If you read my last post, you know I was sick. Since that post, I have had an ER trip (the featured pick ain’t a stock photo), a CAT scan, and some serious thinking about my life. The short explanation is “I’m fine.” The longer version is scattered through the list below. As weird and hippy-dippy as this sounds, the last two weeks has been a major learning experience for me. Maybe y’all can gain some wisdom without the lumps, bruises, and IV.
- A Physician’s Assistant is NOT a Physician
The “doctor” I saw at CareSpot was friendly and concerned, and he took me immediately. Unfortunately he was also completely wrong about what was making me sick. See, what I didn’t understand was that a physician’s assistant (PA) is not an actual doctor. They have not been through the decade of medical school that someone with the initials “Dr.” in front of their name has had to endure and, as the doctor I finally saw explained, they’re not trained in the out of the box thinking that is required to get an accurate diagnosis. When my neck hurt but it wasn’t a sprained muscle his answer was “tonsillitis.” It wasn’t tonsillitis; there was nothing wrong with my tonsils. But the PA just wasn’t equipped to come up with any diagnosis other than “strep” or “tonsillitis” for a painful neck region. I don’t want to trash CareSpot; they gave the best service they could give me. But I needed a doctor.
- Dehydration Can Happen SO Much Quicker Than You Think (And Sometimes Diarrhea Is The Better Option)
The antibiotics that I so boldly declared would solve all my problems actually caused a lot of them. Ironically, what landed me in the ER were the drugs that were supposed to help me. Saturday evening I started feeling nauseous, and the wave finally broke around 12:30 at night when my stomach couldn’t handle anymore and I lost it to a bottle of Pepto (the irony of the whole situation wasn’t lost on me). I eventually got my stomach to calm down enough to sleep, but I kept waking up in the night, sweating like a pig and desperately thirsty. All told, I drank close to 32oz of water that night. In the morning I woke with a headache so bad I couldn’t keep my eyes open (turns out my gland was crushing the nerve that runs up my face). I called my mother to kvetch, took two sips of ginger ale, and then had to hang up on her to puke. All the water I had drunk the night before came back up, and I couldn’t get anymore down. In less than 12 hours from the first time I threw up – and only having thrown up twice – I decided I needed to go to a hospital. When I got there, I was so dehydrated the nurses struggled to find a vein. When they decided to put an IV in me, my veins had become so delicate, they ruptured as soon as they put the catheter in. It took two nurses three tries to get a line in me. Once they finally got the fluids running, I noticed for the first time that I had completely run out of spit. Not like “man, my throat’s kind of dry” but literally didn’t have any spit, or enough wits left to recognize this until I had already turned a corner for the better. Even after taking an entire bag of fluids, I was thirsty and asking for ice water. Since childhood, I’d had the impression that it takes days wandering in the desert to become dangerously dehydrated, but it is so much faster than that, especially if you’re sweating. When you’re sick you worry that your throat hurts or that your stomach’s upset or (if you’re me) that your face looks super puffy and everyone’s going to think you look fat. What you don’t ask is: How much did I just sweat? What color is my pee and is there enough of it? Are my lips chapped and, if so, why? Taking a second to ask yourself this next time you’re sick could save you an ER trip and whole lot of bruising (because ruptured veins are UGLY).
I don’t do drugs, I just also don’t do antibiotics very well either. #penicillinallergy4lyfe
As far as the diarrhea comment: yes, the runs stink (literally, HA), but at least you can still be drinking water and fluids while they’re happening. For future reference, Universe, next time I get violently ill I’d rather be sitting on the can than hunched over it.
- You Will Hopefully Never Feel As Alone As You Do Waiting By Yourself For A CAT Scan In A Place Where No One Has Your Accent
When I finally saw a non-ER doctor on Tuesday morning, the first thing she did – after listening carefully to my symptoms – was actually feel my lymph nodes, which shockingly freaking NOT ONE of the medical professionals I had seen had done. Maybe they felt like they could see them fine from across the room. Maybe they were worried about cooties. I don’t know. But she ran her fingers up and down my neck, throat, shoulders, and chest and found every single gland she possibly could, all of which were enlarged. She looked over the blood tests I had from the ER and asked some more questions about symptoms and explained calmly and matter-of-factly what she believed might be happening. She didn’t buy the tick-bite explanation the ER had theorized and she definitely didn’t believe it was tonsillitis. She also, she explained, didn’t think it was cancer, but she was going to call my insurance company and get a CAT scan set up for me.
“Like this week?” I asked.
“Today,” she said. “You need to call your office and tell them you’re not coming in.”
If it was an infection, she explained, even if there was an abscess, they could take their time treating it. If this was lymphoma, they needed to know yesterday. So she wrote me a little green slip, explained that I would need an IV just one more time for contrast solution, and told me I could go. I asked her what would happen if I had an abscess, because I couldn’t bring myself to ask what would happen if I had cancer.
And anyway, there was such a slim chance.
But it doesn’t matter.
Once that C word is out there it is out and screaming at you. It sits on your shoulder like a vulture and you wonder what will happen if your life ends next week and your dreams and your music get buried with you in a little wooden box. Who will remember you tomorrow? Next month? Next decade? Will anyone remember you when the people you loved in this life are gone as well? All those songs – all those things I was going to do – would die locked inside my skull, like a child in the womb.
I went down to the Medical Imagining Department and was checked-in in a small room by a nice man who reminded me of a banker or insurance broker. He asked who to list as next-of-kin and who should be informed “in case.” In case what? I demanded. If I die? Well, yes, but also if I need someone to come get me, or something. Then he snapped a plastic hospital band to my wrist and walked me to the actual waiting room where I sat reading an ancient Good Housekeeping. It was at this moment that I started to get the sensation that I was a stranger in a strange land. I don’t belong here. What is chair etiquette in Nashville? I know what it is in Boston, but not the South. What if it’s different? What if I’m sick and I’m offending all these old Southern ladies with their favorite cardigans pulled tight around them?
When they finally called me back and started to get the IV ready, I noticed that everyone had a drawl. The same accent I had found so charming now only served to remind me that I was very ill and 1,200 miles away from home. Just before they started the scan – as the machine was starting to whir – they pulled me out, disconnected my IV and asked me to sit in the hallway for a few moments because there was a stroke patient coming in. I gathered my belongings and sat alone in a chair and listened to the accents and tried to ignore the catheter hanging out of my arm. I watched them wheel the unresponsive stroke patient down the hall, talking to him all the way. My life wasn’t so bad. I walked in. I drove myself, even though I probably shouldn’t have. I was able to stand up off the scanner and walk to a chair and sit just fine, all under my own power. My brain was healthy. I felt so bad for the man I stopped worrying about myself for a moment but then I’d look at my arm and see the IV port and remember that all was not so rosy on the home front. I don’t believe it was self-pity. I think it was the biggest dose of adult reality I have had in my life thus far. The catheter demanded I look at the reality and plan accordingly, plan realistically, and figure out a contingency other than the romantic, beautiful dreams I moved down here with.
When the scan finally happened it was easy. Painless. I wasn’t a fan of the contrast-solution. They wrapped the spring-like IV line around my thumb to keep it from pulling on the vein and I could feel it firm up when they started the solution. It has the bizarre side effect of making you feel like you’ve peed yourself, even when you haven’t. It feels so real that I actually went and checked in the lady’s room when I was done.
I went home and slept for while then tried to go out like everything was normal. But that night in the shower, I thought about my day and felt so faint I had to sit for a few moments (several times). I knew what should happen the next day, but it felt like there were no promises. The sun might rise, but it might never come up again.
When my doctor called the next morning, I missed the call and the nurse left a message asking me to call her back which scared the ever loving daylights out of me because I had agreed that they could leave detailed voicemails on my cell. Of course, everything was fine. No tumors, no cysts, no abscess. Just every single lymph node in my chest and neck was larger than it should be. But no cancer. She told me to stay on the new antibiotic and they’d see how I was feeling. If I improved, awesome; if I didn’t, we’d talk about a biopsy. So far, I’ve felt much better, but I’m also kind of high on having a full life to look forward to, as ridiculous as it was for me to freak out about the whole thing in the first place. The C-word, man…
- I Have Incredible People In My Life
How awesome are my friends? Butternut-squash-bisque-awesome!
For the past two weeks my friends have come out of the woodwork to ask what’s wrong, check in on my health, and even bring me groceries (thanks, Julia!). My roommate even canceled a rehearsal to get me to the ER. Some of these people I have known for years, some I have known for days, but they have all shown me just how fortunate I am to be surrounded by the folks who make up my ever evolving network. I have rarely felt so alone, but I have also rarely felt so completely loved and taken care of as I have these past few weeks. This has been bad. As much as I have taken every opportunity to bitch, this has actually been worse than I’ve tried to let on. And so many friends rushed to my aid. You are the most wonderful human beings. I can never thank you or repay you, but I hope I can pay it forward in some way some day (although hopefully not because you get sick like this).
[Also, I’m fully aware I’m riding the italics like I’m breaking a horse – this is emotional, people, ok?!]
- Despite Everything I’m Incredibly Lucky (But Not Everyone Is)
I drove myself home from the CAT scan (albeit, irresponsibly). Yesterday, I went back to my amazing internship and hung around amazing people all day. On my way to work today I stopped at my favorite coffee shop and grabbed a soy chai latte. I watched Netflix on my couch and ate potato-leek soup, and my biggest worry was if my internet connection was strong enough to stream a whole episode of Desperate Housewives. I am broke. I still feel like crap. But I am so, SO lucky. I am so lucky because yesterday when the doctor called it wasn’t to tell me I needed to come back in immediately. I am so lucky because up until this point no one has ever worried even the slightest bit that I may just possibly have cancer. I am so lucky that that was one of the scariest moments of my life. Because there are so many people who get the call that they need to come back in. There are so many people who are worried about how they’re going to handle the next round of chemo. There are so many people who have been given an expiration date – not just the imagined one I gave myself in the shower. I cannot fathom being told that I have a shelf life. I cannot comprehend being told that I probably won’t be here in a year. I cannot even scratch the surface of how hearing that all my plans are nothing, that I’m not at the beginning of my life but rather the end, how hearing that would make me feel. And no one should have to. I want to ask you to look up the American Cancer Society and consider participating in a Relay event, but I’m going to demand that you go to Brook Hester’s website (http://www.brookefightsback.org/index.html) and read about this incredible little girl. I’ve been lucky to meet her twice at the Ronald McDonald House in NYC, and even having only been in the same room as her for a grand total of six hours I can confidently say she is the most amazing, inspiring, stunningly beautiful human being I have ever and probably will ever meet in my life. She is seven, she has neuroblastoma – which currently has no cure – and she keeps a braver face everyday after years of treatment than I managed to keep for 24-hours of uncertainty. Even with her own struggles, she gives back to other little girls fighting the same battle she wages every day. I strongly encourage you to give to her charity or say a prayer for her or get up and make a difference in the world because if a seven-year-old with cancer can have the impact this young lady has, what kind of change can healthy adults make?
I know this has been a long one guys, but thanks for reading. And thanks for clicking on to Brooke’s site. Be happy and healthy!
My first trip to Ronald McDonald House. Photo courtesy of Ridgefield Music and Arts Center.