Wednesday, December 12, 2012

"This place looks like a butcher shop," and other things you don't want to hear your doctor say

When we last left our damsel in distress (that would be me), the doctor was prancing around singing arias about breast centers and proclaiming me "probably" cancer-free. If I had been smart, I would have left with that upbeat proclamation and not looked back.

Unfortunately, I left with a business card for a breast surgeon who seemed way too eager to fit me in the next day. The day before Thanksgiving, of all days. My school work was done, and it being the holiday season and having only three kids in activities, what else would I do with all my free time?

Walking into this office I realized that every doctor and specialist has its own feel. My primary doctor? a waiting room full of sniffles and sneezes and haggard looking people my age. My ob/gyn? a waiting room full of young 20s women with toddlers and car seats in tow. Also haggard looking. My podiatrist? a crammed room of 80+ year olds with walkers and wheelchairs.

The breast center... Well, it wasn't as though I had time to stop and think about what it might look like, but it didn't take a step in the door to realize it also has its own feel. Pink, for one. Everything is pink. The file folders, the baskets, the pens, the ads for pink plaid Scottish kilts and matching fleece for the Walk for a Cure team they are sponsoring.

Also, very plush. And quiet. Hot tea and coffee. Comfy chairs, not that they keep you waiting long enough to sink into them.

And honest to goodness, every single woman who works there has training-bra-sized boobs. It's as though when they hired they said, "We don't want to flaunt anything in the face of people facing mastectomies, so A-cup size only need apply."

If you need to spend time in a doctor office, this isn't the worst place to be.

And also, in the two minutes I was waiting, a woman bounded out of one of the rooms to the person in the chair next to me (obviously waiting for her friend) and said, "It's benign!" And the glow on her face was enough to make a hardened criminal cry.

This is no flu and cold and stumped toe clinic here. It seems the only people here are either on cloud nine that they are fine, or facing the climb of their lives.

I'm the rarity, I think. The one who falls in neither category, who still has no idea what's going on. It's not so much the "probably" that pokes at me, but the uncertainty of diagnosis.

Not for lack of trying, of course. That first visit I had a sonogram that lasted the good part of an hour. The sonograms I'm used to are the ones where you see all this grey fuzz and then suddenly there is a baby there, like some mutated alien, sucking his thumb or stretching her legs and waving. There is a whoosh-whoosh sound of a heartbeat. There is amazing.

This one.. not so much. For one, aside from a baby, I have no idea what I'm looking at on a sonogram. And since there's no baby in my chest, mostly what I saw was grey fuzz. And then these monstrous looking black holes. Which, I can tell you, look ominous even if you have no idea what they are.

I have two doctors at this office - one the sonogram kind of doctor, and the other a surgeon.  The first visit was the sonogram doctor, who told me my original symptoms (the whole reason I went to the doctor in the first place) now took a back seat to these black holes.

"Are those bad?" I asked.

"Well, they aren't good," she said. Cue first thing you don't want to hear a doctor say.

She kept going back to one in particular, and finally said, "I think we need to get an MRI. It's not overly concerning, but we need to make sure."

"Overly." "Probably." Why must doctors speak in such wishy-washy language?

"Is this causing my other symptoms?" I asked.

"Probably not. But let's figure this out first, then we can look at the other."  Which is, I take it, code for, "We found something worse."

Seriously, people, can nothing be simple??

So I left this office a lot less trippy than the one where the doctor pronounced me probably cancer-free. I'm going to say it's just this office, that what they deal with on a daily basis is pretty serious, and a lot less fun than bringing babies into the world, and also, she can't pawn me off on someone else because I am now her job. But when you go to a specialist and they still have no good idea what's going on, and then they find something new, well, let's just say I didn't do a dance on the way to the car.

I could write a lot about the MRI. It was my first experience with one, and I discovered that I'm not nearly as calm and logical as I appear. Part of that may have had to do with the fact that, as I'm sitting in the "holding" area waiting for the techs to clean up from the last patient, I hear one guy say, "Wow. This place looks like a butcher shop."


Is there a lot of blood? Because that's what I think when I hear the words "butcher shop." And why is the lady before me bleeding all over the place? Does this magnetic thing make you explode if you forget you're wearing a toe ring or have silver fillings you can't take out? Are they slaughtering people in there? I considered maybe it was an array of knives, but you can't have any metal in the room with the MRI machine, so it couldn't be that.

My blood pressure was probably on the tad high side when they finally brought me in, but the room looked... clean. Sterile. White. So crime scene cleaners, I've got some referrals for you.

I never considered myself claustrophobic. Looking at the machine, I thought, "How can someone feel claustrophobic in this? It's not that big, it's got big wide open circles on both ends. There's a hole where your head goes so you can look down."

That was before they slid me in. And I panicked.

They really should just give people a valium when they sign in rather than expecting people to predict this kind of panic attack. And the little panic button they gave me didn't help, because there was no way I was going to admit I was hyperventilating and have them pull me out.

I managed. Lots of deep breathing. I did discover that all of the breathing techniques and ideas to help you through child birth pain are no match for claustrophobia.

Back to the breast center. Sonogram doctor comes in and says, "There's no sign of anything malignant."

So... yay? But she is STILL not looking happy.

"We're going to do another sonogram, and then you can get dressed and the surgeon will come in and discuss your options."

So getting dressed - good thing. Options with a surgeon? Maybe not so good, because if they don't see cancer, I have no intention of going under a knife.

Sonogram starts, and cue second thing you don't want to hear a doctor say: "This looks much bigger than last time you were here."

Um... last time I was here was like six days ago.

Finish the sonogram and she says the next thing you don't want to hear a doctor say. "Don't get dressed after all. We'll have the surgeon do another sonogram just to make sure."

So I wait, in my pink paper drape, for the surgeon to come in. I'm not going to give his name but I had visions of him as an elderly, white-haired short guy.

He looks like he stepped off the set of Grey's Anatomy.

Cue the clutching of the paper shirt and the rush of stupid words. "Are you old enough to be a surgeon?"  And also, you are way too cute to be my doctor. But thankfully I didn't say that out loud.

I'd like to say, "And then he looked and declared this entire process a misunderstanding and sent me home."

But he didn't.

He also seemed... concerned. But not in a "rush thee to a hospital" kind of way. I think his exact words were, "If this was something random that came and went, I'd say let's just watch and see. But I think in this case we really need to be proactive. Let's get to the bottom of this."

And yet, I STILL KNOW NOTHING!!!  It is still probably not cancer. Although the surgeon said its possible it's in such early stages the MRI couldn't pick it up.  Which, if true, is good news. Not as good as not cancer at all, but still - catching it this early would make getting rid of it much easier.

But I don't think it's cancer. I really don't. Not in the very least. I think it will all end up being nothing at all, and I will have wasted hours and hours and much money on tests and doctors to find out, "Hey - looks like all is good. You just have abnormal boobs."

Which, really, would not surprise me at all.

I can't tell you how many bookcases I could have bought with the money I've spent on co-pays in the last month. This is what kills me.

Tomorrow I go back and get biopsies on some of those black holes. That means there will probably be another blog post. Hey - I'm not likely to ever write a memoir, so this is as close as I get. And if you've read this far, thank you. And I'm sorry.


  1. At the least, you've gotten some really funny, heartfelt blog posts out of this! <- this is me using humor to avoid talking about feelings

    I'm so sorry this is happening to you, anytime, much less during the holidays. I don't think I could deal with the unknown, but I guess you just have to.

    Hang in there (picture a cute kitty here).


    1. Paul - you make me laugh! :) No need to talk about feelings here. You notice I do all kinds of deflecting with humor myself. :)

      That kitty picture is pretty darn cute.

  2. Memoir... of your Boob adventures?.... will there be goldfish? Better yet a Beta fish - one in each so they can smack against the glass at each other.

    I know we have talked, but I will always be available to hold your hand and make you smile. ;-)

    1. ha ha ha!!!! YES!! Boobs with goldfish on my memoir cover!! Oh wait... that's already taken. :( I guess if I get beta fish they have to be pink, huh?

      I know you would totally go with me. That means the world to me. But even though I spread this all out on the internet (can you say PUBLIC?), it still feels really private when it comes down to it. If I'm going to fall apart, I'd rather do it in my car in the parking lot alone. :)

  3. Heidi, you're turning me into some sort of pervert. Every time I read your blog posts I start feeling up the "ladies" to check if everything is ok. I'm glad that you have doctors that are being equally vigilant with your "ladies" as well. I will keep you in my prayers and hope that you get a clean bill of health for Christmas.

    1. Kris - Awareness is good. :) Although, I will say there is nothing "feelable" about mine. But don't let that stop you. :)

      Thanks for your prayers. Those are ALWAYS appreciated!

  4. Your commentary is wonderfully witty, even if what you're going through is Terrible (with a capital T). Praying for you, Heidi.

    1. Thanks, Laurel. It's either laugh or cry, so I choose laughing. :)

  5. Hang in there, Heidi! We're pulling for ya!

  6. OMGoodness, H! I had no idea. Shame on me..I have not been a good blogger or emailer over the last three months or so. You will be in my prayers. *(As usual, you tell your story with amazing words and courage.)

    1. No apologies!! I've done this too so much this year - just diappeared off the blogging world while my friends' lives are passing me by. There isn't time for everything!

      I think things are looking up. We'll see. I get the final test results next Thursday, and I hope by then we can put this all behind me!

      Thanks for your prayers!

  7. The not knowing is the worst, isn't it? Hoping everything goes ok. As for the MRI, I had one once and it freaked me out so much that I cried and the technician in the other room had to talk me through it so I wouldn't completely lose my mind. Yup, true story. xo

    1. Roxanne - the tech told me they have to take at least one person out a day because of panic, so you're in good company! I don't think I would have fully understood that until I was in there myself!

      I think I now have answers, so I am feeling much better!

  8. If you did write a memoir, I'd totally buy it. I hope everything is okay and that they're just being cautious, which is a good thing. I've had an MRI on my knee and that freaked me out a bit, I can't imagine having my head in there.

    Hang in there, prayers are with you.

    1. Thanks, Patti. Biopsy today provided some great answers, and final results should be in by Thursday. I think the "not knowing" part is over. Thank goodness!