I’ve written a number of letters to you, and I would like for you to know that my morning routine is not the same since I hurt my back, but I’m still rising before dawn, drinking coffee and reading. Let me tell you about the book I’m pursuing. It’s entitled The Birth of the Clinic, by the twentieth century philosopher Michel Foucault. He called it an archeology rather than a history of medicine. It is ironic that I should be attempting to read something like this, because Laura made a doctor’s appointment for me yesterday and was happy that I agreed to go.
I don’t have to read Foucault’s esoteric ramblings to realize the power that doctors have over me. They hold the power to allow me to live my life to the fullest, or they can leave me helpless in bed. They can help me to live my best life, or they can cause the termination of my income and the automatic eviction from my subsidized apartment. They can leave me penniless and homeless. The Social Security Administration decides my fate based on what my doctor says. The manager of this apartment complex also questions my doctor each and every year.
But you probably realize all of this based upon our past conversations, and it makes me uncomfortable to discuss this further. Let me go ahead and tell you about my experience in the examination room. Laura went in with me, proceeding to sit upon one of the chairs while I sat on the bed. It wasn’t long before the nurse practitioner knocked on the door and entered. She was a brunette, much younger than us, wearing a white lab coat with a stethoscope around her neck. She introduced herself and shook hands with Laura and I. She sat in front of the computer terminal and we discussed my current medications while she typed furiously upon the keyboard. Then she asked me what happened. I told her that I was taking a shower and dropped the soap. When I bent over to pick it up, I raised my upper body and felt something catch in my spine. I didn’t hear anything pop or crack, but I had a sensation that wasn’t there before. When I dried off and went into the bedroom to dress, it began hurting, and I experienced spasms in my back.
It was after this that Foucault wrote that I would relinquish my personhood, and become an object of knowledge under “the medical gaze.” The first thing the doctor wanted to do was to listen to my heart. She placed the stethoscope upon two points upon my back, and said it was alright. I told her the pain seemed to be localized on my spine, so she lifted up my shirt and pressed upon my vertebrae, moving to successively lower ones until she found the one that hurt. Then I pointed out that all the vertebrae were painful down to the termination point, which I showed her by touching the bone with my finger. Then she instructed me to lay down upon the bed. She told me to relax my legs completely, and, when I did, she lifted and bent them. She asked me where the pain was. I told her that the pain ends precisely where my gluteous maxima begins.
After the examination, she reached her conclusion: acute bilateral low back pain without sciatica. I asked her could any of this pain be permanent. The doctor said no, and assured me I would get back to normal again. She prescribed a steroid and a muscle relaxant. She typed it in and sent it electronically to Village Pharmacy. When I checked out at the front desk, the secretary gave me a printout saying to come back if the symptoms worsen or fail to improve.