On Fear, Health, and Tomorrow’s Surgery

A selfie taken the day before my septoplasty surgery, September 11, 2023.

“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”― Margaret Atwood

Unless I had a herniated disk in my back that shot hot pain knives down both sciatic nerves or a cough that I couldn’t get rid of for over a month or something outside of maybe one standard deviation of the general human health experience, I didn’t go to the doctor for more than two decades. And if I had to distill the reasons for that gross dereliction down to its purest essence, it would be this mortifying one:

I don’t like stepping on the scale.

Like most people, I have body image issues, and any time I step on the scale and that number isn’t to my liking (which can be for any of a dozen contextual or deep seated reasons), my brain spirals off into neurosis to the point that thinking about my weight can ruin my entire day. It was simply easier from a basic functional standpoint just to ignore the scale, and by extension most of my general health, instead of wrestling the mental demons inside my own stupid brain.

The Ostrich Effect is not only easy, it’s comfortable!

It’s also possibly killing you.

It’s both weirdly comforting and incredibly demoralizing knowing I’m not alone here. I talked about how I finally bucked up and went to the doctor when I was on the radio last month, and I quoted an article I found on – ha! – AARP.org discussing why men avoid going to the doctor. Here’s a pertinent passage:

“Common reasons included embarrassment or discomfort with discussing certain issues and not wanting to be told that they should change their diets or lifestyle. Some said they didn’t mention a health concern because they weren’t ready to face a troubling diagnosis, or because they didn’t want to be judged. One-quarter of men say they’ve ‘felt judged’ by their doctors.”

In other words, cowardice. Better to be a prideful dickhead and die early than have to face the horror of a doctor politely insinuating that you’re fat, nudging you to drink less alcohol and eat better foods, or, GOD FORBID, catch a life-threatening illness in its early stages that allows you to, y’know, GO ON LIVING. Perish the thought!

If you think I’m making fun of you, I am. But that’s on you. Go to a fucking doctor. The truth is that I’m making fun of myself because I was that very same prideful dickhead up until January of this year. I said it 275 words ago, and I’ll repeat it here: I didn’t go to the doctor for 20+ years because I didn’t like stepping on a scale. The meanest part of my brain already calls me fat 50 times a day, and I’m worried about a medical professional merely intimating it?! How fucking stupid is that?

I think it was my wife’s second skin cancer diagnosis combined with meeting Kathy Sabine (an evangelist for getting regular skin cancer checks) when she was a guest on Vic Lombardi’s Denver combined with turning 40 that finally propelled me to get over myself, and get a baseline reading for my health.

So off I went. Got a physical, got blood work done, got a full body skin cancer check. Taking those in reverse order: Absolutely no signs of skin cancer, my bloodwork came back nearly pristine (my LDLs were just a touch high), and yes, I was indeed carrying too much weight, but otherwise I was shipshape… except for an irregularity in the second sound of my heartbeat. My dad had a heart issue that wasn’t corrected until much later in life, so my GP referred me to a cardiologist.

He listened to my heart, heard what she heard, and ordered an at-home sleep study suspecting me of having sleep apnea. Great.

Like an asshole, I dragged my feet on the sleep study. When the results came back, sure enough, my fears were confirmed and I not only had sleep apnea, I had, like, SUPER sleep apnea! I evidently stop breathing something like 50+ times an hour, which despite me not having the traditional symptoms of sleep apnea like drowsiness, irritability, or restlessness, the condition was absolutely murdering my heart due to the increased stress I was putting on it from being hypoxic multiple times a night. A reading on my pulse oximeter indicated that I got as low as 54% blood oxygen saturation while asleep. Not great, Bob!

I got a CPAP machine, and reader, after trying to use it for two months, I cannot express to you how much I hate it. I want to dropkick this fucking thing into the sun. My doctor told me my heart sounded better (possibly also to me being down about 20 lbs since January), but my sleep had gotten immeasurably worse. And when your sleep goes to shit, the rest of your life becomes much more difficult to enjoy. I needed an alternative.

So here I sit a day out from surgery to fix my deviated septum. It’s not the only thing wrong with my breathing anatomy (long story short: my nose and throat are anatomically REAL fucked up), but it’s the first and most readily fixable thing on the to-do list.

And here’s the truth: I’m scared.

I talked to Kristin about it, and she’s like, “Yeah. They’re gonna cut into your face. You’re signing up for several days of pain. That sucks, and that’s not fun. It’s alright to be scared.”

Fair enough point, but that’s not why I’m scared. After going through my herniated disk that featured days on end of blinding pain, the loss of feeling in my right foot, the inability to make dorsiflexion in that same foot, sessions and sessions of excruciating physical therapy, and months of wearing a hard plastic AFO brace that made walking suck so I could re-learn the neural pathways to make a heel strike again, I cannot possibly fathom how the pain of this surgery could even come close to being worse than that. Pain sucks, but pain is temporary. And from what I’ve read and heard about this surgery, the pain doesn’t even last that long. I’m not really afraid of the pain.

I’m afraid I’m going to die.

I’ve never had surgery before. I’ve never gone under general anesthesia. And although I know intellectually that control is largely an illusion, I’ve never experienced a perceived loss of control like the idea of being unconscious while a team of professionals cut into me. And I hate it. I hate this idea. Hate it, hate it, hate it. A not insignificant part of me is convinced I’m going to die tomorrow. I hate that even more.

Is this fear irrational? Of course! But then, so is the fear of getting told (accurately) you’re overweight by a medical professional and letting this fear prevent you from getting regular checkups for 20 goddamn years. Irrationality is the most human of human traits.

But here’s the thing, I am no longer governed by my irrationality. That trait had its turn driving the bus, and did mostly a fine job through the classic combination of hope and luck, but its time is over. Every day we hope to be a little bit better than we were yesterday. And tomorrow I’m facing this fear head-on and letting these bastards cut into my fucking face while I’m in a chemically induced sleep. Hooray.

But I know this is the right decision. I believe this will improve my quality of life. And I choose to make better decisions about my health for my wife, my kids, my family, my friends, and my life that I love and that I work hard for.

My doctors have almost all been women. That’s why I chose the Margaret Atwood quote above as this essay’s lede. I spent two decades being afraid, more or less, that some lady doctor would laugh at me.

Ironically enough, that fear of getting laughed at might just kill us as men.

Get yourselves checked out, gents.

See you on the other side of surgery.

2 comments on “On Fear, Health, and Tomorrow’s Surgery

  1. Emily says:

    Thanks so much for sharing all this and hope your recovery goes smoothly! I’ve also never been under general and it scares me but Eric’s handled it like a champ so go figure. Best wishes!!!

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