Transparency Tuesday: The Post-Op Appointment

Transparency Tuesday is a concept I’m experimenting with here on the blog. Each Tuesday my post will be about an issue I’m dealing with in my life on a personal level. Whether it’s about the business I have (finding influencers, the struggle with giving things away for nothing, going “bankrupt” the first 3 months I was in business, etc), or my own personal issues surrounding love, life and being a mom. I won’t be high-lighting anything; this is the real deal.


“We found a 4mm nodule on your left lung, at the top…. what we suggest is that you follow up with your primary care physician for a CT scan.” My heart was pounding, way more than it had been in the week prior.

I had noticed something was weird on Thursday after my appendix surgery. I was short of breath walking up one flight of stairs, and I had these weird twinges of pain in my chest. I wrote it off as anxiety because I was about to get on a plane for New York. I was beyond excited so I figured the excitement was causing me to be acutely sensitive.

It was still pretty bothersome in New York. My friend Stephanie and I would be walking around the city and I could barely have a conversation with her between breaths. I blamed it on my surgery because, in all honesty, I wasn’t sure if it was (or could be) the culprit. I knew my follow up appointment was May 1st, so I waited it out. However, the chest pain and the shortness of breath weren’t changing.

When I got to my appointment they looked at my incisions, poked around, and then asked, “do you have any other concerns?”

“I have a hard time catching my breath and when I take in deep breaths my chest hurts.” I put my hand on the right side of my chest.

The doctor grabbed the stethoscope that was draped around the back of her neck. She placed the diaphragm against my chest, holding the bell she asked me to take a deep breath. First the right side, then the left, next she moved around to my back, “two more deep breaths for me.”

“Yah there… that one hurt.” I said. The pain was weird, sharp, but almost in my throat.

The paper underneath me crinkled as I adjustment myself on the bed. She sat down on the leather stool directly in front of me and outstretched her hand. “I don’t think it’s a blood clot, but it’s not something we can rule out. Are your legs swollen…” I raised my legs to her and she lifted my jeans to check my ankles. “Have they hurt you at all?” She pressed into the skin, then lowered my leg. “I’m going to send you for X-rays and bloodwork to rule out the blood clot.” I stared at her. She must have recognized my fear. “It’s probably nothing. We will call you if anything is wrong, but I’m sure you won’t be hearing from us.”

I walked to the far end of the hospital, to the lab. When I entered five white coats were huddled around the desk eating and laughing. A lady with a thick Russian accent asked me to follow her into the room so she could draw my blood. At least, that’s what I think she said. I could feel my heart beating quicker now… fear. I rolled up my sleeve. “Nice tattoo.” She said. She filled on little bottle up with dark red, wine colored blood. She untied the blue elastic around my bicep and said, “Have a nice day. Try to enjoy the sun.” I walked through the hospital back to where I had started. They wanted the blood draw to be done first even though it was on the other end of the hospital. I was seriously winded by the time I got to the imaging department.

“Chest X-rays usually only take 20 minutes,” she was kind and smiley, “if after 20 minutes you’re still waiting, just come and let us know.” Good. I thought.

She was right. It was less than 5 minutes before they called my name.

***

Later, at the dinner table, I turned to my wife Susan, “no news is good news right?” Everything must be fine.

***

The next afternoon I got the call. “We found a 4mm nodule on your left lung, at the top.” Immediately I froze. Susan teases me that if we ever have a disaster in our home, I’ll be dead (or useless at least) because I am incapable of moving; I panic and freeze. I’m like those goats that get scared and fall over in fear. The voice on the other end started rattling off information none of which I was actually hearing, let alone could contemplate. “What we suggest is that you follow up with your primary care provider and get a CT scan.”

“So, if they do see it on the CT scan… is that… cancer?” I held back the tears. I could feel them building from the bottom of my slowly closing throat, and for a moment I wondered if I was going to be able to breathe.

“Get the CT scan and we’ll go from there.”

I sat on the edge of our bed and dialed Susan’s number. “Do you have a primary care provider?” The words barely left my mouth when the tears broke free. They were well on their way down my cheeks, around my chin and resting on my shirt when I finished. “I got the call. I need a primary care. They found a nodule on my lung and I need a CT scan.”

***

She led me out to a trailer in the parking lot. It was all white with big blue letters on the side. I’m sure it said something about Virginia Mason, but I wasn’t really paying attention.

“Are you going back to your doctor this afternoon?” Her name was Darla. I couldn’t help but think of the Little Rascals, and I couldn’t help but want to say her name with a southern drawl. Darluuhh.

“No,” I said.

“Okay, so we’re looking for a blood clot in your left lung is that correct?” I nodded, praying that was what they were looking for given the alternative. “So with these things, we will have you wait while we send the images over to radiology to review – since you’re not going back to your doctor. Should there be anything we need to keep you for, we will send you back, otherwise you’re welcome to be on your way and your doctor will call you.”

We stepped into the air-conditioned trailer.

“Are you wearing a bra with an underwire today?” Without even thinking I raised my hands to my breasts, and giggled, “Yes.” Darluuh giggled too. “I don’t know why I just did that – I don’t even own a bra without an underwire.”

She had me lay on the table while she inserted the dye contrast into an IV in my right arm. “Nice tattoo.” Everyone always says that when I expose my right arm for a blood draw or an IV. I’m sure not everyone likes it, but it’s something to say at that moment. Within a few minutes, the dye ran through the IV and I felt the warmth between my legs. “So you should feel a warm sensation, kind of like you’ve wet the bed.”

After a few, “take a deep breath, and hold its” later… I laid there, half inside the machine, in silence. Then, I heard her voice through the machine’s speakers, “I’m just sending them over to radiology and then we’ll either let you go or send you back to the office.” Above the machine, directly in front of my face on the ceiling was a picture of a cloudy scattered sky. It reminded me a lot of the pictures they had in the exam rooms when I was pregnant. As they poked and prodded at your preggo belly you were tilted back to see pictures of rainforests or oceans. What are you going to do if this is cancer? I quickly batted the thought away. You just had one of the coolest experiences, a once in a lifetime thing, and now this… no wonder it happened to you, nothing that cool ever happens to you; the universe knew… I quickly batted that thought away, much faster than the first. No.

“Alright…” I jumped. “I’m sorry… I didn’t mean to startle you.” She rested her had on my arm. I had nearly fallen asleep. “You’re all set. They didn’t see anything emergent on your scan so they’ll send it over to your doctor and your doctor will give it a better look.”

I was disappointed. The best case would have been the blood clot. That’s medication. That would have been the something emergent to keep me for.

***

We were in the car driving to dinner when my phone rang 30 minutes later. We decided that we needed to go out, not sit at home, and after recently falling in a love with a place not far from our house, we were looking for an excuse to go back. “This is Alicia.” I looked over at Susan, she was driving but quickly looked at me.

“Hi Alicia, this is Emy from Dr. Clarkson’s office,” my doctor isn’t actually Dr. Clarkson, but for the sake of this little story, it is. “Dr. Clarkson wanted me to tell you that there’s no blood clot or nodule on your CT scan.”

“Thank you, thank you so much.”

“Is there anything else we can help you with?”

“Nope, that’s perfect.”

I’m sure you’re as relieved as I am getting to this part of the story, and you may even be a little bit mad at me for making you think other outcomes were a possibility. I’m sorry, I am… but now that I have your attention… I want you to know that life is precious. It can change in just a few seconds. You think you have time, you think tomorrow is guaranteed but it’s not. Don’t waste any more time living your life based on what you think other people want you to do. Don’t live with regrets. After this, I know – for certain – I will be a lot more deliberate with my life and how I live it.

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