Tuesday, March 31, 2009

First Meeting With The Surgeon

The office is stark and compact. Painted a pale robin's egg blue, not one picture graces the walls. The ten chairs in the waiting room are chrome with leatherette seats and the magazines scattered across the coffee table are over a year old.

Looking around, the word "functional" comes to mind.

I've heard many good things about Dr. Michael Chan. We have a friend who is a doctor and several who are nurses and all brighten at his name and rush to praise his abilities. They are calmed to know he will be cutting me.

I am alone in the waiting room, except for an elderly man who had accompanied the family now in seeing the doctor. I'm not surprised Linda is late, she had a meeting with the Principal to review her report cards and the hospital parking lot was so full it had taken me 15 minutes to find a spot to park.

I am surprisingly calm. These visits to unknown doctors becoming all too commonplace. And I'm getting used to bad news.

The waiting room door opens and Linda sticks her head in hesitantly. Is this the place? She sees me and her face lights up with a smile.

But before she can sit down the door to the doctor's office has opened and the family have emerged. Grim faced. They whisper something to the elderly gentleman on the other side of the waiting room and hurriedly leave.

"Barry!" a male voice calls my name as if an old friend recognizing me after a long absence. I stand up to meet the surgeon for the first time and find a short Chinese man with balding close cropped hair. He looks very fit in his green scrubs, preppy somehow.

His private office is also starkly functional, but the window behind his desk looks out over Morningside Park where vast acres of trees are just coming back to life after a winter of dormancy.

This is a preliminary meeting he tells us. He would just like to go over the probable fate that awaits me, but the specific plan will have to wait for the results of the CT scan on Monday.

The usual course of treatment involves 3 months of combined chemo and radiation therapy at Princes Margaret Hospital to shrink the tumor in my throat followed by the removal of half my esophagus and half my stomach. They will use my stomach to rebuild the missing esophagus because it is composed of the same material as my throat. The surgery will require me to be in hospital for ten days to two weeks followed by five to six weeks recovery at home.

I will need five months off work. If all goes well.

Linda has turned pale at the mention of the removal of half my stomach and I can only wonder what my face looks like.

"But," Dr Chan goes on, his voice friendly and up beat, "That is only the general procedure. Your case may be very different. If it is a small cancer and it responds readily to the chemo, there may be no need for surgery at all. I have just seen a woman for her three year check up with exactly your same condition who elected not to have surgery and she is still cancer free. After three years."

After my CT scan on Monday he wants me to come straight up to his office again. He can immediately call up the results on his computer and can tell me in more specific detail what he would recommend as a course of treatment. In the meantime he ordered some blood work and an EEG for me to have before leaving the Hospital.

He takes me into the examining room and has me remove my shirt. Then he proceeds to poke and prod my stomach beneath my rib cage. The operation will be a three hole surgery he tells me, pointing out the three areas where he will be making incisions. They are no where near my throat.

Then we return to Linda and he asks if we have any questions, which, of course we do. Our questions delight him, giving him an opportunity to talk about the cancer and the surgery in more detail and to discuss some of the latest research he has been reading.

When we finally leave the waiting room is crowded to over flowing and we have to wind our way through the throng to find the exit.

Knowledge of my exact fate will have to wait until Monday.

And then I went home to my gruel.

Well no, not exactly. I've discovered I can eat spaghetti with a mild tomato sauce. And it feels wonderful to be eating a normal meal.

At home, my anxious daughter calls to ask about the meeting and to discuss my birthday which is coming up on Friday. She wants to take me out for dinner and agrees to phone around to the local restaurants to find out what kind of soup each of them serve. I am thrilled to be going out to a restaurant with real people. We will go to the one that serves the soup I like the best. After all it is my Birthday.