Thursday, May 8, 2008

Testing, Testing

One of my friends texted me yesterday and asked when I would be done with my diagnostic tests this morning, which began at 8:45am.

“Lunch time?” I replied. 11:00?”

I was optimistic. This time by about four hours.

A brief rundown: I’ve been throwing up bile every morning for about 7 weeks. I have visited my Witch Doctor (an NIS Master) religiously, and with his help diagnosed and cured a liver parasite (which arrived soon after our new puppy, Hoover . . . coincidence?), which allotted me 2 ½ weeks of freedom from the morning pukes; a liver virus; and he’s put several organs/glands back into synch with each other. Unfortunately, after the liver parasite was eradicated, the puking came back and hasn’t gone away. It’s not so bad after the morning, although in the last week or so I’ve started to feel less and less strong in the belly, even later in the day. Eventually even the Witch Doctor was at a loss, and recommended I see an MD for some bloodwork and maybe a scan or two.

About the time I went to see the MD, I also realized that I’d been getting, slowly but surely, shorter of breath with exertion (i.e. in my riding lessons, going up stairs). I’d recover quickly, but it was starting to seem that I wasn’t just out of shape, but rather might be harboring some greater problem.

I have been loath to see a Western doctor this year. Last year, January 10 2007, I had a mastectomy of my right breast. It was the 3rd time that breast had turned up with cancer, and it seemed like high time to just cut it off and be done with it (the scar is beautiful, by the way. Does anyone know if blogger allows you to post pics of mastectomy scars? It’s very obviously not a breast . . .). A bit of irony, I guess, is that I’ve always been perfectly healthy. Aside from a brief stint of high fevers in Kenya in 1993, which afforded me multiple home (or rather guest house) visits from a local doctor, I have hardly seen a doctor in my life. No major illnesses, and only one fall off a horse that warranted a trip to the emergency room. So what’s happened is that I’ve been trained, over the last 9 years and 3 (at least) diagnoses of cancer, to believe that visiting an allopath, a Western doctor, means CANCER.

This is not fair to excellent GPs, emergency surgeons, and thousands of other doctors who are fine people, dedicated to their fields and their clients, and have nothing whatsoever to do with cancer most of the time. But there you have it.

Anyway, after the Witch Doctor—whom I trust very much—suggested I see an MD, I finally went. I found one who’d never met me before and therefore didn’t immediately see me under a file six inches thick, explained my symptoms—puking and short of breath—and asked what he’d suggest.

Not surprisingly, he suggested a chest X-ray, some bloodwork, and an abdomen ultrasound. The ultrasound was the only part of this that I could interact with at all during the test, so I watched the screen while the technician took her pictures and made her measurements. I was particularly avid to see what was up on the right side of my body where my liver is, considering the diagnoses of parasites and viruses and the bile vomits, so when she got there I really started to concentrate. Suddenly a black dot came into view. She took a picture. She moved her wand, saw a slightly different and larger angle of the black mass, and took another pictures. She did this three or four times, and I found myself becoming more and more nervous. Then she pulled out her electronic measurement tool and took a width. My heart stopped as she clicked a couple more buttons, then up on the screen came a text box labeled “kidney”.

Oh. Yeah, we have those. I stopped watching, and turned my face to the wall. Clearly, I am not a radiologist.

Well, the abdomen ultrasound turned out to be absolutely normal. Nothing was large, nothing was distended, nothing had a valve blocked open or closed, nothing was out of place. Normal. The blood tests were also normal. Normal liver function, normal calcium, normal bilirubin. No hepatitis, A, B or C. In fact, nothing at all to explain why I’ve been throwing up.

The chest X-ray, on the other hand. showed numerous pulmonary nodules. Now, pulmonary nodules can come from a variety of places. An infection, a virus, pneumonia, tuberculosis, etc. Not things you want, naturally. But nodules can also come from metastasized breast cancer, and that, of course, even though I didn’t come in under the weight of my 6-inch file, was the first thing this MD thought. I don’t blame him—if there’s anything I’ve discovered about dealing with cancer, off and on for 9 years, it’s that it’s scary. Everyone thinks it’s scary. People who love you, people who hardly know you, doctors, nurses, techs. If you choose not to be scared by it, you have a battle set up for yourself. If you choose to think it’s a challenge, a lesson, maybe even a serious unpleasantness, but not terror, then you have to be prepared to be strong, and different.

Hence the tests I was taking this morning, which I misjudged so much in length. They included chest and abdomen CTs, a huge blood draw, and a bone scan . . . back at the SCCA. Which I'd thought I was done with.

In part, we arrived slightly later than 8:45 because at 8:45 I was crouched in front of my toilet, puking my second puke of the morning (what seems to work best is 1. get up, 2. cough, 3. puke, 4. eat . . . but I was fasting). Then, as we were sitting in the waiting room, the minutes ticking past 9, past 9:15, and on, I realized I had to puke again. So off I went to the bathroom and let out yet more bile. What’s left after you’ve gotten rid of all the bile? Fortunately, I have not yet had to find out.

When I came out, Ian was there, and he led me back to the blood draw/IV/injection room, where I got to sit in a comfortable lounge chair and someone found a hard plastic folder for him. I then sat as one person tried two times to find a vein in my arm, another person tried one time, and they finally called someone in who finds deep veins with an ultrasound machine. She was successful (well, I was a little dehydrated). While this was going on, I talked to the first guy about puking in the mornings, and being a bit nervous about the effects of the barium (chalky, non-digestible, usually flavored something like “banana”) on my digestive system. Well, it turns out there’s another option, that doesn’t make quite the same quality of pictures, but does work, and they mix it with juice. I chose apple. Oh my god, what a relief. The apple juice also seemed enough like food that my stomach quieted down a bit, and I was able to get my CTs, and indeed do everything else for the day, with everything staying as it should.

Since it took so long to get my IV in, however, my bone scan ended up being delayed until 1:30pm, but aside from that it was completely unremarkable.

But, I’m home now, and made it here by 3:00pm, only four hours after the 11:00am I’d originally supposed. And everything’s back to normal.


No comments: