Saturday, June 6, 2009

In Which Barry & Linda Meet The Scary Doctor and Make A Surprising Discovery

The day after Linda's mother's death, we are seated on an early morning GO Train rushing into the heart of the City. Neither of us had slept well the night before and we felt as if we'd been hit by a Mack truck then knocked onto the track of a freight train. Only, perhaps, not quite as good as that.

However, after a month of delays in getting started on my treatment for a very aggressive esophageal cancer, we couldn't risk anything that would cause a further delay. Like postponing today's planning session with our medical and radiation oncologists.

And so we struggled to stay awake as the train carried us away from the fields and green lawns of the suburbs and into the gray depths of towering office buildings. Finally the train slowed as it approached Union Station. The Station had been built by my great grandfather William. Well, not all by himself, but he was one of the architects who worked on its design. So I feel a kind of personal connection to the building.

Our first appointment is with the perky little radiation oncologist who confirmed that my treatment would be beginning this coming Tuesday. She is very pleased with the plan for radiation that she has developed which will be very targeted and minimize the chance of accidentally radiating my lungs. Which, I'm informed, is something I really don't want to happen. Radiation will take an hour and be conducted five days a week over a five week period. I will be in considerable pain by the end and she warned me not to try toughing the pain out. Tell her when it starts to hurt because it will only get worse and she has some very effective medications that will help.

Then we're off to see our medical oncologist. We book in with her receptionist and sit in front of a large screen TV to wait our turn. The News is filled with stories of automobile crashes and victims being rushed to hospital with no vital signs.

A woman in a white coat who is not our oncologist calls our name and proceeds us to an examining room. We follow her wearily. She asks how I'm feeling and I tell her I've had better days. "Harmuph," she says dismissively, as she leads us into the room. "Wait here," she says, leaving through a back door.

"Who was that?" Linda asks. But I have no idea. So we wait. Half an hour goes by.

"Have they forgotten us?" Linda asks.

We can hear muffled voices in discussion behind the rear door of the room. Another fifteen minutes goes by.

Then our oncologist rushes in with apologies. She has been in last minute discussions with the pathologist about my bone marrow diagnosis and is worried because, while the pathologist is convinced I have a low level lymphoma in addition to my esophageal cancer, he was unable to make a definitive diagnosis.

There is a very wide range of bone marrow disorders and they haven't narrowed it down to a specific disease. I will have to have another bone marrow aspiration on top of chemo and radiation next Wednesday and have it examined by a Hematological oncologist. She apologizes in advance and assures me this won't in anyway delay the start of treatment.

She tunes into Linda's fatigue and I explain about Linda's mother's passing away last night. She offers her condolences and then rushes off to get us a treatment schedule.

Time passes.

The "Harmuph" lady sticks her head in the back door and tells us she is sorry. "Not," she tells us, "Sorry for keeping us waiting, but for Linda's loss."

And then she is gone.

"Who is that?" Linda asks again.

Ten minutes later the scary "Harumph Lady" is back, with papers in her hand. Our oncologist has asked her to review my treatment schedule with us. She sits at the table beside me and begins writing in the Notes section at the back of a pamphlet. She looks up at me as she's writing, her face very close to mine. Her eyes boring into mine. There are things I am going to have to do, and I'm going to have to do them right or I'll be in trouble with her, she tells me. I am a very sick man and chemo is a very serious business. If I don't pay attention and do everything she says I could die.

Chemo attacks the rapidly growing cells of the body and the most rapidly growing body cells are in the filthiest place in the body, the human mouth. "So you are going to pay special attention to keeping your mouth clean. Brush your teeth for a minute or two after every meal, floss and rinse with bicarbonate of soda. On top of that you will buy a large bottle of Club Soda and rinse your mouth with it every time you go pee throughout the day."

Her scary eyes peer deep into my soul from ten inches away. And, she tells me, I will wash my hand thoroughly before I pee and immediately after I pee. She searches my soul for any sign of disagreement. After her search she is not convinced but decides not to press the issue further.

And if I have any sign of a fever over 38C I will go to my local Emergency department immediately and tell them I'm receiving chemo. I will do this immediately or I will die. She stares at me intently to ensure I know what dying means. Evidently I do and she turns her attention to Linda. "But," she tells Linda, "You will not pester this man by taking his temperature every half hour. Do you understand?"

The lady is scaring the crap out of us so, of course, she next turns to poop. She is giving me a prescription for a stool softener and for a laxative. She likes people to be a little bit loose, during chemo and gives precise directions for what pills to take on what days under what conditions. And writes them in her book.

And if I have any trouble of any kind I am to call her immediately or go immediately to Emergency. She writes her name and phone number on the list.

Okay, we're done, she tells us and leaves through the back door. The minute she's gone, we hear a bunch of people yelling "Surprise!" and bursting out into singing "Happy Birthday!" to her.

"Who was that?" Linda asks again.

I look at her name and tell Linda who turns pale. "I know her," she tells me. "I grew up with her. We went through school together. Our parents built Iondale United Church together."

"You know the scary doctor?" I ask in amazement.

"Heidi," Linda tells me. "I haven't seen her in forty years. But it's Heidi!"

We stop at the desk as we're leaving and ask to speak with the scary doctor again. She comes out with an embarrassed look. "You probably heard the singing," she says. "It's my sixtieth birthday today."

Linda tells Heidi her maiden name and mentions Iondale and suddenly Linda is hugging the scary doctor and suddenly the two of them are lost in discussions of old times.

And the scary doctor is not quite so scary anymore.


I took a batch of pictures for the Friday Shootout and it is a shame to waste them. I will be receiving radiation treatment every day for five weeks and chemo everyday for the first and last weeks of that schedule, so I may not get in many more Friday shootouts for a while.

The theme this week was open so I chose "Public Art" and here is a little slide show of what I came up with.