by Laura Lynch, LCSW, Life Coach
I was feeling good about writing on a fairly regular basis, but you know life becomes “the interrupted life”. It was one of those one things leads to another, in this case, my health.
Note to general readers not WordPress Readers: In acknowledgement of current tendency to take things personally, or inadvertent misunderstandings, the following is my totally personal take on my recent medical journey. It is too bad I even have to say that. The bummer is that if you have to say “this is supposed to be funny, or satire, ” then you are at risk of ruining the piece. I will take that chance, because of people who may be struggling with serious health problems. On a serious note, I have family members and friends who have gone through serious health problems, including terminal cancer. I have to say everyone one them showed courage and would appreciate any chance to smile or laugh, and maintain some faith and optimism. I hope the following will help people to take care, and not skip doctor appointments. We also need to fix the most seriously injured patient, the U.S. Health System.
I confess my much trusted doctor retired in his 80’s. I took my time, with many reasons and excuses to not get a new doctor. So a few years later…
The Adventure Begins
I have not written in my blog for a while because I got detoured with health issues. I have also been spending a lot of evening binging on old Star Trek.
I decided its time for my (not so much) annual physical. I was pleasantly surprised and a little shocked that when he told me hop up, he was ready to do everything. Wow doc now? He also had a Mammo machine. Even better. Yes it had been a while. I mumbled the last time I had it, a rough estimate. The Mammo Lady was professional and nice, however if we can get a Man on the Moon why can’t we make a “do no hurt machine. ”
In the meantime I had been noticing a non healing anomaly on my face (I have been watching too much Star Trek lately), and finally went to a Dermatologist. This was obviously a successful practice, with offices in nice parts of L.A. and L.V. and impressive equipment surrounded by soothing colors. They took an almost unholy interest in things on my skin, but I suppose it would be like an auto enthusiast at a classic car show. Even an old scar on my arm, worn with pride of a survivor, from a decades old accident, is under suspicion. These guys are like Sherlock Holmes on steroids. The mark on my face is of especial concern. (It a small abrasion that was not healing, if you want to know).
Next thing you know I get a call to go get an Ultrasound., post Mammo. OK, well at least that should be less painful. [Why is sonography called an ultrasound anyway? Because it is the absolute BEST??). I went late in the afternoon leaving work a little early for a half hour road trip. The telephone message had said the co-pay would be $14. I was feeling pleased about such a low co-pay. Unfortunately it was $114. Of course it turns out my main bank card was having a deficit issue related to an auto pay gone wrong. Anyway the card was rejected. It’s bad enough to be rejected in a restaurant, but I am sorry before an Ultrasound? My head was spinning, and I could not find my other bank card, and took a few dizzy spins wandering around in the parking lot. I finally found my Wells Fargo and it and it went through. I am usually calm and collected but by the time I went through the test and headed home I was scattered to heck and back.
I received a call from the Nice Skin Place. It has been a while, but basically the biopsy result led to a call for surgery. The surgery was scheduled at their other office way way way on the other side of town. The owner/surgeon would be flying in from Southern California. Basically my Southwestern living and Norwegian heritage was about to give me payback. Of course I have spent much of my adult life in the desert where I do not try to get sun on purpose (sun tanning) because it’s too friggin hot in the summer. But going outside or driving is enough. Perhaps it was growing up in S.California where the milder sun by the coast will fool you, plus spending a lot of time in the pool as a teen.
I sat in the well appointed waiting room until the call back to the evaluation and surgical room. I have to say the whole experience was extremely efficient, you could say, even “surgical” in its precision and efficiency. I was told to lay down just so on the table.
I was laying on the table, with my gaze a bit averted, my head turned, as if I was a model posing for a head shot. He needed to have a good angle to get at the anomoly which was the area under my eye close to the side of my nose. I always like to be a cooperative and well mannered patient. (I am not the one with knife). It was also one of the most delicate areas of the body. The surgeon (who looks very healthy, young and composed) used a finely cut scalpel to slice away at my skin. He took the first cut, then left, saying this was the first stage of surgery for basal cell carcinoma.
I was told “You may return to the front (were my husband was waiting) and he will look at his findings. If it looks like there is more there, you have to return for the next stage.” I sat there with a large bandage feeling kind of stupid.
I was called back a while later. I had failed, so was passed to the next stage. He told me “You’re an intelligent woman, you should have come in sooner.” “There is a LOT here.” “We will keep cutting and looking until we are sure we have it all.” I took it with composure, nothing like a scolding before surgery.
I lay hoping and praying that this would be it. He came back after taking a look through the microscope said there is more. So they went for broke, more or less.
It was a little scary having the scalpel so close to my eye and nose. I have to say they were good. I have a hard time cutting bread. Skin is so fine and thin. They would put the deli people to shame. Of course under anesthesia you just feel pressure and weird movements. Then came the stitching time, they were ever bit as good in their seamstress and tailoring skills as my mother had been. I laid even more still, as he told me to adjust a bit, with some tugging here and there. My surgeon gave his assistant the stiching duty, and I told him, with eyes tightly closed, please don’t stitch my eye closed. I was having visions of Sally from Nightmare Before Christmas. Because these were some serious stitches, and it was not a small area. However, the news was “We got it all”.
For some reason (and I was in a hazy daze because you are basically at their mercy) they decided I needed to have an immediate appointment with the upstairs plastic surgeon, and an assistant took my hand and brought us upstairs to make an appointment for Monday. It happened so fast I couldn’t think. We showed up Monday afternoon (remember it’s a long drive) and the experience was…different. Not that I have anything to compare it to, since I have never been in a plastic surgeon’s office. They said they like him because he does both serious medical repair as well as usual plastic surgeon purely cosmetic stuff. Anyway he came in, I took off the large bandage (really gauze with tape, it was not easy to do this daily care because I had to change and create a custom bandage because of the size and weird shape of the spot.) His mouth opened in a circle of surprise and brows knitted in puzzlement. “I thought I was supposed to close you?” Eh??? Of course my face was swoolen and bruised and quite contorted looking. So that was a bust. The visit so soon after surgery did not make a lot of sense but heck I am just the patient.
I had followup visits, including a minor excision, and taking stiches out. I also learned something new. Recently I noticed I had a short white thread dangling down my face. Not a good look. I came in for a checkup and they said yes that’s normal, skin will start pushing out the “Underneath thread” and I can come by for free cuttings if more starts popping out in the future. Why they can’t just have dissolving thread for this part of the stitch up is beyond me. I had sort of considered cutting it myself but thought better of it. I also showed my doctor that I was carrying around sunscreen lotion with me and he was impressed. I learned more about sunscreen than I care to imagine and I also looked into scar healing lotions. I did notice that skin care products abound in drug stores. In fact moisture balms and related items seem to outnumber adolescent creams. Not hard to figure out why. I have become a serious student of sun screen lotions, including “broad spectrum” information. Similar to airport security, higher numbers may make you feel more secure, but there are diminishing returns.
Meantime I had a call post Ultrasound. I was scheduled for an MRI. Yay! Just what I love. But a strange thing happened a few days ahead of that. I got a call to go in for a biopsy on Wednesday just a day before. (The MRI was to be on a Thursday). All at the same Imaging Place, which had a of fancy equipment by the way. This did not make total sense to me, why would you have a biopsy AHEAD of an MRI. I know I am not a Medical expert but this defied common sense. (I had also worked on a payment plan, because I am sorry I cannot afford over a $1,0000 in one week for both procedures, are they cr a z y? I was lucky with a nice billing person who was kind of irritated about other matters.). The Biopsy was scheduled at a really early hour and I am not a morning person. We got up extra early and on the road, almost there and got a call from the Imaging Place. (I can’t even imagine how things would have gone without cell phone technology). It turns out the doctor or tech had called out sick that day and they needed to reschedule. Maybe later in the day? Maybe Monday. Finally it became a week later. I got back to work in time for treatment team meeting and decided I needed to get off this crazy train and called my doctor’s nurse and said does this make sense? She agreed, it does not make sense, and cancelled the appointment, to be rescheduled pending MRI results. I mean, right????
So my MRI was scheduled at a somewhat civilized 2:30 in the afternoon. I felt really good knowing that I was to have a payment plan, my card worked as it should, and the time with the clerk went fabulously. I did have the forethought to use the Ladies before the MRI. A nice looking gent with pleasant face came out, directed me to the changing room and locker, and set up for the MRI. I was to lay on my tummy, gown over table, arms straight out, and he asked if I wanted my feet a little up. He also asked what kind of music I liked. By some weird happening of the Universe, it turned out the music was from a satellite radio channel “The Bridge”. which I often listen to while driving.
This was to be for half hour, with interesting 4 minute or so segments of different types of sounds. Since I did not want to prolong this time, I decided I would make it my mission to be as still as possible. Besides, if I teach people to focus, relax, and do meditation for a living then I should be able to practice what I preach. It is more or less a mind game. The fact that I have back problems and I NEVER lay on my stomach, or at least NOT USUALLY because IT IS NOT GOOD FOR MY BACK should be noted.
This was a sort of marathon mind game here, how long can I stay still and out last THE MACHINE? It was not dissimilar to the “do not laugh or smile” game kids might play. Sometimes his soothing voice would interrupt and let me know how much longer I had to go. Actually I am not into competitions, but I don’t mind a challenge. I was getting close, then:
I decided to do a countdown, and wondered if he might be lying. I was almost there!!!
Come on Laura, just a little bit more. Finally released from this sci fi-ish purgatory. Of course this was a Thursday and I had to wait for results. My nurse broke norms and left a message on my cell phone: “I am so excited to tell you your results are clear, everything is OK.” Later talking to her she said she did not want me to endure a weekend wondering. Now that is what health care should be.
I am now in recovery stage, feeling relieved. I have to go back to skin place in six months, and I promise I do my annual physical annually. I hope I do not have any unpleasant financial surprises down the road.
The real bummer is that I took my vacation BEFORE all this happened, but work is not a bad escape. All of this was happening while the political stuff is getting stranger and stranger. Which is why, I confess, we decided to go all in with binging on Star Trek every evening. I really like the Hologram Doctor, his instruments are to dreamy, no insurance or credit cards worries, and his bed side manner is improving. The medical issues are often weird, but then again sneaky cells quietly growing in my skin, and odd things in my breast are kind of strange too. I promise I WILL SUBMIT (Borg Lingo) to the Med People next year. In the meantime, take me away to a Galaxy far far away. Because Perspective Is Needed on this crazy journey called Life.