Scan day paradigm, shifted

Generally, I wait to post here until I’ve gotten my scan results. (EDITED TO ADD: ALL IS OK!!) But I’m in a new universe as far as scans go, and Dr L (the new Dr P) hasn’t given me an inkling how results will be communicated to me (or if he did, I don’t remember), nor when I will receive them. Are carrier pigeons still in service? Have they been replaced by Harry Potter owls? (I haven’t actually read any HP, but Young J has said something or other about owls.) There is a portal. Maybe they come through the portal? I just want them to be good.

There are things I miss terribly about scan day in New York, and some of them will seem weird when I write them down. I usually had my scans early in the day, which meant I got to join the tide of commuters striding purposefully down my block to the subway. Since I had not been a daily subway commuter in many years, this was always kind of a treat for me. I’d catch a Q train to Union Square or a B to Broadway-Lafayette, transfer to the uptown 6, and then hike up the steep steps at 33rd and Park, anxious to see whether I could catch the crosstown bus over to the hospital. There was always breathlessness involved in this transit, but last November, in fact on this very day, I was going for both my scans while recovering from my fourth pneumonia since 2008. (I told a friend the other day that recurrent pneumonia was my training ground for dealing with melanoma.) I am pretty sure I sprang for a cab from the subway to the hospital last year. A cab all the way from Brooklyn was just too decadent for me.

Once I arrived at NYU Hospital, I’d check in at the desk and get a pager to wait for my turn to actually check in. This was less exciting than getting a pager at a restaurant, because I’m fasting on scan day, so when that pager went off, it did not mean a meal was at hand. I’d rush through my paperwork and get handed a bottle of berry-flavored Readi Cat. It always bothered me that I was given a complete, sealed bottle (never chilled, which I understand makes it slightly more palatable) and also a plastic cup filled to the brim with a starter serving. There was always a shortage of seats and places to put things, and opening the bottle meant putting the cup between my knees while undoing one of those foil seals with a plastic pull tab that never, ever work as intended. My instructions were to drink a cupful every ten minutes. But my own strategy with the Readi Cat was to just slam it down as quickly as possible, because I didn’t see the point of making the experience last longer than necessary.

This morning, after I checked in to the spacious waiting room (no pagers involved), medical assistant Katie came and handed me a Big Gulp-sized Styrofoam cup filled with chartreuse liquid.

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Down the hatch.

I sure wasn’t going to make a fuss about not getting the Readi Cat I was expecting. The nurse said it was Crystal Light mixed with IV contrast solution. This kind of knocked me off my axis. Did this mean… Readi Cat was not the ONLY way? Is there a conspiracy at NYU to keep scans rooted in bygone tradition? Is Readi Cat really cheaper than Crystal Light? I was nervous that I’d been given the wrong thing, but Katie wasn’t around to ask, so I started drinking. And it wasn’t bad! (Remember, I’ve been fasting since last night.)

Katie showed up right when she said she would, as I was taking my final sips. I was clad in my usual scan day clothes (yoga pants, sports bra, t-shirt) so I didn’t need to put on a gown. Even better than that, I was not made to wait in a gowned waiting area for ages, subject to unwelcome views of men in gowns, dress socks and dress shoes (I have covered this subject here before). I followed Katie to get my IV placed. She took a good long time to find the vein (or maybe it just took a good long time to pop up), but that gave us a chance to chat, and I found out that barium sulfate is not exactly state-of-the-art for CT scans. She actually chuckled when she heard that I’d been given that to drink. My mind was blown!

I followed Katie to the machine, which was ready for me. It was a GE rather than a Siemens, but otherwise it all looked familiar. I knew there would be a moment that wouldn’t be familiar at all, and that was the recorded prompts to breathe and hold my breath. At NYU, those seem to have been locally recorded by some guy from Brooklyn, and they sounded like this:

Breed in, breed out / Breed in, hold ya breath / … Annnd BREED

Today the voice was still male, but much more standard. I didn’t have to breathe out. I didn’t have to BREED. Just in and hold and then breathe again. Furthermore, there were helpful indicators on the machine to demonstrate breathing and holding your breath:

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CT Scan, by John Tregoning on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

I was out of there in just over an hour. Record time. Under an hour might have saved me some cash in terms of the parking garage, which I’ve decided is the thing I like least about my new scan regimen.

I was definitely in the grip of scanxiety the past few days. I wasn’t the easiest person for J and the boys to live with, and it put me in a pretty gloomy frame of mind when I met with Mom and my brothers last Saturday, to discuss what to write on my father’s headstone. (I mean, yes, J and I should probably shop for funeral plots… but my demise isn’t remotely imminent.) It took a long time to convince myself to get to sleep last night, and I was up at six this morning having Thoughts. One of those was a very belated and perhaps completely dim-witted realization that God was something people came up with so they wouldn’t feel like they were alone while having Thoughts. (Personally, I enjoy being alone with my Thoughts.)

I really missed the subway piece of scan day today. When you have used a particular mode of transportation in the context of life-and-death issues, you do get attached. I got in the car to drive to the facility, but before pulling out of the garage I queued up today’s scan anthem (scanthem?) (Around 6:25 is where Bono becomes aware of a Very Urgent Situation regarding some female fans who must be helped over the barrier in order to dance with him).

My need to listen to this particular song surfaced quite suddenly, out of nowhere I could easily locate– although hearing this Irish band also made me think of my departed melanoma compatriot. The first anniversary of her death was two days ago.

I confess to being one of those people who has jumped on the bandwagon of considering latter-day Bono and U2 to be utterly formulaic and ridiculous. But… this song existed before that bandwagon had ever been constructed. It accompanied my very short drive in the rising sun to my latest appointment with destiny in the precise way I needed it to. Mom was in the waiting room this morning, as a surprise before she headed to work. This is the new Scan Day Paradigm. It isn’t better or worse, it is different. I’ll get used to it.

Post-scan breaking of my fast was different too. My go-to used to be spanakopita and salad at the gyro shop by the hospital. But I walked out of the scan facility this morning at 8:40 a.m., and that didn’t sound appetizing in the least. I could have gone to the new cafe near my house and had an overpriced coffee and some quiche. (I was appropriately attired in athleisure, after all, like most of its patrons.) But something compelled me to come home. J was there, ready with a hug and a kiss and a lovely double cappuccino. I made an egg and some toast and sat by the kitchen window, content as a cat.

Oh: The gift wrap bandage at the end came in NYU purple:

20181119_094726.jpg I gave a shout-out in my heart to my old crew: Dr P, Nurse Practitioners K and R, whom I miss so much. And to Bakary, the phlebotomist, of blessed memory.

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Four more years

LEGO Connect Four by Ayleen Dority on Fllckr, licensed under Creative Commons
LEGO Connect Four by Ayleen Dority on Fllckr, licensed under Creative Commons

Four years ago, I launched this blog. I didn’t know where I was going with it, and I didn’t know much except that my life was in grave danger, a near or distant future not assured to me, I was too sick to eat, and I wasn’t in the mood to pray.

But I could write. I have always been able to write. I had no idea of the conditions under which I could write, and I feel as though I discovered them all: I wrote through near-starvation due to colitis brought on by immunotherapy, I wrote through elation at getting better, I wrote through fears of not continuing the treatment that almost killed me, and I wrote through the bewilderment of those two days in April 2015, when I went from my oncologist reporting “No Evidence of Disease” in my lungs, to having nine tumors in my brain, all within the space of twenty-four hours. My entire life since that point has been an attempt to either recapture or recover from the sheer adrenaline rush of those days. From time to time I’ll look up one of those posts and laugh (and cringe).

Steroids fueled a lot of my writing during illness. I have kept the vials of leftovers around, but I’m not crazy enough to use them recreationally, as a means of kicking my writing into high gear. The nonstop writing was the only positive part of steroid insanity. All the rest, the extreme irritability, the sleeplessness, the fact that only fried foods tasted right, the way my face ballooned to the size of a small planet — I don’t wish any of that back.

Four years ago I didn’t know I’d be sitting in a house I owned, a mile away from the house where I grew up, or that I’d be voting in the building that housed my elementary school, and my children would be sleeping in separate rooms at last. I didn’t know we’d have deer occasionally show up on the front lawn, and we’d drop everything to watch them. Four years ago (even one year ago), my father was still here. He was cheering me on. You can find his comments sprinkled liberally through the early posts here, full of praise and encouragement in all caps.

“I am surprised to see / that the ocean is still going on,” writes Anne Sexton in the opening to her marvelous poem, “Letter Written on a While Crossing Long Island Sound.” I haven’t written about that poem here (yet?) but you can hear her read it. (I just listened to it again and held my breath the whole time.) The last two lines are everything.

I am surprised to see I am still here, writing on and on even without the aid of steroids, and even more surprised to find you reading this blog. Thanks. I’m glad you’re here. I’m glad I still am.