Saturday, September 26, 2009

Not Just A Little Something Good...

Merry Meet and Brightest Blessings Friends and Family!

Firstly, I beg your patience, because there is no way this to abbreviate this tale.

That said, I need to begin by making a confession. I had begun to take for granted my many, many blessings. Sorrows, past and present and the usual stress and unpleasantries of daily life began swirling like an ill wind around me, vying for a place amongst all the wonderful things that have happened. I am ashamed to admit that, at times, I allowed these things to overshadow my perception of what was really important.

On a beautiful Friday morning, two weeks ago, I sat gazing out the window and prayed silently, "We need something good to happen in our lives. Not just a little something good, but really spectacularly fucking good". Without realizing it, in that moment, I had broken one of the most basic rules of magickal practice, "be specific".

The following afternoon, my husband had planned to attend a Hindu dance recital being performed by one of his students. He was really excited about it. I however, felt unusually uneasy about him going. It was raining quite hard, it was a fairly long drive and my son would be traveling with him. We argued about it for most of the morning.

A few minutes before they were to leave, my husband announced, "I think I'm going to the hospital". "What's wrong?", I asked. I had been having vague premonitions about this very scenario for months, which I foolishly decided to chalk up to anxiety. I already knew his answer. "I'm having chest pain", he replied. "Get in the car, NOW!", I demanded, and drove 50 mph the block and a half to the hospital

Now, this is exactly the kind of thing my husband would have just blown off as being insignificant, so the fact that he was even telling me at all meant that he was truly alarmed. Once at the hospital however, it was quickly determined that he wasn't having a heart attack, but needed to be monitored for several hours and have lab work repeated just to be certain.

During that time, the ER shifts changed and we were assigned a new physician. "Hi, I'm Dr. Meyers, I'll be taking over your care", he announced. So, you have abdominal pain?" My husband and I quickly exchanged worried glances. "No", my husband replied, "I'm having chest pain". "Did he NOT read the fucking chart?", I wondered. "Oh yeah, chest pain", he replied. I felt nauseous.

The new doctor reiterated the plan of action. They would be repeating the blood work and if all was normal, we would be discharged. The previous tests were all good, so we were hopeful. Then he took things a step further and ordered a chest x-ray and CAT scan of the chest. My husband is a former smoker and given that his mother died of lung cancer 30 years after she had quit smoking, my anxiety level just rose to something akin to "Red" on the Homeland Security Terrorism Threat Advisory Scale.

After all was said and done, Dr. Meyers came in to report, "Well, your CAT scan was normal and if the blood checks out, we'll be sending you home". To say the very least, we were relieved. Things however, were about to become...surreal.

He returned a short time later with a team of hospital personnel who began unhooking my husband from the cardiac monitor. "Well, your blood work looks good, he said. "We're sending you home, have a mass in your lung"

Wait! What did he just say? We both shot him a look of shocked disbelief! He did not just say "a mass in your lung!", did he? Hadn't he just said the CAT scan was normal!? There had to be a mistake!! Was he even looking at the right patient's CAT scan?! No, he was wrong! He HAD to be WRONG!!! I felt as if I might pass out!

"Are you sure?", I demanded. "Is it a mass or a nodule?", I asked. "No, it's a mass", he said. You know, there was a time when I considered myself unshockable, but what he said next was something even I couldn't fathom coming from the lips of a physician. "Listen, the mass is not going to kill him right away", he said. "The important thing is having him seen by a cardiologist first thing on Monday morning, then follow up with a Pulmonologist". "Maybe they'll just "watch" it for six months". At that point, I actually considered the possibility that this person had to be a psychiatric patient who had wandered off the ward, taken the elevator to the ER, grabbed a white coat and was pretending to be a doctor!

Afterwards, I'm pretty sure we were discharged. At least, I sort of remembered a disembodied walk down the corridor of the ER. I stopped our nurse on the way out. "How big is the mass?", I asked. 4.6 centimeters, was her reply. "Good Luck", she said. Her tone was more one of sympathy than sincerity. I shook and gagged on the ride home. Neither of us slept much that night.

I woke up on Sunday morning with the words, "lung tumor' echoing in my mind like some kind of twisted mantra. Alone, I paced the house...not knowing what to do first. My mind played a continuous stream of the worst possible scenarios. After 30 years in the field of medicine, several lung cancer diagnoses amongst family and friends, I can tell you that none of these were beyond the scope of possibility. I felt desperate to know what we were dealing with, yet terrified to possess that knowledge.

I was so distraught that I was physically ill. I desperately needed to calm down enough to take control of both my emotions and the situation.

I admit it, I'm no fucking hero. I called my boss to ask for a prescription for Valium. I told him that my husband was diagnosed with a lung mass and despite him speaking to the ER physician the evening before, he had no idea. He asked me for my pharmacy number and told me he'd call me back. And so he did, a short time later, but what he had done was so much better than any little yellow pill I could have asked for. Not only had he reviewed the CAT scan himself, but he contacted Dr. Robert Korst, the Thoracic Surgeon who was to perform my husband's surgery. Dr. Korst was kind enough to take the time to review the CAT scan on a Sunday morning. Have I mentioned that I love these men?

What we learned was that there was a tumor, the size of a silver dollar, that was "squatting like a toad" in my husband's chest, very close to his spinal column. They weren't sure if the tumor was in his lung or the chest wall. What was certain was that it needed to be removed immediately and it was to be major thoracic surgery. The good news was that the Thoracic surgeon was "fairly certain" that it was something called a "benign neurogenic tumor". We clung to the word, "benign" like our fucking lives depended on it...because they did.

The surgery took place this Monday past, via the VATS (Video Assisted Thoroscopic Surgery) procedure. The initial surgery went well, but was more complex than was initially thought. The next day, it was determined that Ray had a "bleeder" (a small area of internal bleeding) and needed to be brought back to the OR for a second surgery. That surgery went well, the bleeding stopped and he was discharged from the hospital a day later.

On Friday morning, the "not just a little something good, but really spectacularly fucking good", that I'd asked for came into our lives.

From my lips to the ears of the Gods, the tumor was completely benign.

In Darkness, Light!


P.S. Dr. Meyers, the ER physician, turn out not to be a psychiatric patient as we'd suspected, but instead, was actually an angel in disguise.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

I have....New Jersey!

Merry Meet and Happy Wednesday Family and Friends!

So, today was one of those days that, no matter what else is going on, I needed to pause, give thanks for my blessings, and have a couple of glasses of wine!

Over the past several years, I've been followed closely by a Pulmonologist. As some of you know, my sister, Leslie, passed away from a lung disease about 8 years ago. Since her illness has a familial form, meaning one that can be carried genetically, I need to be monitored for any changes in my pulmonary status.

Everything was fine, until 2 years ago when a pulmonary nodule was found on my chest x-ray. It was very small, but because the radiologist reported the finding, I needed to be followed for the next three years with CAT scans to insure that it remained stable.

The first CAT scan confirmed that there was a 2 mm nodule and then a year later, confirmed that it was "unchanged". Last year, when I was supposed to have my final CAT scan, it was denied by my insurance carrier. Why? Because I had no symptoms. Now, if I had symptoms and a nodule in my lung, it could be a bad thing, but since I only had the nodule, they decided not to cover it.

Well, my Pulmonologist and I both argued with the insurance carrier to no avail. What I now find really amusing is that one of the diagnoses that my physician used to support the necessity for my CAT scan was the fact that I live in New Jersey". I shit you in New Jersey is actually considered a health risk! Still, my request to have my CAT scan covered by insurance was denied.

Now, common sense should have prevailed and I should have just paid for it myself, but our finances simply could not bear the burden of a $1200.00 medical bill at the time. Besides, I concluded, I don't smoke, was having a blast, feeling well, so I assumed I was probably ok.

Then I learned that someone I love very much was diagnosed with lung cancer and suddenly, I realized all the possible implications of having blown off that follow up CAT scan! Several panic attacks later, I called my pulmonologist for an appointment.

It's customary to have a chest x-ray as a prerequisite to my appointment. My first order of business after doing so is trying to read it myself. This only heightens my anxiety because, let's face it, I have no fucking idea what I'm looking at and even a normal chest x-ray looks bad to a neurotic mind! Shortly thereafter, I rush it over to my doctor's office, where after several more panic attacks, he calls me to tell me whether or not I can stop freaking out! Ya just gotta love a doctor who indulges his patient's neuroses!

When I had my chest x-ray a few of weeks ago, I was nervous. Really, nervous. The x-ray technician asked if I was coughing or having any symptoms. I explained that I wasn't and that I was just following up a "stable" pulmonary nodule, convincing myself that if I referred to it as "stable", it would be. I was also convinced that the technician's demeanor had changed after she viewed the x-ray and hoped I was just imagining it.

This time, I wasn't so sure I really wanted to know the results, so instead of rushing the films over to my Pulmonologist, I plopped them on the dining room hutch where they sat, for three weeks, staring at me, until today when I went in for my appointment.

Sitting in the waiting room was excruciating! And by the time my doctor came in to the exam room, I was in a cold sweat. I examined his face for signs that he was about to give me bad news. He began by asking me if I had any changes, coughing, shortness of breath, change in endurance level. "Why was he asking me this?", I wondered. The fact that these were normal, routine questions never entered my mind. I began to feel nauseous. "No, no and no, I reported. Then I blurted, "but I'm freaking out!". I told him how worried I was about missing last year's CAT scan, about my friend's illness and how I still had no idea what the chest x-ray showed! He nonchalantly flipped open my chart and said, matter of factly, "Oh, your chest x-ray was perfectly normal. No signs of fibrosis. No nodules". I let out the breath that I had been holding for the past three weeks.

Then suddenly I realized, I was...livid pissed! I was pissed at myself for not being more proactive in my health care. I was pissed on both my sister and my friend's behalves. I began bombarding my poor Pulmonologist with a million questions. "What were they doing to detect lung cancer at the earliest stages?" "What were the advances in it's treatment?". "What about routine chest x-rays?" Was there anything new in the treatment of my sister's disease?" "Should I have genetic testing?". And finally, "If the insurance companies will only cover the cost of my CAT fucking scan if I'm already sick, what was the point of having them? Oh yes, I did!

He was clearly amused, yet sympathetic and spent the next 25 minutes answering all of my questions in a patient, humorous manner and then he said, "tell your friend, not all cancer diagnoses are as bad as they sound and don't worry about your CAT scans, you don't need any more". Have I mentioned, I love this man!

I stepped outside after leaving his office, wondering how I missed the fact that it was such a glorious the day. Just as I was about to let out a sigh of relief and take in a cool breath of air, I thought....

"Holy Crap!!! I gotta get out of New Jersey!"

In Darkness, Light!