Archive for the 'Health' Category


Not even an earful

inner ear

One condition of getting older is the likelihood that my doctor will send me to a specialist. I guess as I slowly break down and descend into decay, my parts need more and more special attention.

Last September, I spent $50 for a visit to the otorhinolaryngologist. I like that word far better than “ears, nose and throat doctor,” or, if you’re too lazy to live, ENT. You know a word, you should use it, right?

Otorhinolaryngologist takes nearly as long to say as my appointment lasted. Continue reading ‘Not even an earful’


Looking outward, looking inward

Half the fun of going to the gym is the chance to observe its particular biosphere. It’s treasure trove of wildlife. I say you ought to get something out of it. Lord knows I hate going to the gym.

It’s a symptom of my inexorable laziness. But I see results when I work out, and male vanity is even more compulsive than laziness. So I go. But always in the morning before work—because I hate going after work even more.

So I’ve become familiar with the characters of my morning routine. I think you see a more consistent recurrence of the same people in the morning. Everyone’s routines are a little more regimented early in the day. We still have discipline in the morning, and hope—as opposed to later in the day when we are apathetic and undone and much more inclined to get a cocktail than lift anything heavier than a gym bag.

Continue reading ‘Looking outward, looking inward’


Gay Blood? Don’t Bank On It.

Shall I be insulted by, or merely appreciate the irony of, a sign posted outside my office in the elevator lobby encouraging us to donate blood. As corporate social service initiatives go, it’s a fine idea in concept. But since 1985, gay men have been banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from making blood donations.

This floor is occupied by Logo, the GLBT network. I guess they’re going after the handful of folks across the hall who work for Nickelodeon?

To their credit, the Red Cross and the American Association of Blood Banks want all donors to be treated equally. Right now it’s a lifetime ban, but they would have the deferral period be reduced to a year, which is the current rule for heterosexuals who may have been exposed to HIV risk.

The FDA is undergoing a review, but who knows when they’ll make a final decision.

I think they’re still missing the point, though. The risk comes not from man-on-man action, but from the absence of condoms. Straight folk may have unprotected sex within a year of their blood donation and pose no apparent risk.

That’s still kinda discriminatory, no?

Fortunately for me, I can’t give blood anyway. I have such anxiety about needles, whether it’s an injection or an extraction, that I’m likely to pass out and hit my head on something. That, to me, is a more immediate threat to my health than the idea of getting blood from a gay guy.


No Vegetables After Midnight

At a diner in center city Philadelphia, the Midtown III Diner and Cocktail Lounge, a friend of mine was recently seated for an after-hours snack. As he picked up the menu, the waitress told him gruffly, “No vegetables after midnight.”

I wonder if that includes french fries and ketchup, or if he was forced to choke down a plate of bacon and liverwurst.


Better Living Through Phrenology

Don’t be so quick to ice that head wound. Build up enough subdermal scar tissue, and you might just change your personality!

    Phrenologist bust
What I couldn’t do with some clippers and a Sharpie.

My friend James would be quick to point out that this is actually a pretty lame misunderstanding of the lost medical science of which he is a practitioner. James is a bona fide Phrenologist. That means he can measure the bumps and indentations in your skull and, based on the readings, make certain educated guesses about your personality.

The motto of Phrenologists: “Know Yourself.” A worthy pursuit, yes? Better be honest, though. The only way to cheat this test is to hit yourself in the head — and that’s no fun for anyone. (Unless you’re into that sort of thing.) I hesitate to think of the revelations that would result.

As one intrepid reporter from Twin Cities alternative weekly The Rake recently discovered, all the benefits of craniometric examination are yours to be had at the Science Museum of Minnesota in sleepy St. Paul.

You can see James giving this guy’s dome a good once-over.

(Those benefits, we learn, incidentally, do not directly include improved sexual prowess. But of course one must always ask, mustn’t one?)

The device James uses, a psychograph, is one of hundreds of items acquired by the formidable museum when it absorbed Minneapolis’ Museum of Questionable Medical Devices, where James gave demonstrations, in 2002. (Why should Minneapolis have all the fun, right?)

As one of the few experts in the discipline, James was rightfully retained by the science museum.

Some call it quackery, some call it a pseudoscience (James calls it a weekend pastime), but phrenology still has its proponents. If not phrenology, this site certainly believes very strongly in itself.

So, the next time someone tells you that you ought to get your head examined, rest assured you have nothing to fear. James is a very nice guy. (And kinda cute.) And he handles his instrument with a gentle and expert hand.

Put down that mallet. No cheating!


A Bad Case

Today’s English lesson:

As painful as it may be, watch it to the end.

Wouldn’t this song make an excellent mash-up with Deniece Williams’ “Let’s Hear It For the Boy”?

Feel the burn.


Sick Time

As spring takes its sweet time getting here, I am reminded that, in this period of seasonal transition, i.e. April (the best April Fool’s joke I’ve seen in a while is yesterday’s temperature), one is well served to guard against germs and other nasties roaming the range. They seem to really sock it to you this time of year as the changing conditions play havoc with immune systems everywhere. I myself just got over my annual cold relatively unscathed. Now, right on schedule, it’s time for some minor throat trauma.

It’s around this time last year that I was fighting off an as yet undefinitively identified infection that was threatening to eat away the roof of my mouth. I can still feel the scars where the festering craters of decay had formed. I can still see the puzzled faces of the doctors with their pen lights aimed into my mouth (What is that?). I can still hear the otorhinolaryngologist wagging his finger, implying that my fondness for sex with men was probably at the root of my problem. (I still can’t figure that one out.) I can feel the needle pushed deep into my ass cheek for the first of a series of three just-in-case injections. (Praise Jesus, I didn’t need installments 2 or 3.)

The best part was the weight I lost avoiding, at first, solid food, and then all food, full stop.

Now we wait for the summer sun to come and burn off the fog of infection. Until then, people are getting pretty gross.

Yesterday while staring out my office window toward the street, I saw a woman sneeze on her kid. She was facing my building, pushing a little girl in an open stroller across the street. She reared back like a pitcher winding up for a fastball and let loose what looked to be an enormously satisfying sneeze. A thick mist issued from her face directly downward, raining droplets of biological refuse, visible from three stories up, onto her precious little charge.

She sniffed back some gack and carried on without pause.

Good luck, kid, I thought.

A day later, another woman on the subway let go of the chrome pole she was grasping so she could sneeze at her hand, only half covering her face, and then put it back exactly where it was on that pole. Another woman on the pole, wisely wearing gloves, registered her shock with a flurry of incredulous blinking and stepped aside to join a companion a few feet away.



There are plenty of unpleasant ways to wake up, nevermind that most of the time waking up is unpleasant on its face.

One can be shaken awake or startled into consciousness by an alarm or a bell or a loud clock or a gunshot — depending on one’s neighborhood. One can be temporarily blinded by the sun through a drawn curtain. One can fall out of bed to a hard, cold floor below. One can be aurally assaulted by barnyard creatures. One can be woken by a restless bed partner or a carelessly noisy roommate.

Or, one can be woken up as I was today.

I was wrenched to sudden, desperate consciousness at 5:40 a.m. when I threw up in my mouth and began to choke. Huck! Gasp! Kack!, I said — Huck! Gasp! Kack!Huck! Gasp! Kack! Seriously, I could not catch my breath. I was scared awake more than anything else. Could I have suffocated on my own vomit? What a crappy way to go. I had exactly two thoughts at that moment: 1.) This is like the first five minutes of a Six Feet Under episode; and 2.) Don’t wake Jeff!

When I could finally breathe, I realized how gross it all was and spent the next few minutes desperately trying to clean my mouth out.

Then I enjoyed a delightful assortment of chewable, fruit-flavored antacid tablets for breakfast before retiring to the couch.

No more pizza at 1 a.m.


New York Lesson No. 331: Thin and Gorgeous

There’s a notion in places like Minnesota and Michigan that people in New York are all thin and stylish. “They all walk everywhere, and they’re all gorgeous, and they all dress in black and look fabulous.”

This is a ridiculous myth. And thank god. Otherwise I’d stand out around here like a pimple on Madonna’s ass.

Daily I see plenty of fat people on the subway who don’t know how to dress. My roommate, an apparent slave to the rumors of the Midwest, says, “Yeah, but those are all the tourists.” I might believe that if these people weren’t on their way to and from work.

Yes, New Yorkers walk more on average than people in most cities in the country. Yes, we are not as fat as Mississippians. But the Naomi Campbells and Beyoncés among us are few and far between, at best — even in Midtown or SoHo or the Village.

I saw Sandra Bernhard in an interview going on and on about how New Yorkers have a great sense of style that no other place in the country can match, and I couldn’t help thinking: “What bullshit. Where do you hang out, lady?” And that’s it. Yeah, there is a small class of people in certain neighborhoods in Manhattan — and by “New York,” unfortunately, she of course narrowly means Manhattan — who push the edges of fashion trends. Of course, Bernhard hangs out with these people. In these places. This is the New York she knows.

The New York I know — the New York most New Yorkers know — is a New York of tank tops, Old Navy t-shirts, frayed jean cuffs, house paint-spattered work boots, dirty fingernails, monochromatic business suits with unimaginative neckties and shoes that don’t match the belt, guts hanging out of ill-fitting halter tops.

Nice shoes, though.

OK. No matter what borough they live in, New Yorkers pay far more attention to their shoes than someone in, say, Minneapolis. I’ll give you that. People in this town may have shitty jeans, but they’ll have fierce shoes.

Apart from that, this panacea of fashion is something I just don’t think exists outside of the imagination.

Anyone who tells you otherwise probably did not grow up here and desperately wants to cling to and be associated with an illogical, unattainable ideal. Indeed, most of the people who will tell you this are themselves fat and fashionless.


Getting Culture

I’m breaking my rule. This is about me. Or, rather, a very specific part of me.

The human mouth is a teeming cesspool of shit.

Bacteria, fungi, protozoa, viruses: It’s a real party in there. A constantly moist 95° F. A rainforest of microorganisms, if you like. And what we eat, they eat.

The more than 100 species of bacteria, and hundreds of species of fungi, protozoa, and viruses that have taken up residence in our mouths is difficult to fathom. Microbiologists estimate that, in addition to these known species, there are up to 500 other living, breathing organisms inhabiting our mouths, although only 50 have been identified and named. The sheer number of these creatures is astronomical, considering the fact that our mouths contain more bacteria than the entire world’s population, and the fact that our bodies house approximately one trillion bacteria.

And this is the beginning of my problem. April was not a good month. For two full weeks, I had a heinous bacterial infection in my mouth.

It started with a chancre sore. Not a huge deal. I’ve had them all my life. I even survived the heart-stopping shock of learning in 8th grade sex ed that chancre sores, like cold sores, are a form of herpes. Now I just deal with them.

But this one, for the first time, was on the tip of my tongue. Creepy. Ugly. Then, a couple days later, I started to get more. Two on my cheek where I bit myself on accident. One in the back of the mouth where my gums meet my cheek. One in the same place on the other side of the mouth. One on the soft palate. One that arrived on the inside of my cheek, as if left by the sadistic evil twin of the Tooth Fairy, overnight. Then — because, as we optimists believe, “it can always be worse” — a second, third, fourth and fifth on my tongue.

I was raging.

Eating, drinking, talking, sleeping — all were miniature excursions into hell. Constant, sharp pain in my mouth all day long put me in a foul mood and gave me a headache. Plus it made me salivate like a dog — some natural, annoying response from the body, I’m sure, like a fever or vomiting — which made me need to move my mouth, which inflicted more pain.

Then the worst of it struck. Some kind of gum infection on the roof of my mouth. Imagine taking a hook, digging it into the flesh around your upper teeth, and stretching it back toward the throat. It would open a pretty angry-looking, sensitive sore. Then fill that sore with dead, gray, decaying tissue. Then add an unpleasant odor. Now multiply it by two, one for each side of the mouth.

I lost almost 10 pounds eating nothing but oatmeal, boxed mashed potatoes, and macaroni with butter. (I couldn’t eat, but I looked fabulous!) I found myself eyeing baby food at the drug store while I was waiting for my prescriptions. Eventually the oatmeal had to go, because it was hard to dig it out of the sores with my tongue. Mashed potatoes I could roll into a ball and carefully pass back to my throat on my tongue. The macaroni was the best, because it just kind of slid down. No tongue. No chewing. Bliss.

I saw three doctors in a week and a half. The third one brought a bunch of his colleagues into the exam room so they could each peer into my mouth with their pen lights. I felt like a circus side show freak. “What can it be?” Whatever it was kept me out of work for a full week.

I assumed it was something bacterial. I thought it might be trench mouth, which I had seen before on someone else. The doctor laughed at me. “Trench mouth? What’s that?”

He only knew it by the more scientific-sounding stomatitis or acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis. Pretty, huh? Only the older doctors in the office knew what trench mouth is.

Trench mouth — a severe gum infection — earned its name because of its prevalence among soldiers on the front lines during World War I. Although it’s less common today, trench mouth still affects thousands of young adults between the ages of 15 and 35. The disease is also known by other names, including Vincent’s stomatitis and acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis.

Trench mouth begins as a bacterial infection that causes inflamed, bleeding gums, but eventually, large ulcers may form on your gums and between your teeth. These are often extremely painful and can cause bad breath and a foul taste in your mouth.

Although the exact cause isn’t well understood, trench mouth seems to develop when factors such as poor oral hygiene, tobacco use and stress disrupt the balance between “good” and “bad” bacteria in your mouth.

They treated me for something viral with a big fat injection in the butt — one of a possible three, I was promised. Rock and roll. They also gave me antibiotics because, after four doctor’s office visits, no one was able to diagnose the problem. Every test came back negative. Every culture came back normal.

I don’t smoke. I had good oral hygiene. The cultures the doctor extracted and grew showed that there was nothing in my mouth that didn’t belong there. There was just too much of something and not enough of another, I guess. Makes sense, but what the heck could have been so stressful to so upset the balance of good and bad bugs in my mouth?

The antibiotics took effect. No more shots, thank God. The infection cleared in a day or so. Then I just had two craters of raw tissue on the roof of my mouth to heal, hyper-sensitive teeth, and no prospects of using toothpaste in the near future.

My biggest problem, actually, is that I can’t play rugby, because I can’t wear my mouth guard.

At least I’m back to solid food again.

the untallied hours