Posted by: William Stone III | November 6, 2009

Another Round With Doctors

I have diabetes (or, as Wilford Brimley insists that it be called, “die-uh-BETE-us”). It’s not bad, though I’ve had a couple of bad flare-ups in the last year. Enough so that when I went in to my GP a couple of weeks ago, she immediately flipped out.

I was having stomach problems — cramping that got pretty severe, nausea, all kinds of fun stuff. After some initial poking and prodding, she concluded that laxatives were in order.

Then she looked at my records. It turns out that they’re incomplete — which I told her. From her perspective, it looked as though I hadn’t had blood work for over a year, and when I’d had it last, my blood glucose was around 400. That’s bad. Around 100 is good.

I’ve been consistently flat right at 87 for months and told her so. After my most recent flare-up, I got the fear of Death put into me and really started watching my diet. I’ve also lost 40 pounds, not surprisingly. And some more hair, though I assume that’s unrelated.

Anyway, the interesting thing to me, as a sysadmin, was that I recognized the look that flashed in her eyes when she saw my records — followed by a flurry of logical but ultimately totally pointless tests.

I’ve seen that look before. Most sysadmins screw up from time to time. Remind me to tell you the time I pulled a company’s sole database server out from under the major application.  “The look,” roughly translated, means, “Oh, shit … I’ve screwed up big time. This guy hasn’t been checked for a year, his blood sugar’s been at dangerous levels for 12 months, and now he’s having permanent gastro-intestinal problems as a result! Shit, shit, shit, I’ve just frakked up big … !”

So I had tests. A couple of weeks worth, in fact. Missed more than a week of work because the pain and nausea were increasing. Last night, I very nearly went to the E.R. because my GP about had me convinced that my intestines were about ready to explode. It sure as hell felt like it.

Oh, one note on Magnesium Citrate: that crap is vile. I mean just utterly vile.  The interesting thing is that it’s flavored: lemon.  Sort of.  That’s what the label reads, anyway.

Anyway, in the last 24 hours, I’ve had two of those things roto-rooter their way through my system.  What struck me the first time was:  their marketing people considered this a “win”.  That is, this horrific, vomit-inducing, lemon-sugar concoction was considered the best flavor they could come up with.

Now, I used to work for a huge cookie manufacturer.  They had eight ovens a hundred yards long.  There was an entire research division of the company devoted to optimizing the taste of anything that came out of the factory and then coming up with a specific set of ingredients so that every single one of the millions of cookies pouring down the line every day tasted exactly the way they designed it.

No doubt the Magnesium Citrate people also have such a research division.  And this was the best they could come up with.  Wow.  That stuff must be really horrific if the current taste is the best they could do.

Today, I got ran the CT scanners and MRIs — this in addition to an X-rays earlier in the week and the one preceding.  Interminable periods of waiting, shuffled from one place to another, etc.  By the time I finally crawled back into bed, I was seriously considering getting a hunting knife and performing surgery on myself.

Now, I don’t mention this to garner pity:  it was a nasty couple of weeks, but life is like that sometimes.  I mention it because of my ultimate point:

There I was, about mid-afternoon, hoping to hear back from the GP about today’s tests soon.  Short of cancer, I’d’ve been thrilled with any positive results.  At least if there was a watermelon-sized benign tumor in my gut, they could perform surgery.

But no, all the tests were negative.  I’m healthy as a Mrs. O’Leary’s cow immediately before she was spooked.  The GP really had no clue.

On the one hand, this is good news, because it probably means there’s no long-term issues, diabetes-related or otherwise.  On the other hand, I’m about to go to the E.R. because I just can’t stand it any more.

At that point, the GP did something else I recognize:  she started spitballing.  In the IT world, this is what happens when you’ve done everything you know how to do, and then you just start looking around in general to see what there is to see.  Maybe this way you’ll stumble across some thread that will lead you in the right direction.

In this case, my GP’s ultimate trouble-shooting action was for me to take double the usual dosage of Prilosec.

Apparently Prilosec is some kind of damned near miracle cure if you have what it turns out I have:  a highly acidic stomach and possible ulcer.  Within four hours of taking two Prilosec tablets, I’ve become a new man.

In any case, the ultimate point is that during these madcap escapades, I’ve had something pointed out that I knew subconsciously never really put words to:

What the doctor does and what I do are two very similar things, process-wise.  We take an ailing system, look at what it’s doing that’s wrong, follow signs, signals, inter-process communication, and logs (pun intended).  We try this, we try that, and most of the time, if you’ve been around very long, you get to see the same kinds of things pretty repetitively.

But every once in a while, there comes along this one bitch of a case.  It won’t work, nothing you do helps, all the tests say everything is totally fine, and even the logs are pretty clean.  Well, as clean as logs ever get.

So you start just poking at random, seeing what little changes you can make and what effect you can attribute to that change.  Hopefully you hit one that’s somehow connected to the real problem.

And somehow, these bitch cases always seem to be somehow life or death — at least to the user.  You’ve seen ’em come and go, and somehow, despite all the whining, the world never ends.

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