Wednesday, May 18, 2011

#330: The Waiting Begins

"What are we doing?"
"We' are waiting for the Doc."
I've said it a hundred times: cancer teaches you patience. I went to the clinic at 1:00 and was there until 3:30. During that time, I went to the wrong registration desk, scooted across the campus to the PET scan trailer, sat for half an hour while my bed turned radioactive, went back across the campus to the first place, registered for my CT scan, sat for about 45 minutes until they realized they had lost my paperwork, got some news from the radiologist, and rode the little sled through the CT scan. And thanks to the things I've learned about life in the last year, I was pretty cool with the whole thing..

Mrs P was really anxious about my scans this morning. I used to think that these morning episodes were because she was a little bit psychic. Now I think it's because her blood sugar is a little bit low in the morning. We talked a little bit, let the dogs out, and started our day.

My appointment was 1:00. For some reason, I had written 2:00 on my calender. Luckily, I got a reminder call yesterday. Still, the confusion left me in a sort of non-committal state. I was showered and ready to go by noon, but then I sat down to spend just a little more time on Facebook. So I hit the clinic door right at 1:00. As I stood in line to check in, my phone rang. It was the PET lab calling to find out where the devil I was. PET time is expensive time. I told her I was in line at the registration desk. She told me I was in the wrong place, and to ask for directions. Now, I had been to the PET scan gizmo once before, but I was busy wondering if I had cancer or not, so I was a little distracted. Today, the nice lady at the front desk gave me directions and I trundled off through the rain to the right place.

Checking in was fast and easy. We all laughed at my mistake. I wasn't embarrassed, and didn't feel obliged to make an excuse or even to fake contrition. I just laughed, and they laughed with me. Then a nice lady named Wendy walked me out to the trailer and we road the lift-gate up to the waiting area. A man who was introduced to me as "Mr. P" without irony or further information injected the radioactive stuff into me. He apologized profusely when he pulled the IV needle out of my arm just as Wendy reminded him that I needed to keep it in for my CT scan later. I shined it on, no problem. Seems like Mr. P has dealt with less patient patients than I.

After half an hour of sitting verrrry still so as not to stimulate what Mr. P called "muscle uptake," Wendy asked if I was ready to go to the bathroom. I told her, no, that it hadn't occurred to me. She seemed puzzled, then said that I really had to go to the bathroom. I figured, "She's the professional, who am I to argue?" Of course, soon as I stood up, the little room started spinning. See, when you get a PET scan, you have to fast for 6 hours. I hadn't eaten since the night before, and it was now almost 2:00. Add low blood sugar to my ongoing issues with blood pressure and it was not a very promising combination. I grabbed onto the door jamb until I could gather myself, then Wendy took my arm and escorted me to the bathroom. I explained that my pressure was a little weird, and she explained that I needed to empty my bladder before the scan. I kept wanting to pull my arm away from her and tell her it was OK, I could walk fine now, but she was kind of a cutie pie and I could tell she was worried about what would happen if this giant old man tipped over on top of her in the parking lot. At least she let me pee alone.

Back at the PET scan trailer, things went pretty much as I remembered. I had to take off my RoadID dog tag and my glasses. I also had to shuck my running pants down around my knees so the metal zipper pull s on the pockets wouldn't show up on the scan. I assumed the position, face up, knees elevated, arms up over my head, and promptly went to sleep for the 20 minutes or so that the scanner rolled me back and forth through a long, white, humming tube. A third tech who never introduced herself helped me to get off the table and waited patiently while my head found its balance, then she sent me on my way back to the front desk to register for my CT scan.

I sat in the waiting room in radiology for a long time. I had arrived with my little note from the registration lady, and filled out the paperwork for the radiology lady. Then I sat down and tried to find a wi-fi connection for my iPad. No luck. I read a Time magazine. I read another Time magazine. I was well into a copy of ESPN the Magazine when I heard a different radiology lady on the phone saying, "No. Not here... Well, I'll call the name and see if anyone answers... Mr. Pennsy?"

"Yeah. Right here."

"Oh, my. How long have you been there?"

"Not sure. Not too long I guess."

"Did you fill out your paperwork?"

I pointed out the clipboard where all my check marks and signatures were still on her desk.

"Oh, my.... Yes. He's here... Well I don't know... Debbie must have forgotten to send it back." She hung up and looked at me nervously, as if I might yell or sue her or slash her tires. "I am so sorry. They'll be right out."

I couldn't resist. "You sure threw old Debbie under the bus in a hurry, didn't you?"

Different radiology lady turned from sorry to sharp. "Sure did. She'd do it to me in a second."

The more time you spend around medical professionals, the more you realize why so many soap operas are written about them.

A lady with a clipboard came out into the lobby, apologizing profusely. You'd have thought these people had lost my car. The people who once sent my luggage to Los Angles by mistake were never so sorry. Clipboard lady told me that the radiologist had seen my scans and wanted to make a little change. Dr. Colin had asked for a scan without contrast, but the radiologist wanted me to have it. I told her I was fine with that. She said she had to call Dr. Colin to get his permission, and slipped off with her clipboard.

And for the first time all day, they had my attention. CT with contrast. We hadn't done that for a long time. To be honest, I don't really know what that means. They inject a iodine dye into your blood and it helps things to show up better, I guess. What things? What did the doctor see? Why had this taken so long? Were the Republicans behind this? The Illuminati? Muslim extremists? By the time CatScanMan came out and called my name, I was full of questions and theories. He was also very apologetic. I was getting a little tired of having my butt kissed. Just stick the needle in and scan me already. CatScanMan was very nice. He reminded me of a very large elf. He waited with me in the hall until it stopped spinning so I could walk on with him. He was not a cutie pie, and did not offer to hold my arm. I was cool with that.

I took off my glasses and ID tag one more time and plopped down on the table by my old friend, the CT scan. CatScanMan found a vein and stuck me, then I felt the weird warmth of the contrast fluid flowing in. The radioactive PET scan stuff is cool at first, then there's no sensation at all. The CT scan contrast stuff is warm and you can feel it as it travels all through you. I guess it affects everybody differently, but it always seems to settle in my crotch. My butt crack gets hot and I feel like I have to pee. Oh the wonders of modern medical science.

We made small talk as he set up the machine. This banter has been a part of my routine throughout the past year.

"I sure am enjoying this more than the last time I was in here?"

"Why is that?"

""Cause they found cancer the last time."

"Really? What kind?" Part of me wondered why he didn't know that already, and part of me wondered if it was important.

"Head and Neck. Squamous cell. In my tonsil and neck."

"Squamous. OK." He was much too interested. I wanted more small talk. I wanted him to apologize again. He positioned my head and left the room.

"Hey, I'm wearing dentures. Does that matter?" No answer. The sled rolled in and out of the donut scanner a couple of times.

He came back to my side. "What kind of cancer did you say you had?"

"Squamous cell carcinoma. Do I need to take out my dentures?"

"No. No. That's fine."

Dude? What's with the furrowed brow in your voice? It's just a little cancer. Nothing to worry about. The docs took care of it. Now take your pictures, and prove me right.

As the sled rode back and forth, I realized that I was now in a state of growing paranoia. This was supposed to be a celebration day, a victory lap, a ticker-tape parade. I mean, you can look at me and see I don't have cancer. Why are these people making such a big deal of what is really just a formality?

When the test was finished, I was wide awake. CatScanMan pulled off the tape (always the worst part,) slipped out the needle, and taped a big wad of cotton over the hole. Then he said the worst possible thing he could have said under the circumstances.

"Well. Best of luck to you." He sounded like an undertaker.

Best of luck? Best of luck? Are you out of your mind? I searched his face to try to see if he had spotted anything on the screen. After all, it was a CT tech who first saw my saddle embolism. These guys know what they are looking at. He gave me back a poker face, not at all the jolly, contrite health care elf he had been before the scan. By the time I left the building, I had just about convinced myself that I was going to die. Mr. Mellow had transformed into Mr. Anxiety at the drop of an IV needle.

OK. Deep Breath. None of these things means anything. These are just things that happened on my way through someone else's melodrama. My brain knows that I have to wait a week for the results, so my imagination is filling in the empty space with a little drama of my own. I'm fine. I know I'm fine. I run 10 miles a week. I'm doing a 5K this weekend. I do plays. I love my wife. I play with the dogs. I'm fine.

And just a little worried. Next Wednesday can't some soon enough. Good thing cancer taught me all this patience. I'm gonna need it.




  1. Howdy Pennsy! My friend Allen (Old Man Running Blog) relayed your blog to me. I'm 59 years old and currently have tongue, neck, and right lung cancer. I'm in my fourth week of therapy (I also have a feeding tube attached two weeks ago, but haven't needed it yet.) I also had a PET Scan, my HMO insurance is lousy as my co-pay was $750.00 up front. I have to have chemo and radiation for 12 weeks (first six weeks neck and above, the next six weeks below the neck) I only have nine more weeks to go. I'll be keeping up with your progress, hang tough!!

  2. Bruce, I've just finished reading your blog as far back as your diagnosis. It sounds like you have a good support team, medically and personally. Trust me, you'll need them all. Your diagnosis is tougher than mine was, but your overall health and conditioning give you a real advantage. Everybody's cancer journey is different. You try to stay active, eat right, keep exercising, but as my nutritionist told me when I finally gave in and started using the feeding tube, " When it comes down to it, you do whatever you have to do to stay alive." The most important thing is to never give up. Running has already taught you that lesson. even when my treatment was at it's worst, I never stopped fighting for my life. I knew why I wanted to live, and I held on to that 24 hours a day. Have courage, brother. You can do this. And you are not alone. Peace... Pennsy


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