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18 November 2015 @ 07:49 pm
a scanner darkly  
sunday morning i dreamed i came home from my first trip to the hospital and held up a script for ben to see.

“look, ben! my endocrinologist gave me a prescription for medicinal marijuana to help me manage my escalated thyroid symptoms!”

“that’s great,” dream ben responded.

“look, ben!” i pulled out a second script. “my endocrinologist gave you a prescription for medicinal marijuana to help you manage my escalated thyroid symptoms!”

monday i woke while it was still dark, queasy, with a headache. i took my synthroid and then a pee test, visualizing a veritable old-growth forest’s worth of pregnancy waivers waiting for me at the endocrinologist’s office. weird things go through your brain while you sit on the edge of the bathtub not sure what you’ll do if the extremely unexpected has occurred. no second line, so i tossed the test and went back to bed. “guess who’s not pregnant,” i said to ben.

“me,” ben answered, spooning up behind me.

“that is also correct,” i said, and we fell back asleep.

hours later, i drove to GBMC. got there early. got blood drawn from my arm, got my first injection in the butt. the technician was cute and friendly; it was only painfully awkward in accordance with the literal interpretations of pain and awkwardness. i’ve nearly decided that i’ll get a dramatic black rose tattooed inside my right elbow because i am so sick of looking at needle bruises, but it’s possible this might not be the best point at which for me to make such decisions. after my shortest trip ever into that office, i drove around to the main hospital to pick up a parking pass. an old woman in a wheelchair on the other side of the glass doors nodded and then looked past me while i realized the last time i’d been in this part of the complex, i’d been in a wheelchair, too, squinting into the winter light for ben’s car. that felt kind of weird. crossing your own ghost usually is.

tuesday i was still early, but by a little less. there were no spaces in the lot i usually use for the endocrinologist, and the valet lot across the way had lots of spaces, as well as several posted signs warning “you patients even think about it and we’ll tow your ass.” figuring my ass had a hard enough day ahead of it, i tried to find somewhere else to park. and could not find anywhere else to park. and really could not find anywhere else to park. all over the campus, i drove, and could not find anywhere else to park.

i would tell you more about this phase of yesterday, as i do feel i learned some important things about myself, but they essentially boil down to “certain varieties of driving-related stress transform me into my father cursing endlessly at the computer a hell of a lot faster than i’d like to admit” and i am not proud. when i tearfully gave up and drove back to my usual lot, fingers crossed, someone was pulling out of the second space available to me and i don’t know who or where they are, but i love them. truly. madly. deeply. my favorite part? as i was jogging toward the physician’s pavilion, i came across a big (but apparently not big enough) sign posted inside the entryway inviting anyone who couldn’t find parking in that lot to use the valet lot across the way. silly me, trusting what the signs said in the actual lot.

the second thyrogen shot needs to be given 24 hours after the first, so same time, different cheek. same technician, too, but i feel like i disappointed him somehow. i don’t know. get there late, little flustered, stumbling into stuff, just… yeah. i’m sad because i really thought we had something special. i’ll see him again friday, let you know how that goes.

then i left the hospital and over the course of my three mile drive home develop sudden and intense concern regarding the continuing operational safety of my automobile. like, the brake pedal pushes back on me a little. like i have to press significantly harder on the brake to get the car to stop. like sometimes the pedal vibrates a little in a way that makes me feel like my sternum’s gone hollow. so, i take surface roads home, keep my hand hovered over the parking brake, and drive agonizingly slow. i make it all the way home safely, but my hands shake and TMJ screams for hours afterward. ben decides it’s safe enough to drive again, but only to the mechanic. he offers to take it this morning and i let him, because: cancer. $420 (so far) to fix. praise be to the red cup that this didn’t go down on the beltway.

last night ben’s mother called and asked how i was feeling. “well, adverse reactions include headache and nausea. yesterday, i had a headache. today, i’m trying nausea.” she wondered if i’d taken anything to manage that, like ginger tea. “yes,” i said, glancing furtively at my stash box. “ginger tea.”

today was my first day in radiology. ben brought me in, as had been our plan even before my car went rogue. parking was less of an issue and this time we even went into the right part of the building. again, ghosts: last time i’d walked through this lot, it was after my first whole body scan and i’d stopped just outside the car door to gather handfuls of freshly fallen sweet gum seed pods because of course i did. folk name? witches burr. magical uses? protection and prosperity. personal connotations? i like to keep burrs, cactus bones, and thorns about to remind myself i can be “prickly” when i need to be. plus look at the things.

the administrator invites us to her desk. she finishes my name for me, and picks up an alarming stack of papers with my name at the top of every page. “they sent me a book about you,” she informs me, turning it out for us to see, and asks for my ID and insurance cards. she scans every sheet in the stack and gives us a complimentary parking pass. which i did not even know was a thing! but now i have one! and it does not have an expiration date! which is good because my current plan is to use the parking pass i bought on monday for the rest of the week and then not need to come back to the hospital until next year, for my annual diagnosis anniversary appointment, because oh my god. i mean, i might make an exception for the cute technician. like if he wants to take me for lunch to the cafeteria, which the cafeteria there is pretty good, even if the one time i went it was on a half-service holiday and i pretty much only got a side dish of steamed vegetables to push around on my plate in misery because i’d just been told they couldn’t release me until my calcium levels stabilized because plummeting calcium levels can mean hypoparathyroidism, the end result of which i assume to be severe injury or death, bad muscle cramps at least, which i did not want. so: over steamed vegetables i forced myself to accept i'd be staying at the hospital another night. even as unbelievably incredibly and amazingly friendly as everyone in that hospital has always been, i really just wanted to take my big bottle of hydrocodone and go home. at the very least get the fucking i.v. needles out of my writing hand.

the radiology doctor retrieves me from the waiting room and walks with me back into the hall with biohazard signs on every door. “hey,” he says, indicating my eurosport messenger bag. “i have that same bag.”

“got it for christmas,” i tell him. “a lot of research went into my choice of this bag,”

he nods. “you’d fit right in here,” and opens the door.

he invites me to have a seat in the same curtained work area i had on RAI day in 2013 and hands me the first pregnancy waiver of the week. i sign it and he adds it to my book from administration. then he explains the day’s activities. i am to receive an imaging dose of radioactive iodine for my scan tomorrow. the preparation, I-123, is significantly less volatile than the I-131 i had in 2013. additionally, the dosages, 75mci for treatment vs. 1.2mci for imaging, mean that i will not have to observe quarantine precautions at all. “well, except maybe don’t hug a pregnant woman for hours at a stretch,” he laughs.

the bottle for my pills is covered with biohazard warnings and my name. the doctor sets water and a plastic pill cup on the desk in front of me. “there are seven pills,” he explains. “so unless you’d like to try to swallow them all at once, which i do not recommend, what i’ll do is put a single pill in your cup, you use the cup to take the pill without touching it, and have a sip of water while i set you up with your next pill.” so, then, seven radioactive binge shots it is. the capsules are green and white and in two layers of glass. the big book of thyroid cancer says they would have been exposed within the last 30 hours. i wonder where they do that, i think, then decide maybe i don't need to know that.

"are you going to run a geiger counter over me," i ask after the first pill. "last time they ran a geiger counter over me." they also gave me a letter, explaining to the NSA what to do if they intercepted me on the subway. then they chased me out the back door. i did not gather sweet gum seed pods that day. in fact, ben had really convince me to sit with him in the front passenger seat of his car and we're talking a volkswagen beetle, here, folks, not a lot of leg room in the back for the taller ladies. anyway, that was his winning argument, in the end. it's a beetle, judy, and it's less than four miles. it really does not make that much difference if you sit in the front or in the back.

"nah, that's only for special occasions."

"okay," i shrug, a little disappointed. "but you might want to check that out."

one of the other doctors walks over to watch and chat. true to my not-quite-gen-x definitely-not-millennial priorities, my primary concern about the next day involves whether or not it's cool for me to wear headphones. maybe it might be? maybe. ben thinks i should put the lotus flower CD on my android instead of trying to figure out where my most recent (1999?) discman got to. okay, benjamin, if you want to go all whippersnapper on me.

“wild time in radiology,” i say, after throwing back my fifth pill.


tomorrow they’re scanning me. it’s probably not the most legible request most of you have had to this point, but pray for lack of uptake.
music: mj harris & martyn bates - the death of polly
tumbel: grass handstandnevers on November 18th, 2015 11:14 pm (UTC)
i know i have a horribly unhelpful reaction of backing away when people i know are faced with cancer. not because i'm afraid it's contagious or anything stupid like that. i just feel so useless and small in its face. so apologies for not having said much of anything to you ever along the journey. but hi, i'm here, and reading, and praying for lack of uptake.

and especially as someone who is navigating a lot of (less scary) medical bullshit lately, i so appreciate your writing here, your descriptions and your humor. also omg parking before appointments it is the worst.
selva oscura: [magritte] skyanonymousblack on November 19th, 2015 05:57 pm (UTC)
i tried to cancer ditch my mom a little. dad had to yell at me at two o'clock in the morning in a doorway before i finally started getting my shit together. i mean, i'd only just turned 19 and there's a host of complications that go along with girl > breast cancer > mother, but looking back i am very much not proud of my initial reactions to that.

a year later this guy i had a thing for my first couple years at the junior college called me and a few of his other friends so he could talk to us about having been recently diagnosed with throat cancer. that got weird. i think the first peer-group friend is for everybody. i didn't push away. i don't exactly remember how i responded, but it still feels wince-y to me for some reason and i'm clearly blocking something about it. maybe just because it's painful. i do remember sitting with him, sketching out ideas for hats and scarves for once the chemo started. i also have a distinct memory of "near wild heaven" coming on the radio on the way home that night and needing to pull off the expressway so i could stare at my steering wheel.

cancer is terrifying and there's not really anything most people around you can do in dealing with the primary source of the fear - a situation we've been strongly conditioned to NEVER tolerate, even though we deal with them unacknowledged a hundred thousand times over the course of a day. so responding to it is one of those things we need to teach ourselves, but there aren't a lot of low-stakes opportunities for practice. most books and movies get a lot of stuff wrong (as i'm sure you've seen in your editing work) so you can't get a feel for the footing that way, either. but honestly, most of it boils down to a) listen, b) care, and c) don't try to distract, diffuse or redirect attention away from what the patient wants to talk about. which is great to say, but in the moment as the person who is finding this out about something else? ush. trust me. it's hard even when you've been there personally.

also, thank you.

Mary: eggshellsegg_shell on November 19th, 2015 10:00 am (UTC)
I also haven't made much response to your posts about medical issues but would like you to know I am thinking of you and hoping the best for you. Praying for lack of uptake.
selva oscuraanonymousblack on November 19th, 2015 04:04 pm (UTC)
thank you very much, lady. ♥
growsgrows on November 19th, 2015 03:16 pm (UTC)
selva oscura: [rs] huganonymousblack on November 19th, 2015 06:17 pm (UTC)
(Anonymous) on November 20th, 2015 12:06 am (UTC)
Thanks for keeping us updated. I think some parking hassles and a new tattoo would be a fair trade off with the scary stuff. Glad Ben has been with you.
selva oscura: did you think you were here alone?anonymousblack on November 20th, 2015 02:17 pm (UTC)
it would be the first, as tattoos go (just totally lost all my subculture street cred, didn't i) and as i've apparently only got the one vein to work with at each elbow, i'll be a lot happier in the long run if i don't obfuscate it.

occasionally this recovering savior complex has to call her sponsor with regard to ben's post-diagnosis showing up. because your caregivers need support, too. if i ever tattoo anything on my arm, it should probably be that.