Testing, Testing

Kage Baker endured many medical procedures. She was heroic about it – patient, courteous, quiet. Brave.

And it was bravery, because she hated everything to do with medical tests. They were usually weird, often painful, and always embarrassing for her. Even so simple a procedure as a blood sample was a trial for her, because needles scared her and because Kage was a profoundly modest lady. And it’s apparently a law of nature that the medical assistance field is positively littered with people who have all the native manners of barnacles.

Kage was, literally, paper-white. On her, a tan was a hearty ivory, or someplace the freckles ran together.  “My God, you’re pale!” exclaimed dozens of nurses, whose own complexions ranged from good chocolate to maybe 2 shades darker than Kage’s own. “Are you anemic? Are you sure?” How the hell they expected her to tell from the inside I never figured out. But it always embarrassed her, and involved two or three more vials of blood.

“Wow, have you got thick ankles!” Yes – but very thin wrists; and what did either one have to do with treating her bronchitis? “Your hair is amazing – is it natural?” says a total stranger running her hands through Kage’s waist-length red hair – being a nurse doesn’t entitle you to handle a patient like a plush toy. I would watch the shudder run through Kage from her scalp to her toes; as the years went on, I made sure to always accompany her in doctors’ offices, and I was ferocious in stopping this kind of invasive crap.

As I have mentioned a few times before, Kage was an Aspie  (as she and Kimberly referred to it). She had Aspergers Syndrome, which can complicate  encounters as impersonal as sharing an elevator: you can imagine what it’s like in a doctor’s office. I started accompanying her to appointments when we were in our 20’s, and rapidly realized I had to be fierce and willing to speak up in order to keep things bearable for her. Kage had a will of iron and could get through an exam on her own; but why should anyone have to keep such a stiff upper lip that they then collapse in shaking distress when they get home? Why should the cost of a doctor’s visit include stress vomiting? It just should not.

Me, I have no more modesty than a cat. An interest in physiology and years in the theatre  have eroded what little demureness I may have ever had (couldn’t have been much …). I’m the sort of annoying patient who criticizes blood draw techniques and demands to know exactly what they are taking; who insists that the test monitor be turned so I can see it, and wants all the structures identified. I diagnosed my own gallstones and pointed them out to my doctor on the x-ray.

I metamorphosed into a remorseless demon during Kage’s last year of life. Nothing was done unless I understood it and had explained it to her. No one got to handle her roughly, and sometimes not at all – they could assist me in moving her, or watch. I assisted the resident who implanted her IV port – I showed the nurse who did not know how to hook up the IV for internal radiation therapy how the port worked. I removed Kage from the hospital AMA twice, when she couldn’t stand it there one more minute – the second time I had to bathe her first (no one had answered the bell in an hour), and only the necessity of racing for the EXIT kept me from making a scene at the nursing station.

I was not nice. Some of it, of course, was guilt that I hadn’t twigged to what was wrong 6 months earlier and dragged her into a doctor’s office … but there was no way to make up that initial hideous error, and all I could do was protect as she fought for her life. So I did.

Right now, I am waiting for a sleep test. I’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea, because that is something that happens to people with congestive heart failure. My poor patient sister Kimberly sometimes listens to me breathe at night (or not) and is waiting anxiously for this test to be done and treatment to begin. Breathing is not something that should be indulged in on a sporadic basis, after all.

My test was scheduled for tonight – I’d already packed pretty pajamas, even. This morning it was cancelled, when the Sleep Center suddenly realized they didn’t take my insurance. A horde of questions arise from how they overlooked this – but they were so upset that I didn’t have the heart to yell about it. They’ve kindly re-scheduled me at an alternate facility for May 5th,  though I fear Kimberly will be ritually cursing them the entire 2 weeks until then …

See, this is how things work in this family. You always take along another brain in case yours cannot cope. And there is just no better co-brain than the ones you share with your sisters.

It’s a well-tested fact.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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10 Responses to Testing, Testing

  1. Mark says:

    “…I’m the sort of annoying patient who criticizes blood draw techniques and demands to know exactly what they are taking…”

    I LOL’d at this…. Since today was my monthly blood test to make sure my rat poison (Coumadin aka warfarin, and yes, it really is the principal ingredient in a variety of rat poisons) is kept in the correct level in my blood… When the phlebotomist came into the room, the first words out of my mouth were:
    “Fair warning, I’m a coumadin patient and have rolling veins. The right arm is an easier stick. And you’ll probably want to use a butterfly [smaller type of needle].”
    “You’ve done this before.”
    “Yes, I have.”
    “I prefer to use a regular needle.”
    “Well… if it takes more than two sticks, someone else will be completing my draw.”
    He found a vein and tried for blood…
    And when he missed the first stick, he muttered, “…you really do…”
    The look I gave him singed his eyebrows.
    He went back to the supply cart, took out a butterfly, and got the vein on the second try.

    And on my way out, the cheery receptionist handed me a card with the lab’s corporate headquarters website, asking “How did we do?”


    • Kate says:

      I’m not on rat poison, but my veins are both narrow and deep – in fact, the right one is well-nigh unusable. About 90% of the time, the phlebotomist listens; the other 10% get the standard 2 tries and then I revolt. And no way will I let them try a back-of-the-hand draw: they always want at least 4 vials, and my hand infiltrates as soon as it’s looked at. A steady hand will always get the left elbow vein – they just need to listen to me. Being sick doesn’t mean you’re stupid!


  2. johnbrownson says:

    Re, Kage’s modesty: I am unlikely to ever forget the time I innocently came back stage, only to encounter the two of you, changing out of costume. Theatrical that I am, I thought nothing of it, but one of you- I think it was Kage- ordered me, in a truly blood chilling tone, to restore your privacy by leaving, immediately. Did I protest, citing my own comfort with various states of undress in such circumstances? I believe I did, briefly, and then some deeper wisdom, having to do with self-preservation, came to the fore, and I left. I barely knew either of you (being new to the Company), and it was quite a, thoughtful, while before I returned. At least I had the wisdom to not take offense, thank God. Some things are clearly not to be messed with or questioned, whatever one might think. This was one of them.


    • Kate says:

      It was Kage, my dear. Sigh … she felt bad about it later, when she got to know you well. But she just never got used to the “changing in the open” thing. You’ve seen me, I change in the middle of the Parlour – the only reason I was backstage that day was that 1) I needed to unbutton Kage; and 2) I can’t get in or out of my own costume without help! I’m so sorry, still, that she was blood-curdling about it … she used to claim, though, that it was for the innocent viewer’s own good, as she was so pale she would strike the unwary observer blind with reflected glare.


  3. mizkizzle says:

    A sleep test sounds lovely, especially if it’s done in a four-star hotel in a bed made up with Frette sheets. However, I suspect that’s not the case.
    Is sleep apnea associated with window-rattling snoring, when one’s uvula and tonsils and adenoids throw a really noisy party at 3 am?


    • Kate says:

      I am informed by my sister Kimberly that I now snore quite vigourously – though I didn’t prior to about 3 years ago. My doctor tells me apnea is almost always associated with snoring; with the difference that just snoring is not necessarily dangerous. Sleep apnea, is.


  4. Lynn says:

    Mizkizzle, it can be. I sure wish I had been in a hotel during the testing. Kaiser lent me a machine and I had the testing in my own bed. Had to make said bed the next morning too!

    After my daughters (never mind my husband’s delicate ears) demanded that I get checked I discovered in January that I ahave moderate moderate apnea. This means I stop breathing 20 times per hour on an average. They gave me a CPAP and I sleep quite well now, waking up mostly refreshed without the oxygen-deprived headache I thought was my lot for the rest of my life. Heartburn during the night is a thing of the past. Rory can sleep through the night without leaving the warmth of our bed. The only drawback is that for the first couple of weeks he’d check to see if I was breathing because he couldn’t hear me any more. I also have what we call mask-face, where the straps push into the skin when I sleep. No big deal; they’re gone once I shower.

    Kathleen, if you are diagnosed with moderate to severe apnea and they give you the equipment, you may find yourself more refreshed when you wake in the morning. I haven’t noticed it but apnea is often connected to weight gain and you may lose some weight once you get onto the equipment – and that helps minimize the apnea and the heart issues.

    Best wishes on your test. Bring a #2 pencil.


    • Kate says:

      Liz – I will fervently embrace anything that helps me sleep. If it helps me sleep all night, AT night and not fall asleep during the day, I’ll be ecstatic. My snoring apparently doesn’t bother anyone, but my sleep patterns have gotten much. much more erratic and I would really welcome some relief. Any weight loss would be great, too!


  5. mizkizzle says:

    Sorry about the sleep apnea, but here’s something that may brighten your day: after YEARS of searching I have finally discovered a shampoo that smells just like the original Herbal Essence.
    (I’ll pause a moment for applause and huzzahs of dizzy joy.)
    It’s called Herbal Fresh and is made by Mirta Perales. I paid nine bucks for an eight-ounce bottle from an outfit called Dscents in Miami. Fla. It’s a little pricey but it’s way less than the $75 that someone wanted for a bottle of the original stuff on eBay.
    I think I recall you mentioning that you were an Herbal Essence fan back in the day. Honestly. I keep smelling the hand with which I tested a small sample. That’s how good it is.
    Next up: finding a desk lamp shaped like a bottle of 7-Up, like the one I had in junior high.


    • Kate says:

      Hurrah! I’ll look this up and try it out, if I can. I was so unhappy when my previous connection at Vermont Country Store stopped carrying their knock-off.


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