Charles Forman. Stuff I write down.

March 05, 2013

My Trip to the Mayo Clinic 

My name is Charles and Im dying. But I’d prefer to die at the slowest possible rate. Thanks.

After a couple of minor health issues, I decided to get my personal health in order. I decided to go to a three day intensive physical exam at the Mayo Clinic, the best hospital in the world. I left with more questions than answers.

In 2008, suddenly, I started hearing a ringing in my ears. My ears had rung before after going to a concerts a few times, but it usually went away after an hour or so. However, this time, the ringing never stopped.

I was living a high stress lifestyle: no sleep, eating like a slob, and no exercise. I only cared about work. I operated under the assumption that I could care about myself later. For a long time, I didn’t see any negative effects. I was maintaining my weight, I had the same amount of energy. I felt fine.

Slowly, and I really didn’t notice it subjectively, I started to gain weight. I started to feel pressure from stress. I started to get sick often. I started to look older.

I went to a doctor a couple weeks later assuming there is probably some sort of medication to fix the constant ringing in my ears. After a perfect hearing test, he prescribed a light anti-depressant, and he said the symptom would probably fix itself in 2 weeks.

Two weeks passed, and the ringing was exactly the same. After reading tons about this on the internet, I discovered I have a symptom called “Tinnitus.” It is quite common in old people, rock stars, and military combat personnel. In most cases: It is permanent. There is no cure. There is no treatment.

Imagine hearing a constant ringing in your ears, every day, all the time, especially annoying when trying to go to sleep. It is maddening.

Over time, you just get used to it.

My main takeaway from getting tinnitus was that I may not be able to change some unfortunate qualities of my life, but if there are some decisions I can make to positively affect my health, why shouldn’t I act? I want to be in active control over my own health.

I joined a gym. I started lifting weights and running. I really cut down on eating out, and started cooking for myself. I quickly started losing weight, gaining muscle mass, and generally feeling better. The positive feedback loop continued and I found myself with more confidence, improved memory, and just feeling great about life.

As much as I hate tinnitus, I am almost glad that I got it when I did. It really kickstarted me getting my life in order. The constant ringing in my ears, as horrible as it feels to me, and others that have it, could be much worse. So to have a relatively minor wakeup call is a bittersweet gift.

Withdrawal Pre-syncope

Through the past few years, I have kept up going to the gym. I have kept up cooking, eating much better than before. I’ve felt really great.

A year ago, I moved to Chicago to build a new company. I fell back into my old ways of waking up super early, going to bed super late, and lots of work in between. On my way to work, I would pick up a 4 pack of Red Bull. Every other day I was picking up another 4 pack in the afternoon. I was drinking 6 Red Bulls a day on average.

imageThis was my refrigerator. Once in a while, I would go back to NYC to see old friends and meet with investors. I would pack my schedule tight so I would be always meeting with someone. 3 days into my trip I started feeling faint, like I might pass out. So I went to sleep early.

The next day, I was walking on the street, and I felt like I needed to hold on to something. My vision started to grey out and I collapsed. I had no idea what was going on. Was I going to die? I went to the emergency room at Beth Israel. They did an MRI, CT scan, CBC, chest xray, etc. Everything was normal. They pumped me full of saline and sent me home.

imageRumors of my death have been greatly exagerated. I left completely disappointed in the hospital. I always thought doctors had an answer for everything. In this case, they looked at me, said, “Thats weird”, and then told me to come back if I felt like I was going to die. (After the fact, many doctors told me that the ER is one of the worst places to go unless you are absolutely going to die as you are more likely to die from a Staph infection or the inexperience of a exhausted student doctor paying their dues than the problem you came in for in the first place.)

The next morning, I felt worse. The feeling was like I was immediately being flushed with adrenaline and excitement, and then 10 seconds later, completely numb, and it would just repeat this cycle for hours. It was horrible.

After calling a bunch of doctors, the main question they had was, “Hey, do you do drugs?” Of course not. I don’t even like to take Advil when I have a headache. Their comments were that my symptoms were similar to anxiety attacks that happen from withdrawal.

It became clear to me almost immediately that after 3 days in NYC, I haven’t been feeding my body 6 Red Bulls a day. Apparently my body was angry about that.

It was alarming how much effect that seemingly innocent Red Bulls could have on the body. After reading similar accounts of people on the internet, and learning about how much Red Bull reserves to settle health lawsuits out of court, it was clear that Red Bull is much more dangerous than I thought. It would be wise to completely quit it.

In fact, I would make a few complete changes to what I put in my body. I would completely quit all caffeine. I didn’t really drink alcohol all that much before, but I would completely quit that. And lastly, I would quit eating meat and dairy.

A couple of my friends had suggested that I go to Mayo Clinic for a 3 day intensive physical exam. The Mayo Clinic is known for being the best hospital in the world - or at least the best staffed, and most funded. Basically, you fly to Rochester Minnesota, stay in a hotel for 3 days, get lots of tests done, and talk to lots of doctors. This program sounded great to me. So I called and made an appointment. I was surprised to learn that the wait list for this program is 7 months. So I put my name on the list.

Over the next 7 months, I had a few more bouts of diminishing pre-syncope. Being completely off caffeine, I wondered if maybe it wasn’t completely related to caffeine withdrawal. I was excited to go to Mayo and get all the answers. 6 months later, Mayo called with my appointment dates and sent out an information packet and schedule. I made my travel plans.

Going to Mayo Clinic

I flew into Rochester International Airport which is conveniently 15 minutes away from from Mayo Clinic. The airport terminal is the size of a small schoolhouse. Upon entering, there is a thick smell that can only be described as “old folks home.” The term “international” is a bit of a technicality. The only real air connections to Rochester are Chicago and Minneapolis. One runway was lengthened to accommodate private 747s from the royal family when they come in for checkups.

Upon arriving at downtown Rochester, you instantly get a sense for how small it is. It is about 4 blocks by 4 blocks square, with the Mayo buildings, parking, random shops, and hotels tightly packed into that area. Everything outside of that area is almost completely level.

imageAll buildings are connected at Mayo. You never have to walk outside. Every building seems to be connected either on every floor or at least on the subway level (the subway has no trains). Therefore, if you need to get anywhere, you just follow signs to get anywhere you need to go. It was incredibly easy to find everything. I walked outside only 2 times my entire trip.

Prior to arriving, I was sent a packet with a schedule. The schedule was 3 days of appointments starting from 7am to 4:30pm everyday. The design of the schedule was really simple and explained exactly what I would be doing.

I filled out all my health information and insurance information online using their website. It was pretty straightforward.

At 7am, I left my hotel room, and went for my first appointment for a blood test. It took me 2 minutes to get there. I gave the receptionist my sheet, she confirmed in 5 seconds, and told me to sit and wait. Before I even got to the chair to sit down, they called my name. My first impression is that logistically, this is the most well run hospital I have ever been to.

I was led down a hall of rooms that look like they were designed specifically for the sole purpose of drawing blood. The woman that drew 5 vials of blood was super nice. In 3 minutes she was done, and I was off to my next appointment. There is no “checkout.”

2 appointments later, I had a little time to kill, so I logged into their website. My blood test results were already available and super easy to read. I was surprised how fast and smooth everything was. Reading the results, everything was normal, and my good cholesterol was quite good, and my bad cholesterol was quite good. I think that my vegetarian lifestyle and exercise is definitely paying off.

Midday, I met with my main doctor there. She explained to me all the tests I would be taking, all the doctors I would be meeting with, and that at the end of the program, she would meet with me again to go over all the results. All test results and doctors notes are made available to all doctors, so everyone is fully aware of everything that is going on.

My next appointment was an Electrocardiogram test. Basically they shave your chest, hook you up to electrode sensors, and have you run on a treadmill. Its like out of the movies and its pretty fun.

imageMy electrocardiogram test… right before they put the Adamantium in. The two ECG technicians seemed most concerned that I wasn’t going to have anything to do while I was in Rochester. They told me that there are only 3 restaurants, and 2 bars. They said that the only young people in Rochester are young people that work at the hospital. The patients are almost exclusively old people, and that young people like me going through this program was fairly rare. While Mayo Clinic is a destination hospital, the city of Rochester wants to change itself into a destination city. They seem very very far off.

At the end of the day, I walked by the 3 restaurants that are opened past 6pm. I decided on Chesters. It’s actually very good, and as a result, very popular. I ate there 4 times while I was in Rochester. It’s the only place worth eating. Seriously.

I really enjoyed my time at the Mayo Clinic. It is a great facility. Everyone was great, I learned a great deal from the tests. I will be going back next year and following years. I would furthermore recommend anyone to go there as I did if they have the opportunity.

imageA standard doctor’s exam room at the Mayo. After all my tests were complete, I couldn’t help but thinking that Mayo Clinic wasn’t built for what I was using it for. From the audiologist’s test words like “Grandson”, and “Wood chucking” to a survey question about how much I still enjoy radio programs, I couldn’t help but think I was 30 years too young to be there.

I met with my doctor to review all the results. Every test on my blood work was perfect. My cardio health is perfect and I have a 0% chance of heart attack over the next 10 years. My physical condition is perfect, and I only have 11% body fat. My hearing is perfect. My balance is perfect.

Yet on the subject of Tinnitus and why I feel faint sometimes, there really aren’t any answers. She said there really aren’t any more tests to be done, and no one else to consult with. She said outside of those things, I’m perfectly healthy and I should carry on.

I think that the reason a question can’t be answered can only be attributed to laziness, ignorance, or complete disinterest.

I left disappointed.

Even though the Mayo Clinic may be the best institution, they don’t have all the answers.

Rant below

I’m disappointed in what we don’t know - specifically in regards to neurology. I’ve heard that you can fill an ocean with what we don’t know about the brain compared to the grain of sand of what we do. However, given what we knew 50 years ago compared with the 10 years ago and today, discoveries are being made at comparative lightening speed today. It’s extremely exciting to think about the opportunities to discover how something works that is largely undiscovered. Knowing that the worlds smartest and creative minds are working on this and the hope that major discoveries will be made is comforting.

As for my personal health, I’m in my thirties, I know I’m getting older, I know I’m going to die someday. I know I’m fairly healthy, and could easily be more Laissez-faire. But I also know there is a ton of stuff I’d like to do while I’m still alive and I’d like to be best equipped to do it for as long as I’m able to.

imageThey should probably make these sidewalks moving walkways in Chicago. Ive noticed that you become who you are surrounded by. If you are raised by overweight parents, you will likely live your life overeating. In New York and San Francisco people on average are in great shape. Living in New York being surrounded by people in great shape was a constant reminder that health is very important. Living in Chicago, it seems that Chicagoans have an attitude about personal health that is similar to being cool in school for not knowing the answer. It’s disgusting. If Chicago lived in New York, it might be as great of a city that it thinks it is.

I want to know how I should be living life in a smarter way. I want to know the answers to questions no one knows the answers to. I want to know how to do more. I want to know how to be happier. I want to know why I have a constant ringing in my ears. I want to know why feel pre-syncope sometimes. There is no good reason not to find the answer.

We should continue to ask questions. If we aren’t satisfied with the answers to those questions, we should try to find the answers. We should know that some things we think to be true will become invalidated.

For many intelligent young people, wellness is the new religion. We are looking for institutions and experts. Unfortunately, wherever there is a demand for experts, there is no shortage of people available to fill the position. And they certainly can’t have all the answers.

For example, I look at motivational speakers, fad diets, vitamin websites, etc. many of which I have been exposed to by my trusted friends with particular skepticism. Even during my time at Mayo, I met with a dietitian.

As the wives of rich men, dietitians have completed a bachelors degree and a 6 month course, ultimately arriving at the apex of their career in a small windowless room, with a bucket of plastic food and USDA food pyramid posters on the wall. They complete such tasks as, calorie counting (the same task done better as a free iPhone app), talking about milk endlessly stressing the importance of calcium, and how good antioxidants are, even though large 10 year clinical trials have detected no benefit, and declaring pizza a vegetable. In your Sally Struthers ICS career list, you will find dietitian below chiropractor and above astrologer. According the the wikipedia page, the top issue for dietitians is how to spell dietitians. And that seems about right.

I kid. Yet, I find no information invalidate this.

I would like to be part of community of like minded people interested in positive health choices, aging in the best possible way, and helping others by providing information and tools through conducting research and creating tech - at least at some point before I die.

If you have been thinking a lot about this, I would love to talk to you.

Hi! My name is Charles Forman. I love to make stuff I dream up. A while back, I founded a videogame company called OMGPOP that developed Draw Something, that sold to Zynga. Remember that? No? It's ok. I also co-founded Picturelife, a great place to store and organize all your private photos. I am originally from Chicago, and I've lived in Tokyo, Seoul, and New York City. I am currently living in NYC and I'm working on developing a movie.
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