Friday, August 5, 2011

Speaking Too Soon

Although I was mostly feeling better by the time I finally had my sonogram -- to see if there were other possible causes for my gastroenteritis -- I went ahead with the procedure anyway. Let's just say that for someone who is already complaining about stomach tenderness and "unexplained gas" (sorry for the high-tech medical jargon), an abdominal ultrasound is a painful, painful thing.

You basically lay on your back while a plastic wand smeared with cold, translucent jelly is butted up against your ribs, and you think cheerful things, like: I wonder why she keeps looking at that spot. Is that my pancreas? It must be my pancreas. Fabulous - I have pancreatic cancer. I've got six months to go, maybe. But I feel fine! Almost fine! I'm going to have to go "out of network" to get a second opinion, and how does one begin to do that? How many days of sick leave do I have again?

"Lay on your side," the technician says, and so you do. It's a very strange sensation, like an alien abduction must be. There's nowhere to put your arm, although you try a dozen different possibilities. Over the head is weird, on top of the breast is uncomfortable. Maybe if you can reach the arm back, behind yourself... "If you can keep still," the technician reprimands gently. You busy yourself by staring at the monitor, which looks exactly like the screen for a pelvic ultrasound, except there's no baby in there. Other things surface randomly - kidneys, the gall bladder, the liver - like bubbles rising to the surface of a pond.

The technician is infuriatingly professional. It's her job to do the procedure; it's the doctor's job to interpret the results. She doesn't even allow a "hmm" to pass her lips; there's no hope of getting a "Looks good!" either. "I'll send the results to your doctor," she says at the end, snapping off her gloves.

Half an hour later, I was home, listening to my answering machine. Someone had left a message that essentially asked, "Hello?... Hello?... Hello?" for thirty seconds without providing a name or number. I listened to the message again, suddenly convinced that this was my doctor's voice. She was calling me with THE NEWS.

Shaking, I dialed my doctor's phone number, which goes not to her office but to a call routing service. "I think someone may have tried to leave a message for me," I said, lamely. "I just had a test done, and maybe someone is trying to tell me the results?"

"I can leave a message for the doctor, if she hasn't gone home for the day," a female voice says smoothly.

"Yes -- thank you. It's very important."

At this point I'm too keyed up to read, write or look at curriculum. There's nothing to do but turn on Millionnaire Matchmaker and wonder how people get so messed up.

An hour later, I dive for the phone when it rings. It's a physican assistant from my doctor's office, the one who gave me a T-DAP shot last week and told me jokes while we waited to see if I had a reaction to the vaccine.

"Hi, Paula," he says. "I see that you called for your test results. Doctor told me to pass on a phone number to you, so we can go ahead and get you scheduled."

"Scheduled?" I repeated, a pen in my hand.

"Yep -- hope you don't have any plans for a while. It looks like you'll be getting your gall bladder removed."

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