Biopsy results

It might have made for more interesting writing if I had cancer, but I don’t. The doctors don’t know what I have. They suggested that I have a follow-up CAT scan in three months to learn if C-5 has done anything else weird. Peggy thinks it is a space alien; it does look other-worldly.

My surgery was at the huge new hospital, and the operating room was also right out of science fiction. For one thing, I counted five large screen, flat panel televisions from where I lay with my throat exposed and my head in a plastic doughnut. On each of those screens was an inside view of my neck, and everything in my neck was in some shade of gray; everything that is except for C-5, which was a brilliant white. It was weird, I tell you, to lie there with these enormous C-5s staring down at me from every angle, and me knowing that a team of strangers in masks was about to stand in the glare of two huge round spotlights; press a razor-sharp knife to my throat; and cause my blood to flow up my neck, down either side, and even into my ears and hair (Peggy did wash blood from my hair).

Yesterday, the surgeon went ahead and sent me to the scheduling clerk to set a date for my next operation, one to unpinch the nerve that makes my right arm tingle. She said she doesn’t think I need shoulder surgery, that this neck surgery will eliminate my shoulder pain. My last neurologist and my orthopedist think differently, but it’s hard to argue with a woman who just cut from the front of my throat all the way to my backbone and made it almost as painless as opening a bag of tortilla chips.

Her assistant walked to the desk with me, and I happened to say something on the way about the pain in my left shoulder. He disappeared and a moment later reappeared with the surgeon. “You have pain in both shoulders?” “Yes, the pain is in both shoulders, but the tingling is only on the right.” I didn’t remind her that she already knew this. “Then that’s a whole other and more drastic surgery, so I want to try a series of steroid shots first. They give some people relief for years.” Okay. Cancel second surgery. Schedule first steroid shot. This is the kind of weirdness that I run into all the time with doctors. They spend almost no time with you, don’t listen to half of what you say, and then send you off for risky tests and procedures.

I back the van out of the garage for Peggy when she goes to work. I do this because it is almost wider than the garage door and scary for her to back out. Today (Friday) was her first day back at work. The van’s CD player took up where it left off on Monday when she brought me home from the hospital. I was puking IV fluids at the time, so the relaxing New Age music struck a different chord this morning.

Peggy and I felt pretty good when we left the doctor’s office on our bikes. Then she remembered a paper she had meant to bring (a form she needed the doctor to sign regarding the days she took off from work). I could tell she was really mad at herself for forgetting it. “Peggy, we just found out that I don’t have cancer. Why are you so bummed about a damn form?” A short while later, my own exhilaration wore off, and all I felt was enormously tired and even a little empty. Once we got home, we had all these phone calls to make to people who were awaiting my biopsy results, and I simply wasn’t going to make them, because I knew everyone would be happy and relieved, and that they would expect me to be happy and relieved too. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel these things; it was just that I was drained of all energy. Within minutes, I had gone from planning a celebratory meal out to wondering if I could stay awake long enough to eat a salmon burger at home.

I can best explain my feelings this way. Imagine that you’re crossing the street a little distracted—listening to your iPod maybe—when all of a sudden an 18-wheeler comes barreling down on you with its air horn blowing, its brakes screaming, and misses you by six inches, the turbulence alone almost knocking you to the ground. Would you feel like going out to celebrate the fact that you were almost, but not quite, killed?

I was surprised by my ennui because I had been relaxed at the surgeon’s office. I had two really distressing events this week, both of which I had known about and dreaded for days. The first was having my throat cut, and the second was getting my biopsy results. Yet, I went to both of these events relaxed. I’ll try to explain. A stressful event is made such by the nature of the event itself, but also by our emotional resistance to the event. In the case of my two events; I knew that they were going to happen, that there was no rational way I could stop them from happening, and that I might as well surrender myself to them, thereby giving them permission to happen. I transformed myself into clay, into water, into a complete pacifist; and this enabled me to approach these formerly dreaded experiences with disinterested curiosity.

So why then, when I had felt relaxed at the surgeon’s, did I feel so tired afterwards? Had I not really been relaxed after all, but had only fooled myself into thinking I was relaxed? These were unsettling questions, and I simply didn’t have the emotional energy to entertain them. Instead, I reminded myself that I had survived a very hard week that had come on the heels of many very hard months; that I had behaved bravely; and that I have earned the right to forgive myself for not being a perfect human being. Being human is a devastating proposition because it also means being flawed. My doctors are flawed; my nurses at Sacred Heart were flawed; I too am flawed; and I forgive us all. May God help us all, and may God save us all because we most certainly cannot save ourselves.


Me said...

I'm very glad to hear the good news! I totally get what you mean. Doctors are a pain in the ass, especially neurologists. Not only do they never listen, but it seems they seldom agree on the best course of action, especially when it comes to surgery.


Snowbrush said...

"Doctors are a pain in the ass, especially neurologists."

Bill! You know about such things? Old football injury, perhaps? I never would have thought you had been sick a day in your life, but that just goes to show how easily I am fooled by appearances.

I have a friend who is five years younger than I. He thinks I should be able to deal with my problems as he has dealt with his, by creating my own physical therapy regimen. I don't say to him what I am tempted to say, "Walt, you smug s.o.b. When I was your age, I was in one hell of a lot better shape than you are now. You just wait. Your day is coming."

Mean-spirited? Okay, mean-spirited. But when you're trying so very, very hard to handle things well, and when someone who doesn't have a clue what you're going through tries to give you advice that, god knows, you have tried and found completely wanting; you (that is, I) get testy.

All Consuming said...

Thank God for that. I'm really pleased for you and Peggy. Our reactions can often bewilder us, the unconscious mind the conscious mind work different shifts with different jobs going on, if that makes sense. I can understand your flatness after the euphoria, I would imagine that in many respects you'd spent some time rehearsing for the death sentence, and the after effects,till a part of your mind had accepted it, and when it didn't come that part of your mind could relax. You'd gone over that moment many times perhaps,and then an element of anti-climax occurred. I think I'd have gone into a kind of shock that would have numbed me too. Though I suspect with me I'd have hid in a bottle of JD for a while.

My brush with death was very different.. I had gone in for a very unpleasant, but most certainly not life threatening operation. During surgery something went wrong and my bowel was perforated. The surgeon didn't realise. They brought me back out and then as I began to come round the peritonitis began to kill me. The pain was...well lets say they said they have never heard anyone scream and shout that much. I had emergency surgery, once in the very bed that I lay in, the second one from intensive care.

When I eventually came round I was told I had been given a stoma. Basically they'd cut a piece of bowel in half and left the 2 bits sticking out of my body. I was no happy bunny about this I can tell you. They waited a few days to tell me I had nearly died twice and it was only my utter determination to live that had saved me. I finished the surgeons sentence for him. I already knew.

I had been very aware I was dying both times. And I remember clearly I chose to stay. This bewildered me totally when conscious. The determination shocked me, I'd spent a very long time wishing I could die up to that point. I'd fantasize a button would appear and all I had to do was press it, quickly, without thinking of the consequences to my loved ones, and go. I was in shock about it and ultimately it made my outlook on life very different indeed. I could hardly wish for death if I'd had a cup of tea with him and then chucked him out. I had another wobble with it all when I went back in hospital to have the stoma reversed ten months later, but after that...well, I very much still want to be here.

I've heard steroid injections can be wonderful for pain, so I hope they give you some relief.

All the best to you and Peggy. x

Maya said...

Snowbush, I understand both your post re the let down after receiving the news of no cancer...recently came through a different brand of the same thing with my thyroid. And boy, do I resonate with the response to the friend who is five years younger than you. It is easy when you aren't in the place to give all kinds of 'advice' and to hold a standard up for someone else. Not nearly as easy when you are in the shoes yourself. I get testy in such a situation myself, even though I know better and should just allow it to pass me by, let my ego not get insulted.

All Consuming said...

Well now ye have been quiet for too long...hope all is as well as..well, as we all can hope for. x

All Consuming said...

Where have you gone methinks? I do hope all is well, though I know from personal experience all matter of things prevent posting. Looking forward to reading more of your thoughts.

Snowbrush said...

My computer has been in the shop for a solid week. If I had known it would take so long to get it repaired, I would have let you know before I took it in. I could use it, after all, I just couldn't see one-third of the image on the monitor. I'm sorry your were worried, but I'm also honored that you care.


All Consuming said...

Ah the curse of the computer strikes, I only get around the gremlins in the works because we have a computer each! Very pleased to hear that's all that's been keeping you away. :)