Saturday, August 4, 2012

Changing Paradigms

Going to the doctor is never my number one favorite thing to do, especially when it involves certain exams. There's always a little stress involved with visiting a primary care doctor; either you're sick and need to know how sick or you're trying not to be sick and the doctor will probably give you advice you really don't want to hear like "you need to lose weight" or "you have to stop ______ (fill in the blank with one of your favorite things or even your addictions (which you never think of as addictions, just things you really enjoy and don't want to give up))." Let's face it, doctors are there to help you stay alive as long as possible, in as good a condition as possible, and if it means a little pressure, even downright pain, then so be it. It's like Mama saying "It's for your own good" as she administered a lick or two or some other punishment.

When a doctor doing an exam pauses, gets a certain look on his/her face and then says "Uh..." your mind starts racing. When it's followed by "How long have you _____ (seen this, felt this, had pain here, noticed this)?" then it can be a sign that a serious freak-out is coming. When it goes on to "I think you really need to have _____ (this test, that procedure, this evaluation)" then the brain goes into overdrive. You get the test, procedure or evaluation done and then sit on pins and needles until the doctor calls and either says "Hey, it's nothing, it's fine, it's benign, it's something to watch but no need for anything else right now", "Can you come in to see me as soon as you can?" or even delivers the news via "Your test results came back and there's good news and not-so-good news." If you get the second or third form of notification, it might be time to either brush up on your Medicalese or find a friend in the medical field who can translate because it's a sure-fire bet that 90% of what you're going to hear is probably going to be unintelligible, especially if it contains certain words.

Funny how a single word can numb the brain and render it almost incapable of maintaining any kind of retention of what comes after the introduction of that word. "You're pregnant" or "You have a comminuted fracture of the femur" are pretty clear; you may not know what a femur is, and comminution really doesn't sound like it's going to get on a bus and go somewhere, but if your thigh is screaming in pain, you can probably figure out that the femur the fancy name for the place that hurts and the comminuted fracture is what is making it feel that way. You can't see diabetes or a coronary heart disease although you might notice some things that just feel wrong in your body, but when your doctor actually uses the words to explain why that wrongness was a sign, then you can put two and two together. You're going to have to start changing your life to accommodate this new partner or things will not go well for you.  And then there are the BIG words -- words like cancer. Once a doctor interjects the word "Cancer" in a sentence, the brain compartmentalizes it and a lot of what comes after that is lost in a blur, especially if the doctor uses words that are common in his/her  world  but which are like her/his speaking in Urdu to you.

I wish doctors had to go through a training where they actually had to put their professional knowledge aside and try to make sense of something sort of on the same level that their patients have to do when they talk to a doctor. I watch a lot of medical shows, and on a lot of them I hear doctors talking about illnesses and injuries using medical terms that an ordinary layperson wouldn't know or even comprehend in moments of high stress and anxiety. The doctor always asks, "Do you have any questions?"  and I keep waiting for someone to say "Yes, what did you just say and please put it in plain English." Who can think of a question when you or a loved one have just been handed a diagnosis or notified of an accident or other emergency and the brain just isn't capable of coherent thought much less an intelligent or even inane question such as "Can you say that in English?"  You will have questions later; hopefully, if you have a really good doctor, you can ask them and get answers you can understand and from whom you can get information that you can use to make decisions that need to be made.

I'm lucky.  I have several doctors like that -- one on the payroll, one who did a procedure and one who's a doctor and a friend who is a really good translator. I had a procedure earlier this week that involved biopsies of some rather sensitive portions of my anatomy. The doctor that did the biopsies answered my questions in plain English and put me at ease at what was a sometimes painful experience. The doctor on the payroll (my primary) delivered the "there's good news and bad news" over the phone in words I could understand, even though the ones that came after "cancer" I don't even remember. I can honestly say that my world changed in the blink of an eye. It wasn't like when I got the diagnosis of diabetes. That could kill me if I ignored it but I could deal with it even if I didn't like the things I had to change in order to get things back in order. Cancer, though, is a word that I think everybody dreads hearing, especially when it is applicable to you. I saw my primary yesterday and got a couple of things checked out, including my pathology report which, reasonably so, was a document written totally in Medicalese and of which I understood really about one word in three of those over three letters and maybe possibly two syllables. That's when the friend/medical person comes in, thank God. Just translating it into English helped a lot to understand what's going on and enables me to come up with questions I would like to have answers to when I go to my first visit with an oncologist, sometime in the fairly near future, I imagine. Trust me, always have a doctor or lawyer in your circle of friends; you might need them to explain the difference between A and B or what C really means when you need to know.

One word changes a whole view of life. In a way, there's something different about my life that has changed it and made it feel like I'm a bit detached from reality or looking at it through a gauzy curtain, much like those Mama put up in the summer to cover the windows but still allow light to come in and us to look out at the world but with a slight distortion.

I now return to the world a somewhat different person. It will all become even more real as time goes on, but for right now there's a reality but there's also a not-quite-reality going on. It's hard to explain; I don't think it's shock. I've had several days to get used to the idea, and have begun trying to put things in order so that I have some understanding of what this journey is going to entail.

I have a feeling my understanding will grow, develop and change as time goes by. I have a feeling too that even as the physical ramifications will become apparent and life-changing, the mental and even the spiritual will undergo changes as well.

Perhaps it's just as well I can't know the whole picture right now. Maybe it's a time to sit and look at what's important, and perhaps to learn that patience is what is going to get me closer to where I want to be inside myself with less anxiety, less anger, less a lot of stuff.

It's a helluva way to learn a lesson, I'll tell you, but learn I will.