Part II: The New Year

Six months have passed since I found the tumor. Nine weeks since I was diagnosed. Friday was the first of the year, and today, Monday, January 4, I have my MRI. The technician asks me what music I would like to hear, and I choose jazz, not realizing that is the wrong choice. The machine is so loud with bangings and hums that techno or house music would have been far better. I can’t hear the jazz music over the roar, so I pretend I am back in Puebla, out at an anthro with my friends. I imagine the beat of the music in my head, and it matches that of the monster machine that maps my body. I swirl and dance to the house music, the lights of the anthro throbbing, my friends filling their rum and cokes, Carlos flashing a smile, far away from doctors and sickness until the machine stops. I am back. Reality is a cold, sterile room.

I get my results back on Wednesday. The MRI shows another lesion really close to the first one. The doctors are not sure if the second lesion was part of the first one, a totally separate one, or simply benign tissue changes. Either way, the doctor is going to remove both areas of concern. Since the first cancer lump and the second lesion are so close together, the doctor can still do a lumpectomy, but she will need guide wires to be placed in both areas to make sure that she doesn’t miss anything.

Friday morning I go to the hospital so they can place the guide wires before my surgery that afternoon. In order to place the guide wires, they have to first ultrasound the area to get the exact locations of both lesions. The hope is that they can skewer both areas like a shish kabob and be done with it. In a moment I will find out that is not to be. I need two wires. But for now, I lie on the table, getting an ultrasound by a female technician. For the sake of dignity I always have female doctors, so I am comfortable. A few moments pass and the radiologist walks in- a man. I instinctively reach to cover myself, but realize I can’t since the technician has full control of my exposed, gel-covered breast. Awkward, but not too bad as he is an older doctor, fifty-ish with thinning brown hair, glasses, and a kind face. He very professionally averts his eyes from my chest as he looks me in the eye and greets me, asking how I am doing. I start to feel at ease as he turns his attention to the technician. But then, entering right behind Older Doctor, is a hot resident.

This is not the way my fantasy of meeting a hot doctor is supposed to unravel! My first instinct is again to cover up, but again, I can’t. So I try to regain some composure, and thankfully, Hot Resident has taken his cue from Older Doctor and is respectfully averting his eyes. He also greets me, looking me in the eye before he concentrates on the ultrasound monitor that reveals my tumors. He is in his twenties with smooth skin and a lean figure. He is also wearing glasses, but rather than giving the appearance of nerdy-ness, they make him seem intelligent and sophisticated. I imagine running my fingers through his soft, brown hair. My oh my, but he is cute! You never know, I might just run into him some night up at Bar Louie, and if he doesn’t remember me, I can just lift my shirt and ask, “Now do you know who I am?” I let my mind wander as the radiologist, technician, and resident discuss options for wire placement. It is hard to focus with Hot Resident in the room. I must remember what I am here for…Ah yes, guide wire placement.

I am quickly jolted back to reality as the doctor inserts the first guide wire into the tumor. I clench my fists and teeth and stifle a scream. All fantasies vanish into a red, swirling fog. I try to take deep breaths, hoping the pain will subside, when the second guide wire is inserted into the second lesion. I grip the blanket convinced the pain will never stop. A few minutes pass and the pain diminishes to a dull throb. I can breathe again. When I see what they have done, I exclaim in surprise, “Oh my god! I’m an alien!” I now have two, very thin wires poking out of the right side of my breast. The wires dip and bob with every movement, quivering in the air, like two antennae sticking out of me searching for some sort of signal. The doctors laugh at my reaction. I am glad someone is amused. I laugh too. It is better than crying. As the technician begins to bend the wires over to tape them down, the radiologist comments, “Make sure no one accidentally pulls them out.”
“Oh no. I’m taping them down really good,” responds the technician.
“That doesn’t necessarily matter,” the radiologist says, “I’ve actually been there when a nurse accidentally pulled them out.”
“That had to have hurt!” Hot Resident exclaims, “I mean those things have hooks on the end of them!”
“They have hooks on them?” I ask.
“Yes, that’s how they stay in place,” the radiologist explains.

I am able to visualize these hooks, and able to visualize them being pulled and tearing flesh. I can imagine the pain that would result from them being ripped from my body. As they wheel me into the ambulatory surgery area to wait until my surgery. I clutch my boob and vow not to let ANYONE mess with my wires. The last thing I want is to give the producers of Saw any new material for their next movie.

I am told that I will have three visitors: the oncology nurse who will tell me all about local programs, services, and support for cancer patients, the nuclear medicine doctor who will inject radioactive material into me that would later guide the surgeon to the sentinel nodes that will be removed during surgery, and the anesthesiologist. The oncology nurse comes first and sits on a low stool, close to me. She asks me how I am. I am fine. She gives me a care package with a therapeutic pillow to prop my arm up after surgery (so helpful). She tells me about support groups. I tell her I don’t want to go to support groups. All that emotion and mushiness will not make me feel better. I am fine. My mind is logical. I want to study my cancer, dissect it, cut it into manageable chunks. That will make me feel better. That is what I need. She asks me where I have been getting my information. I tell her the medical sites I have been reading for months now, the National Cancer Institute and She nods her head. These are good sources of information. She tells me that if I change my mind, she is here to help. There are programs to help. Before she leaves, she asks if I want the curtain to my cubicle left open or shut. I tell her to leave it open. I don’t want to be cut off from the world. She leaves and I wait.

I lie in bed and stare at the ceiling. I think about nothing. It is easier to think about nothing. Minutes tick away into hours. I feel hungry, but I am not allowed to eat or drink. I cannot sleep, I cannot get comfortable. My body has deceived me. I stare at the people passing by my cubicle. I eavesdrop on the conversation the family across the hall is having. They are loud as they discuss grandma’s medical problems. They sit, their ample, pale flesh drooping over the seats of their chairs, shoving chips and soda into their mouths, talking about their cousins. My stomach burns, my face feels hot. Why must they shout? Why can’t they talk at a normal volume? Why do they need to stuff their faces in an area where patients can’t eat? I try not to think. I stare at the people passing by.

When I first see the man heading down the hallway, the Addam’s Family tune runs through my head. I bob my head to it and feel like clicking my fingers.

He turns and heads my way. Oh boy.

He is the nuclear medicine doctor. Now I don’t know what the stereotypical nuclear medicine doctor is supposed to look like, but if I had to guess, it would be like this guy. He is tall, sixty-something, with dark hair and glasses. His skin is pale and wrinkled, his face is gaunt. I have a feeling he really likes what he does. He has a creepy little smile on his face. He introduces himself, closes the curtain, and pulls out a large, metal, syringe-shaped contraption that at first I believe he is going to use to inject me. He is quiet as he works, which does nothing to put me at ease. Escape routes! Where are they! I don’t want to be alone with this man. I don’t want any more pain, and that syringe contraption looks painful. He twists the metal contraption and a cap comes off. Out of this he pulls a tiny syringe of maybe a couple of CCs. Oh, of course. Radioactive material has to be transported carefully. The contraption is a container. He reaches over, pulls back my gown, way too much of my gown, and injects the radioactive material into the left edge of my breast. He didn’t need to uncover my whole breast for that. I note that he takes in the whole picture before covering me back up. I am grossed out and frustrated that I am not going to get away with keeping my privates private in this place!

He tells me to rub the injection site for fifteen minutes so that the radioactive material works its way into my system. He leaves and closes the drape behind him. I don’t want the drape closed. I lie in bed and rub myself. My sister arrives at this time, and I assure her I am not getting last minute giggles, but actually rubbing my chest for medical reasons. She gives me a look, smiles and says, “Sure…” We laugh. I tell her I have to work the radioactive material into my system. She lets me know when enough time has passed. The anesthesiologist bounces into the room a few minutes later. She is a small, perky, Asian woman who, I suspect, is older than she appears. Her energy fills the air and makes her seem very young. I ask her what the chances are I will wake up during surgery and she assures me that it is very rare for that to happen. As the technicians wheel me into surgery, she injects the goofy juice. I see the hallway lights overhead, then no more.

I wake up and the room is fuzzy. A nurse is talking to me, but her words are a blur. My sister smiles and speaks. I have to wake up. She has to take me home. I try to force my eyes open, but they are heavy and they close again. The nurse shakes me awake, then removes my I.V. Someone puts me into a wheelchair and I am pushed toward the door. My eyes close. My sister arrives and I see her car in front of me. Someone helps me stand and I am deposited into the front seat. I close my eyes and sleep until I get home. My sister helps me to bed and gives me a pill. My eyes are too heavy to stay open, so I close them and sink into a comfortable blackness.

©2010 frayedges and


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