, chewing my food. Chomp. Chomp. Chomp. The guy they called the family dog, even before I started my high metabolism job on the pedicab– “give it to Matt, he’ll eat it” -- was finally paying attention to his stomach’s howls to slow the fuck down. Hooray. It was finally getting better.
Meanwhile my shoulder pain remained so intense I had to stop. A visit to my doctor was inconclusive. I was told that if I didn’t want to pursue surgery that there was little point in getting an MRI and that I should start physical therapy right away. Huh? That line of reasoning probably made lots of sense to the accountants at Kaiser but I wasn’t clear on the logic.
As for ‘right away’, the earliest I could get a physical therapy appointment was three weeks away. An MRI would have cost me about $500 for my co-payment and the physician said it was often inconclusive anyway. But luck was on my side once again. My first visit to physical therapy revealed the good news. There were no tears, just severe constriction in my neck and shoulder. My muscles were compressed tighter than spandex on a sumo wrestler.
I was thrilled and the time off from work became less stressful, even amid my worries about the loss of work. What’s more I realized how I’d been working too hard, fearful of what might happen fifteen or twenty years from now. In the process I was constantly tired and rarely relaxed. What’s more I saw that while grateful for my body’s strength, I was careless in taking care of it, especially given the rigors of riding a pedicab. Stretching before or after work was a rarity and most nights I fell asleep crammed on the sofa while watching TV, self-medicating with weed. Slathering my shoulders and back with Tiger Balm before bed wasn’t enough. So I started stretching before and after work and on days when I wasn’t working too.
Though my shoulder was recuperating the pain in my gut was getting worse. My blood work was good but my energy, when absent of pain, was good so I was back at the doctors, this time with a camera up my ass for a sigmoidoscopy (think colonoscopy lite). The procedure ruled out anything serious and I was told to switch to Zantac, another over-the-counter drug. At first it helped, but back at work the pain was worse than ever until I was prescribed Pantaprozale Sodium a drug that keeps me well most of the time, at least if I don’t drink lemonade or have more than one glass of wine. (Note: If you’re taking Reyataz (atazanavir) tell your doctor because there are known drug interactions).
These days I stretch when I work, before and after, and also when I’m off. At night, while I still smell like the love child of Tiger Balm and pot smoke, I don’t sleep on the sofa so often and don’t eat close to bedtime. At work I now set my alarm for two hour intervals, a reminder to eat more small meals, something that’s hard when its busy, especially in a job that sometimes has me eating upwards of 6,000 calories a day with as much grace as a hyena.
A New Year But Nobody Is Getting A Car
New Years Eve is normally one of the busiest nights of the year for pedicabbing. It wasn’t raining bur it was especially cold and business wasn’t that great. But I made some money, saw the fireworks and in an omen of good fortune, the passenger that threw up in my pedicab didn’t heave when she puked. It landed just on her face and her jacket. The trike and my backside were both vomit-free.
So far January hasn’t been that great. I was sick with a nasty cold for a week before I got my to my doctor and was told it was a sinus infection. But my lungs were clear and antibiotics did the trick. During my mucus festival I accidentally parked my car in front of a garage door. I don’t know how I thought it was a wall. PHD! Park here dummy.
Six hundred dollars later and another hundred and six for the ticket I was back in the driver's seat, pissed at my inattention but grateful that I had enough room on a credit card to pay the fees.
As for the acid, a week ago I went to a new Korean Japanese place and an hour after eating I felt sick and by the time I got home was nearly doubled over with pain. Two hours later the pain was still intense and I got depressed thinking I’ll never have this figured out, until I remembered what I ordered with my meal. The mango lemonade was the wrong drink at the wrong time in the wrong body.
Here’s to life, chasing dreams and placing bets.