Friday, December 14, 2007

Fear, Itself

Two months had passed, all-too-quickly... and already it was time this week to once again confront the New Reality.
Tuesday 7:40 am -- I arrive early at UNM Cancer Center for requisite blood work, ahead of "just a follow-up" CT scan over at OSIS at 10. Surprisingly, the clinic gets me in and out in less than 20 minutes. I make small talk with the cute phlebotomist as she draws my samples... which takes my mind to the cute phlebotomist I recently parted ways with, a little further south of here. Sigh.
8:00 am -- After slamming down the first of two barium "milkshakes" while sitting in the car -- a new experience, and not too pleasant (I usually drink them at home, from a glass, to fool myself into thinking it's a "treat") -- I find myself with about 90 minutes to kill... so I book down to the Sunport to watch planes. It's a slow morning at ABQ, though I do get to see the mass (14-plane!) departure of South Aero Cessna 402s and 414s, flying UPS freight to all corners of New Mexico, southern CO and western AZ.

9:15 am -- As per the instructions, I drink half of second "milkshake;" I must save the rest for immediately before the test. The car finds its way back to the Lomas and University area, and over to OSIS. Due to construction on what will ultimately be the new UNMCC, the clinic offers valet parking. This is the only place so far I've seen valet parking, a staple of Dallas life, in Albuquerque.

9:50 am -- They call me in for my CT. Force down the last of the oddly-flavored shake (imagine a chalky, metallic pina colada... and this is one of the better flavors) and get in the gown to lay back on the plastic moveable platform. Helpfully, the radiology tech describes every detail of this process: "okay, now I'm going to find a vein to hook up the IV for the contrast... are you allergic to shellfish? The contrast is iodine-based... We'll do just a quick set of scans, chest/abdomen/pelvis... You'll feel flush when the iodine begins, I can get you a washcloth for your forehead if you like..."

"I've done this before," I say, as lightheartedly as I can. "No worries, and the last time they went in through the wrist." Which is where the tech ultimately finds a vein. Good thing needles don't make me squeamish (while a needle in your wrist isn't exactly a pleasant sensation, at least it doesn't bruise.)

10:05 am, roughly -- Zap. More radiation than a person should ever be subjected to in one sitting courses through my body. This is my eighth CT since my January 2006 diagnosis. I still find the process horribly fascinating; in short, the machine images thousands of radial "slices" of your body, then presents them in an overlapping, single image for the radiologist to read. Tumors light up.

10:20 am -- Off the machine, out the door, and waiting in the cold for the valet to bring the Mazda around. I occupy my mind with the question "is it appropriate to tip a valet at a medical facility?" When the valet opens the car door, and I hear the radio playing -- I'd left it off -- I decide against giving him money.

Now, the waiting begins...

Wednesday -- A busy day. Too busy, I decide, to email Dr. Rabinowitz for the results of the scan. I'll do it tomorrow, I tell myself. Tomorrow morning.

Thursday -- Another busy day. I defer emailing Rabinowitz until I'm done for the day, ahead of schedule, at 3:30 pm. I send off the email just as I'm heading out the door: "Hi, Dr. Rabinowitz. I was wondering if you've had a chance to review the results from my CT scan Tuesday morning..?" This is by design. If I stay home, I'll be checking email nervously every 15 minutes. Instead I head back down to the Sunport.

5:30 pm -- Sunset, and the ABQ Airport Police chase me out of the viewing area. Wow, times have changed... You used to be able to go to the viewing area at all hours, back when it was off the approach end to runways 8 and 12. One of Eclipse's assembly buildings -- where they paint the aircraft -- is there now.

If he emails you, you know you're fine, I rationalize to myself. If he has bad news, he won't tell you in an email, he'll call you...

6:00 pm -- Arrive home. I head immediately to the computer. No email.

I check Caller ID.

A switchboard number for UNM Hospital is there, called at 5:31 pm. No message.

I begin shitting bricks.

6:15 pm -- I call my parents, who offer all the reassurance they can. "He'd leave a message, at least asking him to call you back," Dad says. No, he wouldn't, I reply, in frightened tears.

6:20 pm -- Try Dr. Rabinowitz's office number. It's the common line for his clinic. I try in vain to negotiate the phone tree. Everyone's gone home.

6:25 pm -- "There's something wrong, there's something wrong." I repeat this mantra for several minutes, frightened out of my mind. I've been through this before, last year, the month-and-a-half before a surgical biopsy determined actually, hey, the spot on your lung isn't cancer after all. All the nervousness and I fear I experienced then... and have since managed to more-or-less put out of my mind... have come back in full force, within a half-hour. I've gone past my breaking point.

6:45 pm -- With my heart racing and tears still coming from the corners of my eyes, I force myself to lay down on the couch and read the latest EAA "Sport Pilot" magazine. "The Office" plays on the TV in the background. 

7:25 pm -- No email. The phone hasn't rang since I've been home.

8:15 pm -- I turn off the TV, walk back into my office and sit blankly at the computer. I absentmindedly write up a quick update on the shuttle launch for ANN -- they're waiting until January 10th now, that'll really screw up NASA's schedule -- and then turn on Flight Simulator X. The "Janet" mission to Area 51 occupies the next 25 minutes of my life.

8:50 pm -- With the simulated Groom Lake employees safely at their simulated jobs for the simulated day, I close FSX and once again check email.

There's a message from Dr. Rabinowitz. I open it without any pause for nervousness.

"It looks good!........normal! Ian"

I cry for the next two minutes. To hell with anyone who would think less of me for that.

9:05 pm -- With the "you were right, thank God" call to the parents complete, I sit back in my desk chair, utterly drained. My eyes are still moist.

What cancer has done to my body isn't the worst part of it; in fact, that's been relatively minor in comparison to what this horrible scourge has done to my mind. The lack of news, lack of a definite prognosis. For most of the time between follow-up appointments, I manage to live my life -- and I've accomplished a great deal over the past two years.
But for three or four days surrounding my follow-ups... I die a little until the doctor tells me it's OK to resume living.

10:30 pm -- I lay back down on the couch, television turned to a "Seinfeld" repeat, and soon fall into a nervously-relieved sleep. The TV is still on when I wake up again, at 2:30 in the morning.
Still sleepy, I walk outside to unplug the Christmas lights on my balcony before heading to the bedroom... and pause.
It's snowing. It's a beautiful sight. I stand outside for several minutes, watching, oblivious to the cold.

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