Wednesday, May 19, 2010

#165: In Which Pennsy Learns Something Might Be Wrong

Early in March, I trimmed my beard. It had gotten pretty shaggy, and Spring comes early to the Bluegrass. I had noticed a swelling in my neck, but figured it was just an inflamed lymph node caused by a cold or my lousy gums. They ache from time to time, but the pain always gets better eventually. Once my beard was cropped though, I looked in the mirror and was pretty surprised at just how big this swelling was. I was used to feeling them. I was not used to seeing them. Mrs. P confirmed that something was certainly out of order and we made an appointment to see the family doc.

I was expecting penicillin and the usual spiel about how I need to lose weight. Instead, Dr. Hall ordered a CT scan and a consultation with the Ear, Nose, and Throat surgeon. She also ordered a fine needle biopsy.

A few days later I had the scan before work, then waited a week to get in to see the ENT surgeon, Dr. Colin. His RN took a long medical history from us and read my vital signs. Pretty standard stuff. Dr. Colin came in and the room turned into a tech lover's paradise. First he looked in my ears, nose, and mouth using one of those little flashlights that they all have. Then he screwed this optical cable gizmo together and shoved a camera up my nose, through the sinuses, and down my throat. The weirdness of this sensation was far outweighed by the coolness of the experience of seeing my innards on a big color screen. He even showed me my vocal folds and let me see my voice-box working. We saw my pharynx, my tonsils, all the little parts I had studied in school as an actor and singer. It was awe inspiring. I expected him to withdraw the endoscope and show me where I had Mono or Strep Throat. Instead, he turned to the computer monitor and brought up the images from my CT scan.

As he scrolled through the pictures that represented my head and neck had I been shoved through a deli slicer, his cursor came to rest on a large bulging mass on the right side of my neck. It looked like a balloon with a rubber band wrapped around the middle. I had never seen a CT scan before, but Mrs P had. She spent a year working as a social worker with Hospice and had helped lots of patients through meetings like this. I heard her catch her breath. She was seeing something I didn't.

Dr. Colin showed me how the mass was not just a lump on my neck, but actually extended all the way in to my throat. My jugular vein and carotid arteries were being pinched in toward my spine and my windpipe was deflected severely to the left. He told me that it seemed to have originated in my Tonsil. We would need the PET scan to be more certain, but there was a real concern that this might be "cancerous." Mrs. P asked some questions I didn't understand, and we thanked the doctor for his time.

The ladies at the reception desk were very nice about setting up the PET scan and a follow-up visit. They also cancelled my biopsy. No time for needle pricks. We left with the distinct impression that time was becoming precious.

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