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I associate TB with thin, romantic poets and Dashiell Hammett, so in that way, it's kind of cool. I keep waiting to waste away into the frail, sensitive poet I suspect I am deep inside or the rail-skinny but hard-boiled Hammett who continued to write from a hotel room (bottle of cheap scotch next to the typewriter!) isolated from his wife and friends. But I still weigh about 600 pounds. Maybe it's not TB.

My girlfriend is getting more adamant every day about my seeing a doctor for some tests, but I keep thinking about a year ago when I thought I had hepatitis.

I had been having symptoms consistent with that liver disorder. I was convinced. It was all there in The New Age Vibration I picked up free when I bought an Andrew Weill book and some wheatgrass juice at the health-food store on Washington. I made an appointment with a guy near Mercy on Fourth Avenue.

"You have no signs of jaundice," he had said, peering at me. "Let's get a blood sample."

Well, fine. They draw a little blood, shake it up, whatever; should be a cheap test. I pay the doctor $50, come back for another appointment days later, which is another $50. He tells me I have stomach flu. "Nothing to worry about, really. It's been going around. It can hang on for a while, and you'll continue to experience some discomfort and fever." He recommends an over-the-counter anti-nausea syrup.

Then I get the bill from the lab for the blood test. I figured it would be 40 or 50 bucks. No: $450 for 30 seconds' bleeding into a test tube, which they put into one of those things they use to shake up paint cans at Ace Hardware. I'm out $550. At least I saved on the nausea glop ($4.49 at Thrifty) because I already had some in my medicine cabinet. Still do.

Dr. Y recommended that I apply for Medi-Cal. I did. After waiting downtown for more than two hours I was dismissed because I make too much money to be eligible. Rich as I am, I am still paying off medical bills from five years ago -- sometimes $10 or $20 at a time. That was from when I moved into an apartment, leaned a few feet over the kitchen sink to open a painted-shut window, and lost my grip. My left hand was launched through the glass and I could not stop the bleeding for an hour, no matter how much pressure I applied. I finally called 911 because I was getting faint. An ambulance came 20 minutes later, and by that time the bleeding had slowed. The paramedics put a Pretty Big Band-Aid on my wrist and wished me well. That housecall cost $250.

It is pointless to fill out any more applications for medical insurance. Once you check that little box that asks if you've ever had cancer, you might as well be applying for a GAP franchise in Cuba.

No, my health plan these days is to think good thoughts as much as I can. For example, what if I slip in the shower, crack my skull, and go into a coma or die? Well, either way, I won't be worrying about anything. Least of all my HMO deductible.

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