Saturday, August 25, 2007

Strange Days

"For three strange days, I had no obligations
My mind was a blur, I did not know what to do
And I think I lost myself
When I lost my motivation
Now I'm walking 'round the city
Just waiting to come to
For three strange..."
-- "Three Strange Days," School of Fish

So I haven't posted much lately. As Steve Martin would say, "Excuuuuuuuse meeeeeeeeeee!" (And if you're not old enough to get that reference, well, maybe you should get out more. Or track down "Wild and Crazy Guy" somewhere. I think it's on CD. I still have it on vinyl, because I'd listen to that album as a child -- which probably speaks volumes about me as an adult.)

I'm having a lot of random days lately. Random in the sense of "I may, in fact, be trapped in a really bad episode of House." And by "really bad," I mean "Cameron's whiny, Chase is in too many scenes, and Foreman doesn't roll his eyes at all." And above that, they STILL can't figure out what's wrong with the patient. Luckily, I'm probably not dying.

That said, there's a lot to catch you up on.

Here's the short form:

Being scanned by machines sucks.
Not the scanning process itself, that's perfectly okay. In fact, it's easy to fall asleep, once they inject you with whatever medium they need to use (contrast dye, FDG, anti-matter, redeye gravy, chocolate sauce, whatever). Mostly I just get tired of filling out the same forms at different offices, whipping out a photo ID and my insurance card, waiting in random lobbies, reading crappy old magazines, feigning interest in random local Atlanta magazines, and trying to come up with creative answers for when the nurse asks "So how are you today?"

Needless to say, if you've ever met me, you realize how challenging the last point is to offer a glib answer without directly addressing the fact that if I were completely healthy, our paths would never have crossed that day. Usually I can temper my urge to say something really wiseassed when I realize this same nurse will probably be shoving a needle in me in the next few minutes, so I should probably remain on her good side. It makes it easier not to say things like "Mostly I just like the waiting room -- I've discovered that the $20 copay is much cheaper than managing the subscriptions to Highlights for Children and Prevention magazines." Or "I just can't nap at home. I find it restful to lie down in a confined space while being told not to breathe or swallow. It soothes me."

So to date, I've been scanned in a CT machine, and referred to a pulmonologist.

The pulmo ordered up a PET scan. No one liked the looks of the PET scan, so they referred me to a surgeon for a biopsy. PET scans are pretty cool, because parts of you glow in the results. Your bladder looks downright radioactive, in fact, but that's normal. It's the OTHER glowing parts that make doctors nervous. Like, in case parts of your chest glow? Specifically lymph nodes? That's usually a bad sign.

It makes a doctor nervous enough, in fact, to leave all bedside manner at the door.

One example of a sentence you don't want to hear: "At first glance, this looks like a lymphoma. Which, if you had to have cancer, isn't really a bad cancer to get."

Look, I don't like any sentence involving the phrase "if you had to have cancer" -- cause, um, we don't really have a CHOICE IN THE MATTER. And "...isn't really a bad cancer to get" makes it sound a lot like you're being assigned to escort the less-than-attractive, mean-spirited girl at your buddy's wedding. I mean, sure, maybe they tell you she has a great personality, but it's still kind of a bad draw. You'd much rather have the hot single bridesmaid, preferably the one who's on the rebound and can't wait to hit the bottle of Cuervo at the open bar later -- but that just ain't in the cards. You've got Olga -- and she's looking at you like Sylvester looks at Tweety in the cage.

So just to keep things honest, I signed up for the biopsy. No simple in-and-out needle procedure, this -- no, I gotta do it the hard way. Apparently you can't reach lymph nodes in the chest without actually CUTTING somewhere.

Being scanned by people sucks worse.
A couple of Mondays ago, a surgeon cut an incision in my neck in order to shove a scope down in my chest, look around, and remove some tissue. On paper, this is a good deal. I never had pain from the neck incision, but I could definitely use help with a better story for "where'd you get that scar?" than the truth. (Feel free to add these in the comments.) Of course, what they don't tell you is, when you wake up, for the next week or so, it feels like someone took a wire brush behind your sternum and did some polishing. That part hurts.

And when I woke up, I had two incisions. One for the scope, and one for the port-cath they installed in my chest. I remember being in the recovery room and hearing someone talk about "looks like lymphoma," and then I think I saw a penguin, and the beaver from the Rozerem ads. Just sayin', they're using fantastic drugs for anesthesia these days. The beaver, in fact, may have mentioned the cancer. It's all a little fuzzy. That said, the plan with the surgeon was, if the pathologist noted a malignancy, I'd get a twofer -- whilst still under, the surgeon would install the port, because chemo would be the next stop. Good times. But basically, I knew that if I woke up with two incisions, I had cancer. Despite my drug-enhanced state, I could still count to two. And it still wasn't any fun.

The surgeon had already visited Dad in the waiting room to drop that particular bomb. I felt badly for Dad -- he's a prostate cancer survivor, and the family went through all that a year ago, almost exactly. So I know it was a bad day for him too. The surgeon told Dad that my full pathology report would be in on Thursday, and we'd move on from there.

I spent Tuesday trying to get the chemicals out of my system, swallow Advil pills until my stomach was full, and try not to move around very much. (Tip for Teens: when the doctor gives you a prescription for painkillers, GET IT FILLED ON THE WAY HOME FROM SURGERY. A piece of scrip pad doesn't do you a bit of good when it's on your dresser, you're home alone, and you can't drive.)

Wednesday found me in a much better mood, much less pain, and desperate to get out of the apartment. So I went back to work and figured I'd learn more from my labs Thursday.

Thursday, I called the surgeon's office for details. All the nurses were out for the day, and so was the surgeon. No dice. I expected to hear back from the surgeon Friday.

Friday, 5:30pm. The surgeon called, not a nurse. When a surgeon calls you after office hours on Friday, this is either bad news or good news. Because golf doesn't play itself.

Here's my paraphrased version of the conversation:

Doc: "So we got your results back from the pathologist..."
Me: "Okay. How's it look?"
Doc: "Well, remember how I said the frozen section is 93% accurate? Yeah, um, you're the other 7%. The full lab workup on your samples didn't show any malignancy. At all. Of any kind. No lymphoma, no carcinoma, no metastases of any other type of cancer."
Me: "Is Ashton Kutcher there with you? Or Allen Funt? Are you kidding me?"
Doc: "Nope -- even the pathologist said the initial sample looked really pissed off and malignant. But the chemistry results couldn't prove anything was cancerous."
Me: " I have a chemo port, but no cancer?"
Doc: "Yeah, sorry about that. But it'll help for blood draws, IVs, and any antibiotics you might need in the next few weeks. Because we STILL don't know what's actually wrong with you."
Me: "So I don't have cancer, but I still have an easy, convenient, painless and sterile method of mainlining intravenous drugs? Can I run a line of, say, bourbon into this thing?"
Doc: "Um, I wouldn't recommend that, exactly."

Long story short (and if you're still reading this, bless your heart):

For five days, I thought I had cancer. Then I didn't. And I'm grateful for it. Cause that's scary. I have friends who've battled cancer, and they point out exactly the large caliber of bullet I've "dodged." I remind them that I'm not Neo in the Matrix. It just means I don't have any form of cancer today -- and that life's too short for a lot of things.

But for the record? There's no such thing as a "good" flavor of cancer. It's not like a dry heat -- I still firmly believe that 115 degrees is 115 degrees, no matter the humidity; and I believe that any condition ending with "cancer" is a bad, bad scene. It's just not my turn to fight that battle today.

1 comment:

Otto said...

Mainlining bourbon never works properly.

Trust me on this one.