That’s what happened to me in late January, as the surgeon and staff were about to slide me into the CT Scan tube and begin my lung biopsy.
I was lying there on that very narrow table, positioned on my left side, my right leg hanging over awkwardly and lying in a sling. It was uncomfortable sure, but gave the surgeon the best angle from which to enter my right lung and grab a piece of the suspect growth — what had showed up as a “hot spot” on my scans.
I was, of course, donning hospital attire — a gown of an off-white color from repeated washings with long ties and small, faded, navy polka dots. As I’d been told to do, I was lying very still. One of the nurses placed the oxygen tubes in my nostrils. They were all set to inject some of that sleepy stuff into my IV when the surgeon leaned over me and said, “We can’t get the right angle on the spot on the upper lobe, so I called your oncologist and she gave me the go-ahead to take a piece from the spot on the lower lobe.”
Lower lobe? There was more than one lobe of my right lung showing suspected spots of cancer?!
It wasn’t until that very moment, lying on the table in that very vulnerable, compromising position, that I had any idea there was more than one lobe of my lung involved.
I panicked. I started crying. Hard.
“Stop everything!” I said. “I need to see my husband — now!”
Everyone in the procedure room froze. Then I heard the swinging door open and shut. A few seconds passed, maybe a minute. Then Don appeared.
He leaned over me, brushed a few tears from my face and whispered, “Honey, what’s up?”
“They didn’t tell me!” I said. “They never told me that they saw spots on more than one lobe in my right lung! What else haven’t they told me?”
I could feel myself winding up again, losing control, sobbing harder.
Don began to rub my back.
“It’s going to be OK, honey. It’s all going to be OK.
“I was just talking to Robin and Claire (the nurses who head up my Clinical Trial) in the waiting room and I asked them to level with me. I said, ‘Don’t sugarcoat this. I want to know. Is my wife going to live?
“And you know what they told me, honey? They told me they felt quite confident that you don’t have just mere months left, but years. Many years.
“It’s going to be OK,” he repeated, pushing a few damp, clingy, stray strands of blonde hair out of my face.
“But right now, you need to let them give you some of that good sleepy stuff so we can get this procedure over with, find out what we’re fighting and where, and figure out what we need to do, OK?”
Don was so, well, together. I don’t know how he does that. But I’m glad he knows exactly what to do when I’m nearing the depths of a total meltdown. His voice, his presence, his words calmed me.
I nodded. I trusted. I let them give me the sleepy stuff and start the procedure.
The biopsy results did indeed confirm what my doctors has suspected — breast cancer had metastisized into my right lung and affected more than one lobe.
What happened that day wasn’t anyone’s fault. A diagnosis like mine touches off a domino effect of organized chaos. There’s a rapid-fire pace in which all of the tests are conducted, in different areas of the hospital, with different doctors in charge, all sharing the same information about my case and for one purpose — to figure out how to save my life and the best way to do it.
No one means to blurt out information at such a vulnerable moment — or any moment, for that matter.
But it happens. And it’s hard. It’s hard on the patient, who takes that experience into future scenarios and feels the anticipation of terror.
That’s what happened to me yesterday, when all I was doing was going in for a simple CT Scan of my chest, with contrast. But as the radiologist began pushing the narrow table I was lying on into the tube, my heart began to race.
What if they see something and inadvertently slip-up, tell me something they think I already know, but don’t? What if it’s something awful?
Nothing like that happened. I simply lay in the tube, drawing in a big breath and holding it upon command, then letting it out. There was a warm, burning sensation that spread from the IV site in my arm through my chest and into my groin. My saliva had a metallic tinge. The radiologist placed special pads over me to protect my thyroid and chest from the radiation.
I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing as I lay in the tube, listening to the clicking of the machine, waiting for the commands from the radiologist. They were hot and ran down my cheek and into my right ear canal. I wanted to shake my head like a wet dog.
But instead, I lay still. And then it was over.
I was all done, free to go. If there was any information to be leaked, it hadn’t been. All they told me was that I should have the results by Wednesday.
And that was plenty.
Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson