Terminal cancer. Wow. What a bummer?
A few months ago I started having bizarre symptoms off-and-on for about ten-day cycles. Fatigue, headache, disorientation. Each time the symptoms came back, they were stronger… And stronger… And STRONGER. Then I was dying.
I’m cautious of hospitals; I hate emergency rooms. They’re endless lines of endless complaints and it always seems like the people who should be at the front of the line are at the end of a line with no end in sight. Emergency rooms are characterized by trauma, fear, and death. They’re under-staffed and over-booked. And they have a funny habit of telling me that something’s wrong.
It takes a truly life-threatening situation for me to step-foot inside a hospital. Falling asleep while on the phone and waking up twenty-two hours later? Answering questions in the wrong languages or not recognizing that I’d been asked a question in the first place? The spontaneous inability to hear and speak? And to top it off, I began losing consciousness whenever my heart rate increased. That’s when I knew it was a life-threatening situation. There’s something about waking up in the middle of an intersection, car horns blaring all around you, someone shaking you awake that grabs your attention. I went to the hospital.
*Hospital Visit #1: You have a severe sinus infection that’s encroaching on your brain. It’s shutting down your vestibular system and as a result, your heart’s failing. Here are nineteen medications. One’s an antibiotic, one’s a second, stronger antibiotic, one’s anti-nausea, three are for your heart, two are for pain, one is for sleep, and the rest are for side-effects and the side-effects of side-effects. Then here are these three liters of fluids, a bag of liquid stabalizers, and a brand-new, still-has-the-pricetag, fresh-out-of-residency, “Call me Doctor Chad,” guy to tell you that, “Although you might die, it’ll probably be a week or two before we know one way or the other, so you may as well go home and see how things turn out.”
*Hospital Visit #2, three days later: Oh, your throat closed and now you can’t swallow? You must be allergic to one of the medications we gave you. But we gave you way too many medications to know which one you’re allergic to, so we’ll just… oh… you mean you were taking the medications for days before this happened to you? Hm. That’s odd. I wonder what… oh. Oh, dear. We missed something. You have an underlying tonsil infection. We did the test to see if you had a tonsil infection a few days ago, but the nurse only swabbed your mouth, not your throat. Here are some extra antibiotics and some steroids for the tonsillitis. Oh, and one more thing– why haven’t you been taking your insulin? What do you mean you’re not diabetic? Of course you are! Your blood sugar is at 500. You’re at organ failure. Didn’t they explain that to you at the last visit?
Now, I’m not a medical professional, but it seems to me like nurses might want to avoid diagnosing people on the spot like that. But it also seems like doctors should explain about organ failure to their patients. Nobody ever told me they were testing my bloodsugar. Nobody told me that my bloodsugar was 500. Nobody ever told me that my kidneys were shutting down. If they did, they didn’t tell me while I was conscious enough to process it. It was swept under the rug like it was no big deal. And compared to a sinus infection encroaching on my brain, maybe it really was the least of my problems. But shouldn’t organ failure have at least an honorary mention?
*Doctor Visit #1: You’re not diabetic. You can’t be diabetic. You’re the healthiest person I’ve seen in living memory. You’re so healthy that it’s actually a little unhealthy. You don’t have ENOUGH grains and sugars in your diet. Let’s run these tests to make sure, but really, you can’t be diabetic.
*Doctor Visit #2: Holy sweet god. You’re diabetic. And not a tiny bit diabetic. You’re at risk of dying you’re so diabetic. But I don’t understand. How can you, a 20 year old, 134 pound, vegetarian runner who lives on salad and green tea, possibly have these bloodsugar problems? Let’s do more tests.
*Doctor Visit #3: Okay, so I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that you’re almost definitely not diabetic. The bad news is that your pancreas is shutting down. The most efficient short-term solution would be to put you onto insulin, plus keep taking the pills, and keep testing. But putting a 20 year old onto insulin presents its own challenges, especially when you exhibit none of the signs of diabetes besides high blood sugar, and you have none of the risk factors.
More tests, more conversations, and more unanswerable questions, and the things left on the table are obscure at best and fatal at worst. The original symptoms were cleared up once I went through the antibiotics. Those were linked back to the two infections. The single remaining symptom is the freakishly high bloodsugar. It’s not getting lower. Not into safe zones.
The doctor became a team of doctors and the team of doctors became a bunch of supposed specialists. They’re dragging their feet about this pancreatic cancer stuff. They want to do those tests last. They say there’s no reason to worry. The funny thing is, I hear the worry in their voices.
I’m going to call this week and have those tests arranged. I’m sick of not knowing for sure. Right now all anyone is sure about is that it’s definitely probably not diabetes, it’s not one thing, it’s not another thing, and it might be something else. None of the options are good. Some are less enjoyable than others. Pituitary, adrenal, pancreas.
So is it sad that when the doctor first said that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to prepare myself for the possibility of terminal cancer, my response was a perfectly calm, completely casual, and I quote, “Bitch please. Ain’t nobody got time for that shit. I’m way too damn busy to be dying.”
My second response was more sobering: What about Blackbird? Hippie Boy? Boy romeo? He’s 100% self-sufficient now. I don’t have to worry that he can’t make it without me. But I’m a little bummed out that he’s fought so hard for so long and now he might have to.
There’s absolutely the possibility that it’s not something terminal. We’ll know soon. And I’m not banking on it being something terminal. But the acknowledgment of the at least equal possibility that it is something terminal and that I might only have a few tough months left is an abrupt and jarring consideration for my romance. My question isn’t, “How could he make it without me?” My question is, very simply, “Why should he have to?”
Someone somewhere could say that my meditation is grief. I hope it doesn’t come across that way. I’m not sad. I’m surprised, and curious, and maybe a little annoyed, but I’m not sad. I’m… impressed. A meditation of mortality has been impressed upon me.
This probably isn’t a declaration of probabilities. It certainly isn’t a declaration of certainties. Worrying now won’t help us tomorrow. These are only my reflections.
My parents’ montra while I was growing up seems fitting. “Prepare for the worst, hope for the best.”