Before I continue my narrative, I have to make a correction of sorts. Last week, I commented I felt somewhat embarrassed that so much time had passed… Well, I think I should have clarified it further that I felt somewhat embarrassed that so much time has passed when, in retrospect, I probably should have had that back pain checked out when it first started flaring up again, even though I had seen those other doctors in the interim, but that was only after it had started getting out of control.
A week after seeing Dr. Thomas, on July 24, 2013, I saw Dr. Bones. He came into the room where Ariel and I waited after I changed into the obligatory paper gown, scowling as though he were already late for a golf game and had predetermined that I, being his last patient of the day, was going to be one of those difficult ones that would hold him up indefinitely. Right away I wanted to get to the point of my appointment and quell his misery as quickly as possible.
He put me through a similar battery of motor tests Dr. Thomas had done the week before; he pressing against my feet while I tried to kick out against his resistance, standing on one foot then the other, walking across the room carrying an egg on a teaspoon clenched between my teeth with my hands tied behind my back. Hmm, no, that’s a stunt on Beat The Clock.
His report was the same that it was nothing I did, referring to that donkey press incident and my motor…whatevers….were fine. But, he ordered an Xray and off I went with his nurse to get some films done.
In the Xray he detected a slight curvature of my lower lumbar and noticed that the soft squishy stuff that cushions the vertebrae was gone from between 2 discs and they were rubbing together. He said the condition is known as DISH, Diffuse Idiopathic Skeletal Hyperostosis, basically a degenerative form of arthritis Okay, great, finally we had something to go on and maybe relief was on the way, whatever the outcome. Would I be able to work out again? Not that I’m as fanatic about it as I was in my younger days, but it’s my little escape during the day, or a good way to start the day, especially in the warmer months so my lunch time can be spent in my vegetable garden or just relaxing away from the computer for a few minutes in the sun.
He prescribed some muscle relaxers, some pain killers, some anti-inflammatories all of which I went through like candy. For one who is not so into taking medicines, at this point I welcomed anything that would help. He also suggested some physical therapy, located in the same building, for several weeks.
Dr. Bones also ordered an MRI which would take place at his office not far from my house 5 days later on July 29. I met with the MRI technician who told me what I needed to do and he assured me it would take no longer than 20 minutes. I told him I would try to hold out that long and remain as still as I possibly could because I could not lay down. I managed it and needed help to get into an upright position so I could make my way back to locker where my clothes were, changed and meet with Dr. Bones for the results.
His words meant nothing and doom to me all at the same time. Nothing because they were big important sounding medical terms and doom because it meant something was wrong. He said I suffered from spinal stenosis, which I later learned is a narrowing of the spinal canal. In terms of those three uncushioned vertebrae, he said he could fuse them, but that would give me limited mobility and he didn’t think I’d want that. Since the pain wasn’t affecting my legs, surgery seemed unnecessary. And there was also an undetermined protrusion of some sort jutting out toward my spinal column. He had no idea what it was.
He had to explain all this to me twice and then a third time after I got Ariel on speaker phone so he could repeat it one more time so at least he might better understand the unintelligible string of words being thrown at me meant.
That was a Monday. Tuesday, July 30, late morning, the phone rang. I saw Dr. Bones’ name flash on my caller ID. He spoke, I listened. He said he conferred with a colleague over the MRI and Xray results and some blah, blah, blah and then…… “I think you better get yourself an oncologist.” Silence.
I knew the word. I’d heard it before, but what it had to with me I had no idea. And it was said so matter of factly. I finally spoke. “Are you talking cancer?” Again, matter of factly the reply was “Yeah.”. And it was determined that I could continue taking the pills if I wanted, but the physical therapy was useless. “We’ll do everything we can for you.” We’ll do everything we can for you? Was that his way of saying the end was coming?
“You better get yourself an oncologist”. Those words will stay with me for the rest of my life.
I’m not sure exactly what happened next, everything kind of went black, though I vaguely remember clumsily texting Ariel to call me. The next thing I knew he was here and in between his call and his arrival home, I think I sat here at my desk, continuing to work, or maybe just shuffling papers around, trying to reconcile what had just happened. I’m pretty certain at some point that afternoon, some sense of clarity set in, at least on Ariel’s part, because obviously Dr. Thomas was called to find out what the next step should be.
The next few days, according to the calendar went by quickly. According to my mental state, time just stood still. The day after that fated phone call, I had a CT scan performed which determined the size and position of the tumor which was assumed to be Lymphoma. The conversion of the metric figures brought the size of it to around 9″ x 4″ and it was located behind my stomach and crushing my right kidney, which, as it turns out, explained the disfiguring swelling of my private parts. Two days after that, we (Ariel and I) met with Dr. Thomas seemingly in the wee hours of the morning, but it was more like around 8am and I had some blood work done and we discussed oncology care.We had already been searching for and found an oncologist that Ariel and I both liked and who was also recommended by our boss, who himself is a doctor, but this man was not available until October. His colleague could take me, but the questionnaire just to get in to see this guy seemed overly extravagant, but we needed an oncologist and here was this one.
Dr. Thomas said he’d work with whoever we wanted, but had a suggestion of his own. Dr. David. And he could see me much sooner than Dr. Questionnaire could. Dr. Thomas has been my doctor for years. He had never steered me wrong in anything so what was the harm in seeing Dr. David? My life was in the balance. We were to meet with him on Monday, August 5 and in the meantime, Dr. Thomas was having his nurse set up a biopsy as quickly as possible but that could not be until Monday, August 12.
He also asked me if I wanted to go on temporary disability but I emphatically declined. I had no idea what was coming down the pike and I am the first one to admit I have the propensity to make mountains out of mole hills and I didn’t want to have “free” time to sit and think. I was faced with a seemingly insurmountable mountain right from the start and who knew what was on the other side of it. I’m not sure where it came from, probably from corner of my mind that was still refusing to believe what was happening, but at one point during the visit, I managed to croak at my doctor, “I lost 30 pounds…for this?!” Somehow we all chuckled, but he assured me that the weight loss would benefit me during my recovery.
Monday, August 5, we found ourselves in exam room 5 (5’s all around, my favorite number) with Dr. David and in a short time sent for Dr. Thomas to confer and together they decided it best to not wait until the 12 th for the biopsy but to admit me that day into the hospital and have the biopsy performed there. They needed to know for sure it was Lymphoma and to determine whether it was type B or type T, B being the “better” type to have in this case. It is more easily treated and cured.
Either way, both my doctors and the main guys at our job were all of the same mind, “We are going for a cure!”.