Today is the one-year anniversary of My Last Day as a Normal Person. On a tiny scale, it's sort of like how everyone feels about September 10, 2001. You know: On September 10, you were out at the mall or lying around watching TV or whatever, and everything was fine, and then the next day the world started falling down, and from then on you went to the mall "so the terrorists wouldn't win."
October 31, 2005, I got up, dressed my five-month-old as Princess Leia from Star Wars (OK, maybe the term "Normal Person" is relative), and went to a Halloween party put on by a stay-at-home moms' group that I belong to. When Princess Leia and I got home, the light was flashing on the answering machine. It was a nurse from my doctor's office calling about my test results.
Aw, I thought, it's my low iron again. I've had slightly low iron off and on for years, but I've never really worried about it. As soon as I get a roast-beef sandwich in me, it goes right back up. I figured I'd call back and get another lecture about eating more red meat and leafy greens. Instead, the nurse told me that my protein level was too high. I'd never heard of this.
"What does that mean?" I asked.
"It means you have too much protein," said the nurse.
This nurse, by far, would turn out to be the least helpful medical professional I'd encounter through this whole thing.
She told me I needed to go to a "specialist" to get this protein thing sorted out, although she never mentioned several key details, such as, "He's an oncologist" or "He works at the Cancer Center." I didn't know anything about doctors, so I didn't think to ask. I wrote down the name of the doctor and the appointment date, thinking this was all very bizarre. Why couldn't my regular doctor just tell me what was wrong? As soon as I got off the phone, I went straight to the Internet and Googled "high protein." All I could find was a rare disease called multiple myeloma, but the Internet claimed that it only affected people over age 70 -- mostly men -- and came with a whole host of nasty symptoms, including bone pain, infections, and kidney failure. Most people who had it had just three years to live. I sure didn't have that.
A couple of days later, I got a letter in the mail from the Kansas City Cancer Center.
The letter confirmed my appointment and then explained that I would need to go to such-and-such building for my first appointment, but then I'd be going to another-such building for my chemotherapy appointments. I called Helpful Nurse back in a panic.
"Oh, we're not sending you there because we think you have cancer," she lied. "It's because he's also a blood expert."
"Well, I guess I needed to check," I said, "because just I got a letter telling me which building to go to for my chemotherapy."
"Oh, yeah," said Helpful Nurse, "they did change the chemotherapy building."
Let's take a brief time out for a side note here: Back when I was in college in South Dakota, I had a great linguistics professor who never failed to crack me up. She was from New York. One day, she told this story: "The first time I came to South Dakota, I called my husband and said, 'We're not moving here.' He said, 'Why not?' I said, 'BECAUSE THERE IS A JOHN DEERE TRACTOR AT THE AIRPORT!' He said, 'So?'" (Dramatic pause) "We later divorced because of his inability to understand metaphor."
My point, and I do have one, is all I could think of after that phone call was, "Wow. Helpful Nurse has the inability to understand metaphor."
I guess there are worse things than having cancer.
Anyway, I wouldn't get my official diagnosis until late November, but October 31 is when it all began. The End of Normal.