Thursday, March 02, 2006

Good Ole Barium

I have fond memories of barium. We go a long way back. Yesterday when I took a cupful to prepare for my CAT scan, I was propelled into a reverie of my days when I worked (and, cough, taught) at the University of Chicago. I worked in the medical center that was full of world-class physicians. One day, I had enough of this constant feeling in my esophagus (technically speaking “Food Pipe”) that something was lodged in there. Hence, I swallowed just about every five seconds, trying to push down what was stuck. At times, the feeling tossed me into unexpected heaves, those spasms of ineffective acts of vomiting. It would happen no matter who was around—meeting, taking to a friend, or sitting in Fazlur Rahman’s office at NELC, who gave me carte blanche to see him anytime and sit in on any of his classes (ok, the last name dropping in this post).

So I decided to do something about this stuck object. I walked to the GI department and asked some physician who looked busy if I could ask him a question. He was eager to oblige. I explained the situation. Then he called a colleague of his, and the two were perplexed a bit. So they put their schedule on hold and proceeded to examine me. I had insurance, but I didn’t want to go through that circus. Since I worked in the Medical Center, why not just walk up to experts and ask them about anything that bothered me? It was amazingly cool to do that. I don’t think that’s possible now, some 20 years later. But I’ll always remember really good people willing to offer a helping hand.

Well, they looked down my throat as far as they could, then finally they told me to drink some barium. I did, and then they scanned. They found that there’s nothing in my esophagus. What I had was esophageal muscle spasms. They said it was a simple matter, perhaps caused by things on my mind (I was unmarried) or other stresses, or I had swallowed something extremely hot or something that irritated my esophagus, some spice that actually caused this strange reaction to persist. So after about 2 hours of search and find, they gave me some muscle relaxant, mild though. And, thank God, the problem disappeared.

I took advantage of my context a few times for whatever ailment I had. Once the cap on my tooth simply dropped. No one was around when it fell into my lap, thank goodness. So I walked to the oral surgery department, and in seconds, someone there “glued” it back after cleaning it off and drilling out the old glue.

My kingdom for a health care system like that. If you've seen my kingdom, it's really a fantastic deal: some books, an old short wave radio, coffee mugs, and a couple of cats.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mmmmmm ... Barium

But, your majesty, your kingdom sounds lonely, almost as if, sniff, sniff i dont exist tear, tear, but that's ok because before i came along you had a nasty esophogus problem, which, apparently, stemmed from my absence.

And what a sweet set up you had at u of c. Any chances of getting your old job back?

just kidding! I love what you do.


3/02/2006 3:08 PM  
Blogger Julaybib said...

My kingdom:

Wake up the night when I dream of a place where
Nothing is me and everything you
Darkness is gone and the sun it is shining
Everyone knows what to do

The people have gathered in cities, on mountains
All the old winds have been whispered away
Miracles happen a hundred a minute
We’re learning to make a new world

Can you tell the difference
between living and dieing?
between laughing and crying?
between walking and flying?

wake up the place when I dream of a night where
no one is me and everyone you
darkness is song and the spirit is rising
everyone knows what you do

the people have gathered in towns and on rivers
all the old ways have been whispered a way
miracles happen a hundred a minute
we’re living to make a new world

can you tell the difference
between tripping and trying?
between loving and lying?
between floating and flying?

wake up the night when I dream of a place where
nothing is me and everything you
darkness is gone and the sun it is shining
everyone knows what to do

the people have gathered in cities, on mountains
all the old winds have been whispered away
miracles happen a hundred a minute
we’re learning to make a new world

3/05/2006 1:53 AM  
Blogger Abuljude said...

U of C! I didn't know that you were a fellow geek. When were you there? I graduated undergrad in '91. I was also a NELC groupie - hanging around Rashid, Woods, and such. Sadly for me, Fazlur Rahman had already passed - Allah Yirhamo.

As for your experience with the U of C med center - believe me, that is probably the only way you COULD have been seen expeditiously back then.

Imagine if you will then what it is like for, say the middle class professionals in Pakistan, who are unlikely to even have medical insurance - unless they work for a place like Aga Khan Medical Center.

3/06/2006 2:47 PM  
Blogger fromclay said...

AJ -- I worked at UC between 1981-1985, and also studied a bit Neuroscience, before succumbing to NU, writing, editing, et al. But I never will forget my UC days. I loved the campus, the environment, the book stores, and the chats and arguments. They were important years for me, before I became jaded, which I'm just getting out of now (God help!).

As for third world health care (here and abroad), it's hard on the soul to reflect on that. I remember in Jordan when I got sick as a dog and needed some medical help. It was an eye-opener. I also remember going to a hospital in Cairo, seeing cats running in and out the place, and it all seemed normal. On the plane ride back from Amman, I actually thought I wasn't going to make it. My fever spiked as high as the plane flew. God bless the stewards who helped me so much. They emptied a row for me to sleep in. I won't forget that either.

3/06/2006 6:47 PM  
Anonymous Maryam said...

yakoub i'm stealing that poem/song.

3/07/2006 2:37 AM  
Blogger Abuljude said...

My favorite horror story is that of my former grad school roomate who, while on a Fullbright in Cairo, developed appendicitis. His appendectomy, however, appeared to go smoothly, and he made a good recovery until some weeks later when his pain returned and actually worsened. He was rushed back to the OR....

The culprit? The first surgeon used the wrong sutures, ones that didn't dissolve, thus creating a problem almost greater than the one he started with.

(Alhamdu Lillah, he is fine now, no thanks to the Cairo health system.)

3/07/2006 10:02 AM  

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