The running joke is that every year I make a birthday post about how I’m getting old and I’m going to be dead any minute now. I try to find some sort of humorous way to joke about death or aging and then maybe follow it up with a sarcastic remark about Half-Life 3. It’s a funny traditionFunny according to the standards set on this site, anyway. YMMV. but I’m just not feeling it this year. So let’s have a serious conversation about my health.
Now, I generally dislike sharing too much information. I don’t mind telling people I have asthma, but I don’t want to list off my current medications and treatment history. That’s just weird. On the other hand, I’ve been pulling THIS bullshit for the last four months:
Shamus: Owie. I’m too sick to do my job.
The Internet: Oh? What’s wrong?
Shamus: I don’t want to talk about it.
That’s just annoying. If I don’t want to talk about it, then I shouldn’t bring it up. At the same time, I feel the need to explain myself when I fail my commitments. So here’s what’s going on…
Like I said back in May, I went into the hospital for high blood pressure. Back in 2019 I noticed it was creeping up on me. So I needed to get to the doctor. The problem was that my regular doctor – the guy I’ve been going to since 1986 when I was 15 and he was a new doctor fresh out of med school – had retired. He’d handed his patients off to another practice, but that practice was far away and the new doctor was booked months ahead of time. So I needed to find a doctor I could actually go to.
I wasn’t crazy about searching for a new doctor during the pandemic. This was doubly hard because most PCPs have joined these stupid cartels run by insurance companies. I’m self-employed, which means I amWas actually. I’ll come back to this. uninsured. The cartel doctors either don’t want to see you, or they want to charge hundreds of dollars for hurried visits.
Now, there are affordable doctors out there, and there are clinics I could visit. But I was really shy of walking into an unknown clinic and sitting in a waiting room with an unknown number of sick people for an unknown length of time at the height of the pandemic. Being an older asthmatic, my chances of survival vs. COVID would not be good.
So I didn’t go to the doctor. I waited. And waited. And waited.
At the time, I thought the big risk of chronic high BP was having a stroke. Like, your blood pressure gets too high and so you burst a pipe somewhere in your head. This was still my understanding of the problem, even after getting out of the hospital.
But no. This is not the biggest risk. It’s still bound to kill you, but I was wrong about what sort of death I was risking.
At any rate, my blood pressure kept climbing until May, when I began experiencing a continuous headache as a side-effect of the elevated pressure. That’s when I went into the hospital. That brought down my BP, and I began learning the specific mechanics of what my problems were and what had been happening to me for the last 9 months or so.
On top of the risk of aneurysm, high BP gradually damages your heart and kidneys. That’s what typically kills you. Aneurysms are possible, but heart / kidney failure is the real statistical threat in these circumstances.
My heart wound up a little enlarged from the ordeal, but the doctors have all been very positive regarding my heart over the last few months. Apparently it’s ticking away just fine. Better than fine, actually. I’m not clear on the details, but I’m beating the odds in terms of people my age / condition. So that’s nice.
The bad news? My kidneys. The elevated BP evidently destroyed 75% to 85% of my kidney function.
Now, you’re born with a lot of “extra” kidney capacity. Your kidneys can lose about 90% of their capacity and they’ll still be able to keep you alive. Beyond that, and you’re facing kidney dialysis. You might even end up on a waiting list for organ transplant. I’m darn close to this cutoff point. My kidneys are just barely able to do their job. Any more damage, and they’re done for.
My kidneys are doing almost everything I need them to, but they can’t quite keep up with potassium cleanup.
How it works is this: You need potassiumPotatoes and bananas are a common source of this. to survive. Too little, and you get weakness, fatigue, and heart palpitations. Too much, and you get a heart attack.
You’ll notice that most people don’t need to carefully monitor their potassium intake. This is because normies eat as much potassium as they like, and then their kidneys throw away the excess. That’s great, unless your kidneys are struggling to keep up.
So I had to cut most potassium from my dietThe typical western diet is heavy in potassium and you usually consume much more than you need. and now I need regular blood tests to keep an eye on things.
So for the last few months I’ve been gradually adjusting to this new life. Some levels would get out of whack and I’d end up sleeping / fatigued all day. Then the doctors would catch it, and we’d spend a few weeks hammering out a medication / diet plan to fix things. But then the new drugs / foods would cause a new problem down the road, and we’d need more adjustments.
This has created an annoyingly predictable cycle of motivation and depression since I got out of the hospital. I’ll get weak or in pain, and wind up on my back for a couple of days.
“This is hopeless. I’ll be dead in a year. If I’m going to spend that time in pain, then the sooner the end comes the better.”
Then I’ll get the problem sorted out and get out of bed saying, “Bah. This is nothing. Grandpa Gilbert lived in harsh conditions and today’s medical technology is light years ahead of what he had access to. And that dude lived well into his 80s. Hypertension is a well-understood problem and I should be able to live a more or less normal life. It’s not even a big deal. This pain and sickness is just temporary.”
I’ve been oscillating between depression and optimism for the last few months, to the point where the cycle is regular enough to become predictable and annoying.
The Plan Going Forward
25 years ago, my father-in-law developed high blood pressure. Rather than accept his fate and choke down all those pills and accept their constant side-effects, he joined a gym and began playing racquetball. Two and a half decades later, he’s still healthy, active, and medication-free.
It’s not quite that simple for me. I have some pain and sleep issues preventing me from getting proper exercise. I’m actually due to see a surgeon about that later this week. So far the expectation is that this surgery should be very simple, and it has a very good chance at getting me back on my feet. Once that happens, I can get my ass on a treadmill and I’ll find out how much quality of life I can claw back.
Right now I’m on so many pills that I could almost dump them in a bowl and eat them with a spoon. They’re unpleasant and the cumulative side-effects are horrendous. I have problems digesting corn, and TONS of pills are held together by corn starch.Apparently pills don’t need to list their ingredients the way food products do? This has led to some very unpleasant trial-and-error searches for a stable medication regimen. So I’ve been trying lots of different things, getting sick, and trying new stuff. It hasn’t been a lot of fun.
The good news is that a lot of these pills are only there to deal with the side-effects of the others. If I can get rid of a couple of them, then I can get rid of most of them.
I actually have multiple appointments with different doctors this week, working on different problems. We have health insurance now. It won’t retroactively pay for the hospital stay, but I’m covered for all this new work I’m having done.
Most fans – wanting to be helpful – try to encourage me to relax. “Hey Shamus. Don’t worry about the blog thing. Just take care of your health. We’ll still be here when you come back.”
I appreciate the concern, but I don’t really need “time off” in the form of a hiatus. Running this site and producing content is actually an important part of my mental health. This isn’t a typical desk job with gossip and office politics. This is a creative outlet and I use it to give my life purpose and structure. Sure, the site is kinda frivolous in nature. When I wrote that 2,000 word essay on why space alien cognition makes me think about the problem of dick pics, I didn’t imagine I was going to solve any real-world problems. But it was fun to write, people enjoyed reading it, and the resulting discussion was stimulating and educational for me. This entire process is actually pretty healthy, and I’d be worse off if I wasn’t doing it.
Running the site gives me a reason to get out of bed in the morning. It gives my day structure and it gives me a steady supply of healthy social interactions. Hanging out with Paul and talking about our shared hobbies keeps me from getting lost in my own little world. (I’m actually trying to branch out and collaborate more. We’ll see how it goes.)
So that’s how I’m doing. I’m fifty.
 Funny according to the standards set on this site, anyway. YMMV.
 Was actually. I’ll come back to this.
 Potatoes and bananas are a common source of this.
 The typical western diet is heavy in potassium and you usually consume much more than you need.
 Apparently pills don’t need to list their ingredients the way food products do?
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