Thursday, April 16, 2015

September 3, 2013: A Very Bad Day

Lying on a gurney, dressed in only a hospital gown, covered by a sheet and with an IV in the back of my hand, I gaze out a tiny rectangular window near the ceiling of the curtained cubicle where I wait to be wheeled back for my first-ever colonoscopy.  I am 47.  "Nice that I have one real wall," I think to myself.  The facility has maybe twenty curtained "rooms", each just big enough for a gurney and a chair.  Only thin sheets, "privacy curtains", suspended from hooks set in a maze of tracks running across the ceiling separate the spaces.  My husband holds my right hand as I stare up through the window at the clear blue sky outside.

In the silence of my thoughts, I thank God for what I know could be my last moment of blissful ignorance.

I fix the sky's particular shade of blue in my mind.  I try to absorb its serenity.  I think back to what brought me here:  the panicked look on my husband's face, the pressure of his request to "call the doctor", my reluctance, and his insistence that I must.  "If it's colon cancer, it can be cured if it's caught in time," he had urged just a couple of days before.

"Cancer?" I thought then. "Cancer?" It couldn't be. How could it be cancer? I have none of the risk factors. Not one! I saw my G.P. soon after, but he could not rule out cancer.

"Time for a scope-a-roonie for you," he said, and gave me a number to call for an appointment. 

I couldn't help but laugh at the ridiculousness ("scope-a-roonie?!").  The whole situation was ridiculous!  It couldn't be cancer.  Still, the nurse's comment as I was leaving, "I hope it all goes well for you," felt ominous.

The next day I called the number and got an appointment with a gastroenterologist.  My G.P. called me that same afternoon.  "Did you make an appointment?"

"I did!" I said, triumphantly.

"When will it be?" he asked.

I gave him the date, which was about six weeks away.  Next came a string of utterances that started with, "No, no, no…"  that date was "not soon enough", he declared.  "You need to be seen right away.  I will call them and get back to you."

He did.  My new appointment would be the following Tuesday.  Monday, I'm sure, would have been  his first choice, but that Monday happened to be Labor Day, 2013.

"Ready to go?" the smiling nurse asked, interrupting my thoughts.  Two scrubs-wearing individuals appeared and wheeled me and the gurney to the procedure room.  Patrick was left in the curtained "room" to wait.

What I remember next is that when I woke, a man was holding a photograph of--something--too close to my face.  I couldn't make sense of it.  I was aware that my husband was sitting in a chair next to the gurney.  "Mrs. Ryan!  Mrs. Ryan!" he spoke quickly, "You have a tumor.  It is most-likely cancer." He waved the photograph which I then understood to be a picture of the inside of my colon.  "You have to go, Mrs. Ryan.  You have to go now.  You have to see the surgeon.  We'll send your paperwork."  The man was the gastroenterologist, dark-haired, and with strange, tattooed eyebrows. I didn't like the news he gave me, or the way he delivered it.  Photograph or not, this information was too much to take in.

My husband explained later that I had been returned to the waiting area only a couple of minutes after having left it.  I, however, had no sense for how much time had elapsed thanks to the twilight anesthesia I had been given.  The doctor, Patrick told me, was unable to complete the exam due to the size of the tumor.

"Is this really happening?" I asked.

"It's really happening," Patrick answered somberly.  "C'mon, we have to go."

I didn't want to go.  I wanted to stay right there, in that spot and consider what this information meant--to ask questions--but there was no time.

I asked the nurse if they would be able to use the same I.V. for surgery.  She said that they could.  She closed it off, covered it up, and wrote some info on the dressing.  I found my clothes, quickly put them on, and rushed out the door and into the car.  Patrick drove us literally across the street to the surgeon's office.

I no more than stepped up to the reception area when the lady behind the sliding window asked, "Are you Mrs. Ryan?"  She handed me a clipboard and told me they were expecting me.  The waiting room was packed.  Someone stood up so that I could sit down to fill out the paperwork.  I was in a daze.

A nurse called my name almost before I could finish filling in my address on the forms.  We met the surgeon in an office area.  He ordered a CT scan for the next day, and told me that he would do surgery the day after that, a Thursday.  He would tack my case onto the end of his schedule.  He thought that surgery might begin around 8 PM.  I was to go have lunch (I had been fasting many hours by then), and expect a call from the hospital with further instructions.

We left the surgeon's office and Patrick led me to the elevator.  There were two or three people riding with us while he took a phone call.  It was a friend from work.  I listened, almost unbelieving, to the events of the day as re-told by my husband.  When Patrick delivered the dire news, "They think it's cancer," into the receiver, I felt that all eyes were now on me.  Having the I.V. still in my hand left no question who he was talking about.

When the elevator stopped on the main level, I turned to exit the building, but was stopped by a woman who had overheard the conversation on the ride down.  "I'm sorry," she started, "I couldn't help but hear.  Can I ask you your name?"

"Oh, sure.  It's 'Celine'.  Are you going to pray for me?" I cautiously asked.

"Yes," she assured me, nodding.

"I think I'm going to need them," I replied.  I thanked her, and we went our separate ways.  "This really is serious," I thought, "if someone I don't even know is offering me her prayers without even being asked."

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