Monday, October 30, 2006

The End of Normal

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.


amanda said...

Wow...sounds like helpful nurse love lamp, too. It's amazing that some of these folks have the medical skills required to keep their jobs.

I hope that you have the best day that you can tomorrow.

DavidE said...

Apparently remedial English is not required to get a nursing degree!!
Many of the nurses, doctors and other medical professionals could also use of few credit hours in:
"Common Sense: how to deliver bad news"
"Word association from the patients perspective: when I say cancer, you think "death"
"How to slow down and make sure I'm looking at the correct file"
And many, many more…..

John Wagner said...

But it was the beginning of the "new normal" for you. Um, I think we would like to go back to the old normal, thank you very much.

In and on-line support group I am a member of, there was a topic of how members were told they had chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Most were told over the phone and the majority were told not to worry because it was the "good kind." Well, I am more than willing to give them my "good kind" of cancer. Oh, and they can also take my chemo treatments for me to fight this "good kind" of cancer that has no cure.

There were some real horror stories, too. One guy was in the the ER with his wife, when a young doctor came in behind the curtain and asked, "So, how long have you had leukemia?" That was the first he knew anything about it.

Another was called up on a Friday night and told not to do anything over the weekend because if he cut himself he could bleed to death (his platelets were extremely low). But, he was told not to worry and he was just supposed to come into the office on Monday morning.

I agree with David, where the heck is the training in medical school?