Thursday, June 13, 2013

Waiting it Out

When scheduling my regular three-month follow-up CT scans, I always plan my appointments with my medical oncologist and gynecological oncologist on the day to follow. As soon as I enter her office 24 hours later, Dr. G, my medical oncologist, hits me with the news. So when I went in for my "emergency" CT scan this past Tuesday, I fully expected to either celebrate or crawl back into my hole of cancer solitude by Wednesday.

I was mistaken.

Because the scan was booked so quickly, Jimmi and my mom were not available to go with me. In two years, this was literally the first time I'd ever walked into that building alone. Since it was only a test and we knew the radiology techs couldn't tell me anything, I was fine flying solo. I sat and played a few games of Sudoku on my phone as I drank what felt like a gallon of "fruit punch" contrast then I was called back for step two. My IV. The routine is exactly the same each time and it makes me feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. First I'm asked my name, with spelling, and date of birth. Then I sign the consent forms, which include the question, "Is there any chance you could be pregnant?" on which I angrily check "no" and wonder why they can't put a note in my file saying not to ever give me this form again. I then wait for the the contrast drink server who, once again, asks for my name, with spelling, and my date of birth. I'm instructed to drink only to the bottom of the label over the next hour until the nurse comes to get me for my IV. She then brings me back to the little room that's always like 32 degrees, and I shiver and say, "It's cold in here!" She responds with, "Oh, it's because you're so tiny! Would you like a blanket?" We then go through the name, with spelling, and date of birth drill followed by the question, "Which arm is better?" To which I respond, "My right one is better, but the best vein is full of scar tissue because the phlebotomists at the fertility clinic were too lazy to find another one when I was being monitored every day for two weeks during the cycle for egg-harvesting." She then looks over both arms, easily finds a different vein she believes she can work with and proceeds to painfully stick me until the IV catheter is placed and the saline is flowing. After she leaves, I wait about five minutes - ten if there's an emergency squeeze-in - until the radiology tech comes to collect me and bring me to the machine where I'm instructed to lie with my head on the cushion, my feet facing down and my arms up over my head. The blanket is placed on top of me and I'm told to pull my pants down to my knees so the button and zipper won't affect the scan. The tech then leaves the room and the metal bed moves me into the big, white circle where the automated man tells me to, "Breathe in. Hold your breath. Breathe." The bed moves again and the voice repeats. Then I'm moved out of the circle and the nurse comes back in to inject me with a dye that makes me feel warm and weird all over. She leaves and the bed moves me back into the circle to await my automated boyfriend's instructions three more times until the machine powers down, the bed moves me out, the tech comes back to remove my IV and remind me to drink lots of water, I pull up my pants under the blanket, get up from the table and head out of the big, scary room and back into the world to hold my breath until the next day when I hear the results. The ONLY difference about this playback of Groundhog Day was that I had no knowledge of when the results would come.

And that was a HUGE difference.

Waiting on someone to tell you if your cancer has come back is like, well, waking up on death row. Is today the day they'll sentence me or will I get to hang out in my cell a little bit longer? And when you have a new symptom, like a severe pain in your lower back with an unknown cause, the waiting is even more unbearable. But at least I'd only have to wait 24 hours.

Or so I thought.

At 8:30 on Wednesday morning I was sitting by the phone, hoping it would ring. Nothing. 8:30 was replaced by 9:30. Nothing. 9:30 was followed by 10:30. Still nothing. Miss Impatient was back on my shoulder, whispering in my ear, "Stop waiting for him to call you and call him!" I obliged. But all that did was allow me to leave a message that I, in fact, wanted my doctor to call me and give me my results, which, presumably, was pretty obvious. 11:30 came and went. Nothing. 12:30 turned to 1:30. Nothing. By 2:30 I'd pretty much convinced myself that the reason he wasn't calling was because the results were bad and my doctor needed to wait until office hours were over to make sure he had time to go over the treatment plan with me. And then there was no stopping my brain from considering the "what ifs" so I called my mom to talk me off the ledge. "Maybe he's in surgery today. Be patient." Yeah, Mom, because we all know how easy patience is for me.

The kids came home from school at 3:30 and I immediately sent them outside to play. I didn't want them inside when the call came. Of course it didn't come. At 4:30 the last ounce of patience I could muster wore out and I grabbed the phone and dialed Dr. L's office number again. "Hi, it's Suzanne Kane again. I still haven't heard back from Dr. L about my scan results and I'm going a little crazy over here." I could hear my mom's "I told you so" in my head as the receptionist explained, "Well, he's in surgery today, so that might be why he hasn't called." Is my mom EVER wrong? "Also, we have a few radiologists out. Let me look at something. Hmmm. You had the scan yesterday? Yeah, the results aren't even in yet." Weird. "Really?" I asked, "Isn't that a little odd? The doctor always gives them to me at my appointment twenty-four hours later." She thought for a second, "That's why. If you have an appointment scheduled they mark it STAT so the results are rushed. It normally takes two to three days. I've even heard of it taking up to a week sometimes." Oh, HELL, no! "Are you sure it doesn't mean there's something wrong and they need to study it more?" She smiled audibly, "No, I'm sure. As I said, we have radiologists out this week so they're really busy down there." I forced myself to accept her answer and the fact that I'd need to wait at least one more day to hear if I was dying or not.

I woke up this morning to a panic attack. My heart was racing, my hands were shaking and my chest was tight. I looked at the clock and frowned knowing it would be at least two more hours before the doctor was even in the office. I painfully went about my morning routine and, after the kids were safely at school, did the only thing that would take my mind off the waiting. I took a nap. But by 11:00 I just couldn't keep my eyes shut any longer and my hand automatically reached for the phone and dialed Dr. L. "Hi, it's Suzanne Kane again. I still haven't heard from Dr. L. Can you please tell me if my scan results are in yet?" I heard her fingernails clicking against the keys. "Ummm...I don't see anything. Oh, wait. Yes, the results are in but you'll need to call Dr. G's office because she's the one who ordered the scan." I was confused. "No, she ordered my last scan in April. Dr. L ordered this one." More typing. "Ok, it says Dr. G ordered it. Let me e-mail Dr. L and his nurse and someone will call you back shortly." Oh, good! More waiting!


Check Caller ID.

"It's Dr. L's office," I announced to Jimmi before answering the call. "Hello?" My favorite nurse responded with apologies, "I'm so sorry I didn't call you sooner. They put the order in for Dr. G so it didn't pop up on my screen." Ok, you're forgiven. JUST TELL ME IF I'M DYING! "So...Do you have good news for me or not?" She laughed, "Oh, yeah! All good! All of your organs are clear, the vaginal cuff is stable, no bowel obstructions. The only difference is some post-radiation damage to your L5 which may be causing some sciatica. But other than that, nothing to worry about." The deep breath of relief that only comes after a clear scan left my body and I felt my muscles relax. The dreams of our trips to London and Paris in July and Turks and Caicos in August flooded my mind again and I smiled at the thought of a daily breakfast of Nutella on croissants. Then, as if reeling a strongly swimming fish back into my boat, the newly found dreams of babies that had started to fade away came flying back into my heart.

I called my mom and gave her the news, while simultaneously e-mailing Lily that we were good to get the baby train back on the tracks. But then I stood up and remembered that good scan results had no bearing on the fact that I was still in agonizing pain. I needed to fix it. "Call the sports medicine doctor. I e-mailed you his number," my mom insisted. And less than an hour later I was in the car, heading to his office.

I had barely made it down the hill from my house when my cellphone rang. When I saw the number my heart literally stopped beating. Why was Dr. L's office calling me back? "Hello?" I asked, hoping they had the wrong number. "Hi Suzanne," my favorite nurse sang out. Oh my GOD! She MEANT to call me again. What does she want? "So, I decided to have the pain management doctor look at your scan results..." Oh, GOD, Why? "and he saw something the radiologist didn't see." That's it. I'm definitely dying. "He's pretty sure you have a herniated disc but the only way to be sure is with an MRI. I spoke to Dr. L and he'll prescribe one if you want." That's ALL?! She called me back about a herniated disc?! "Oh my GOD! You scared the SHIT out of me!" I exclaimed. "I'm sorry! I just wanted to try and help you with the pain!" I half laughed and half snorted as I told her I was on my way to the sports medicine office and would let her know if I needed anything else from Dr. L. Then I hung up, pulled over for a minute to make sure I wasn't going to pass out from the sudden drop in my blood pressure, then continued on to the next doctor.

The halls leading to the sports medicine office were painted green and white with framed photographs of NY Jets players lining the walls. Oh, how I hate football. Walking into the office wasn't much better, as Sports Center was playing on the TV and framed and autographed Jerseys and footballs were obnoxiously placed all over the waiting area. I filled out the proper forms, paid my copay and waited for my name to be called. When it was, I followed the physician's assistant into an exam room plastered with NY Islanders memorabilia. Why couldn't I have gotten the NY Yankees room? After I was given a super sexy pair of disposable shorts that could've held about seven of me, the PA checked the range of motion and strength of both of my legs. He asked a bunch of questions, told me it was odd that I'd have a herniated disc without knowing how I'd hurt myself, assured me the CT would've showed any serious problems then told me the doctor would be in shortly. After a few minutes and no more than ten words exchanged with the actual doctor I was told I needed an MRI to see exactly what was going on, physical therapy to fix it and prescription paid medication to make it bearable. Luckily they had an MRI machine right in the office so I didn't have to go anywhere in the rainstorm from Hell that was brewing outside. And then the PA came back to burst my bubble, "I'm so sorry but two of the NY Jets players were just brought in and they need the MRI machine, so we're gonna have to send you across the street to the hospital."


Off to the hospital I swam, I mean drove in the torrential downpour. Surprisingly, I was taken in for testing immediately after signing in. "Have you had an MRI before?" Yes. "Are you claustrophobic?" No. "Here are some ear plugs." Thanks. "We're gonna pad each side of your head." Ok. "Don't move" Got it! The metal bed started to move and I closed my eyes as I went backwards into the black hole. Then the noises started and I pictured sledgehammers and machine guns. That wasn't working for me so I changed it to a beautiful island. A very loud, beautiful island. I actually started to fall asleep but when I did my body jerked. The beeping and buzzing stopped and I heard, "You moved on that last one. Just need to take a few more pictures. Hold still for about three minutes and we'll have you out of there." "No problem," I said. Until I made the mistake of opening my eyes. I've had about 50 scans over the last two years but I've never been dumb enough to open my eyes inside an MRI. You know that fear of being buried alive? Yeah, well, I LIVED IT! I seriously had no idea how tight it was in there! (That's what she said.) The top of the machine was so close to my face I probably could've stuck my tongue out and touched it. My heart started pounding like a kick drum and the buzzes and beeps started up again. Just three more minutes, I told myself. Just three more minutes.

I did it!

And now I have to wait for results. Again. But I'm learning how patient I can actually be when I'm not waiting for a death sentence!

1 comment:

  1. WONDERFUL, AMAZING, WHAT A RELIEF (slash, I knew you would get a clean scan). WE LOVE YOU!!!! xo