The doctor smiled. Beamed, in fact.
"Well look at you," he said. "I haven't seen you looking this good in a long, long time. What brings you in today?"
It had taken me a while to get here. In the past week I had even held out the hope I could avoid this meeting altogether. The back pains I'd been experiencing had reduced to a mild tenderness and I was confident a little caution and relaxation would see the end of them, without the need to involve the doctor. This was, after all, the middle of my three month break away from all things medical.
But the pain had returned with some severity and I had promised Linda I wouldn't put off a visit with the doctor any longer.
"I've been having back pains," I told him. "They began in my lower back about about a month ago. Lasted about a week then went away only to be replaced by a sharp pain in my left shoulder blade. That lasted about two weeks. But now I'm having severe pain in my right shoulder and down my side under my right arm."
The doctor stopped smiling.
"Stand up," he told me and started poking around my back. "Does this hurt?"
"No. Not at all."
He began to pound. "How about this?"
"Alright, you can sit down. What are you taking for pain?"
"Nothing. Well, some Advil."
"Advil? Nothing stronger?"
"The pain is severe?
"Sometimes it takes my breath away."
"Severe pain, moving to different centers in your back and you feel nothing when I apply pressure?"
"It is only when you move that you feel it?"
"Well, it is almost certainly bone, not muscular. Likely your cancer metastasizing; but we can't be certain. We need to get you back to Princess Margaret Hospital. Have them do a bone scan. In the meantime I'll give you Tylenol with codeine for the pain."
"I was hoping it was stress."
He held my gaze for a moment. "Anything is possible at this point. But I've known you for about 20 years now Barry. No one handles stress better than you. You could teach a master class in stress management, and for all I know maybe you have. I wish it were stress, but that wouldn't be my medical opinion. You told me at the beginning of this that you wanted me to be frank with you and to hold nothing back and I think we need more tests. But I think they are going to tell us its the cancer back again."
"Exactly." He pulled a pad of paper across his desk. "So let me write you a prescription and we'll get those tests ordered and see where we go from there."
I emerged from his suburban office into the warm sunshine of early spring, the leaves just starting to come out on the trees and the flowers beginning to bloom in the well tended gardens of the homes across the street.
And started to think about how to break the news to Linda.
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