Too Young to Retire. Old Enough to Die.

**I am sorry. Knowing better, I used a culturally insensitive image for this post originally. It was lazy, sloppy, and unfair to think that because I am in pain, I am allowed to push the envelope in ways that are harmful to other people. I am sorry for my oversight. The appropriation of The Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos) is rampant, and therefore should not be used even in jest or for dramatic effect. This holiday is meant to honor those who have passed on to the afterlife, and when gringos (like me) use it, we mock a culture that deserves our respect. 

In the process, I hurt some friends whom I didn’t intend to harm in any way. Also, by excusing myself, even just for a minute, I became a part of the ironic/hipster racism that plagues our country and world because of artists and thinkers lacking the foresight to see the harm in inflicts. I am very ashamed and sorry. 

Further, I used snapchat to get the effect, thereby making it even easier for anyone with a smartphone to appropriate a culture for their pleasure. I am going to write snapchat a letter, and I recommend you do too. 

Lastly, I want to be clear– in the new image, I am NOT wearing a turban. It’s a Dolce & Gabanna beanie. **

The searing pain in my in my right ribcage was becoming unbearable. Sitting, standing, laying down: I could not escape the dull knife that had been theoretically lodged between ribs for the past couple of days. My friend insisted, “You need a doctor!” Irony is, she is a doctor… but not the kind I needed, and I am a tough guy, so I initially refused. With each move, each cough, each breath, I grimaced. And it was then I declared, “I’m dying.”

I called my doctor and I received their medical suggestion via voicemail later in the day: Mucinex. I thought to myself, I don’t need Mucinex! It’s my ribs! It’s not inside! People kept insisting that I needed decongestant, but I am not congested. I deduced that because I have had a cough for months, my ribs were injured due to the stress of coughing. Yeah, that’s a thing! I called my doctor back and left a message:

Hi. It’s Nathan. Here’s the thing… I don’t need Mucinex. In fact, after getting treated for strep throat at urgent care, I started Mucinex. That led to near-death-amounts of coughing and mucus expulsion— then I was treated for bronchitis at your clinic. After THAT round of antibiotics was complete, which you weren’t even sure I needed since most cases of bronchitis, as you also mentioned to me at the appointment before writing me the prescription, are viral, my ribs started kicking my ass. Figuratively, of course. So, NO. I actually don’t need Mucinex. I don’t know if I need anything from you, since you want to give me Mucinex. So, I am going to urgent care… AGAIN, because you don’t have time for me… and obviously would result in a prescription for Windex or something. In fact, what I need from you is… <the machine cut me off>

I proceeded up the street to urgent care, as promised in my message to the doctor. I checked in and within minutes I was in the examination room. They started off with vitals and I explained why I was there: rib pain. I let them know what my health looked like for the past two months. Among the completion of vitals and history, the nurse came in and asked me to put on a gown for the X-rays and the EKG they would need to take. X-rays sure… but why an EKG? I later found out that they interpreted “rib pain” as “chest pain.” They thought I was having a heart attack! I guess it’s better to be thorough than to ignore the “chest pains” they told me I was having. So, they did about ten X-rays from various angles and then I was led back to the examination room for the EKG. I asked the technician, “What is this for?” The technician explained to me what the test would be used for, while shaving patches of hair off my chest for the pads to be applied. I was like, “Whoa whoa whoa. What do you think you’re doing?” She explained that she had to shave my chest to apply to the pads… “ALL OF IT!?” She laughed and reassured me that it was just in three spots, and she would make it look good. I allowed her to proceed.

Once the electrodes were affixed, she took the first reading. With an extremely perplexed look on her face, she told me to relax while she did it again. The look returned three more times before she told me to hang out while she went and talked to the doctor. This was sign number two: I am dying.

After minutes that felt like weeks, she returned and said, you’re all good! I wanted to interrogate her about the lack of poker face, but let it go. She handed me a copy of the EKG as a souvenir. Then the doctor came in with the results of my X-rays. “Good news!” he exclaimed. “Your ribs are not broken. You probably just slept on your side wrong and that’s what’s going on…”

I looked at him blankly and out of my mouth came, “I don’t believe you. IF I had, in fact, slept on my side wrong, the pain would be going away with time, not intensifying.” He agreed. He then for the first time since I arrived, actually examined me. You would think that this would be a first step… before X-rays and before an EKG. Instead, I had to tell him that I don’t believe what he was saying in order for him to actually touch the spot on my ribs that was hurting. In doing so, flinch after flinch, he finally could see the amount of pain I was experiencing. He explained that he could not be sure what caused the pain, but it seems muscular. He wrote me a prescription for Motrin, and I was on my way back to reality.

The next day came and I was on my way to a coffee meeting when I received the voicemail after I emerged from the tunnels of the MTA—

Hi, Nathan. This is the radiology office. The doctor did a preliminary read of your X-rays, and then we review them more thoroughly to ensure they didn’t miss anything. Can you call us back at your earliest convenience? Thank you.

Sign number three: I am dying. I called back immediately and after pushing buttons at the robot’s request in order to be directed to the appropriate person, I finally found myself on the phone with a delightful man. “Thank you for calling NAME OF CLINIC, this is NAME OF MAN, how may I help you?” I explained why I was calling and he pulled up my file and then sign number four: I am dying, “Oh! Oh. One second. I just need to tell the radiologist that you’re calling back. They like to know when you’re calling back. I am going to tell them that you’re calling back. Please hold.” I was holding and was taken aback by the fact that the man on the other end of the phone kept repeating himself and he also seemed to attempt to mask his discomfort with what he found in my file. Great.

A cheerful radiologist picked up the phone and identified herself as RADIOLOGIST. She proceeded to tell me—

Hi, Nathan. I am a radiologist here and the doctors at our clinics do a preliminary reading of your X-rays, but we like to analyze them more closely…

She continued, but the way she was framing up what she was trying to get to only led me to sign number five: I am dying.

Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, we found a nodule on your lung, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So follow-up with your primary care doctor and good luck!

The world around me stopped. I was on the street corner of Oh Shit and Fuck Me (otherwise know as 51st and Lexington). I hung up the phone and then stood there, dead in my tracks. It’s going to be fine, I thought, this is just a coincidence. Which lung did she say it was on? I don’t remember. I should call back. This would explain the fatigue, the sweats, the pain, the lung issues. I called back to find out which lung had the nodule— sure enough, sign number six: I am dying— Upper right lobe, directly over my rib pain. I called my primary care doctor back, left an insanely neurotic message, and hung up.

It was time for my coffee meeting. The world started moving again and I was quickly absorbed into the flow of foot-traffic. I became just another nameless and faceless automaton in the hustle of NYC living. Over coffee, I did my best not to think about my recent death sentence, but then I was asked, “How are you?”

Me?! How am I? Great. I’m great! Why? No. It’s fine. I am actually getting back on track after a stressful start of the semester— I was balancing work, school, and my health— and today I just found out that I have a nodule on my lung, so I am probably dying. Ha ha ha. No seriously, they found a node on my lung? And I am convinced that it’s the worst possible thing it could be, but it’s probably nothing. You know? Anyway, I am fine. How are you?!

There was a pause in the conversation, and my coffee date reassured me that it was all going to be ok. We soon wrapped up our time, and then I was left with the spiral of thoughts that are wont to make one crazy.

The fact is, I still don’t know more information about my NODULE. I am awaiting my follow-up appointment, but what pisses me off is the cold and detached way the initial radiologist call was— I don’t need hand-holding, but I expect a little more than, “So follow-up with your primary care doctor and good luck!” Good luck? Why do I need luck? I don’t even know what’s happening or if the nodule is something I should be worried about. I am going to think the best AND the worst for the time-being. Everyone reassures that it will be fine, and no matter the outcome, yes, it will be fine.

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