Friday, March 07, 2008

Pins and Needles

So, I left you hanging this week, which wasn't very nice. Truth is, I'm still dog-tired, and with a thousand things still undone. I feel like I'm on a social 12-step program right now. Remember to return e-mails, remember to return calls, remember to return library books...

It's a really good thing I don't have a pet, plant, spouse or child right now, honestly. It takes all my energy to get my shoes off in the evening.

And, it looks like there's a very good reason for this.

Let me backtrack a bit...

Shortly after the car accident in September that left me with the Crapmobile Mark I totaled and a lovely line of fractures up and down my spine, I started to feel utterly exhausted. I assumed it was from the accident alone and the accompanying altered state from heavy duty painkillers. Just walking from my office to the parking garage to retrieve the Crapmobile Mark II left me without energy. That's just two blocks, guys. Two blocks. I would sit on the cement block next to the Metropolitan AME Church on M Street and just try to figure out why I was so very, very tired.

My apartment is a pit - I barely have the strength to carry laundry up and down stairs, and the exhaustion combined with the relentless back pain means that cooking food - usually such fun - is like a form of torture. My short term memory has been as solid as Swiss cheese, which is not a good thing in any way, shape, or form. My eyebrows started to fall out - fortunately in a way that looks like I just got a little aggressive with grooming - and, if you recall from another of my misadventures, the dermatologist told me to start washing my face with a dandruff shampoo to control a small skin virus I'd picked up.

I haven't been able to stay warm this winter - I wear a turtleneck everywhere, and I even brought in microwaveable aromatherapy slippers to the office. (Not that my feet can smell the aromatherapy - that's just the way they come.) Frankly, I look and feel like crap. It's not pretty, kids.

So, a few weeks ago, I went into my doctor to go over some routine blood work. Thyroid issues run in my family - my mother had severe hypothyroidism, and two of my sisters have had partial thyroidectomies, thanks to cancer and other funkiness. But to be honest, I have had my plate so full, that hadn't crossed my mind. The doc looked at my blood test results and did an exam. "Your thyroid is extremely enlarged," she told me. "I need you to go get an ultrasound. Now."

So, I went.

And the results weren't good.

Large nodules. Really big suckers. And the doc was concerned that I might have cancer.


No one wants to hear anything like that.

I read a lot. I discovered that my list of maladies of recent months were the textbook symptoms of thyroid problems:

Unexplained exhaustion? Check.
Weakness? Check. (I couldn't open a water bottle a couple of weeks ago, it had gotten so bad.)
Inability to stay warm? Check.
Susceptibility to skin viruses? Check, check, says JoJo the Dog-Faced Girl.
Eyebrows starting to vanish? Oh hell, yes, check!
Short term memory fried? What was the question? Oh, yeah - check!
Slow to heal? Just ask the doc working with me on rehab for my back fractures - check and mate.

Part of me was relieved to know there was a cause behind it all. Part of me was terrified at what the biopsy would show.

When I knew I would have to go in for a biopsy of both lobes of my thyroid, I got anxious. My sister, NurseRachet, said hers hurt like a sonufabitch. "Do you have any good painkillers left over from the car accident?" She asked me. "Because if you do, I'd take a couple with a swallow of water as I was pulling up the hospital. Had I know what it would feel like, that's what I would have done." I didn't have any of the "good stuff" left. Just ibuprofen.

The Sasquatch found a blog entry describing one woman's biopsy, which went a little wrong. I ended up hyperventilating in my living room after reading it. They nicked a nerve in her neck, and she felt the needles in her teeth, her eyes, dear god.

I practiced deep breathing techniques. I tried not to find read any additional firsthand accounts. I would be having an ultrasound-guided fine needle aspiration biopsy. And the Sasquatch was coming with me. Only problem was, between the time I found out I had to have it done and the appointment, there was a week to wait.

And wait.

And wait.

And agonize.

And wait.

I was unfocused. I was freaked out. I couldn't sleep.

I named the beast to coworkers and friends. I felt like, if you say "cancer" it has no mystery, no power, no hold over you. And, fortunately, thyroid cancer is one of the absolutely most survivable forms of cancer. Fortunately. Very, very fortunately.

Tuesday came, and I was up with the sun. I had to be at the hospital at 10:30 for an 11 a.m. procedure. I had my paperwork. The Sasquatch was driving me and was, as he always is, my rock of support. Man, I wanted this thing over and done with.

We got to Suburban Hospital right on time. I found myself being nervously chatty at the admitting desk. While the clerk went to retrieve my patient bracelet and paperwork, we watched another clerk read a celebrity news site online while she should have been checking in the elderly woman in front of her. Had either of us had our cell cameras in hand, I think we would have nabbed the clerk's photo to post here. It was uncool.

Banded like some oversized, rare migratory bird, I was ready to go to radiology. I gave my iPodlet to the Sasquatch to listen to while I was being poked and prodded. He had brought his MFA homework with him, and he was being a saint. Albeit a saint with an empty belly. One mini Cadbury egg does not a breakfast make. I told him to buy a muffin while I was getting the biopsy.

Once we were in the small radiology waiting room, things moved very quickly. I signed off on a couple of forms and had barely settled in next to the Sasquatch when they called me back. I was still in nervous-chatter-ha-ha mode, and I discovered my off-kilter sense of humor did not play well with the staff. I think they thought I was nuts. I had to shed the top half of my clothes and put on a gown - I would be betadine'd for the biopsy. I followed a nurse into the procedure room and laid down. She ran the ultrasound over my throat to find the locations of the nodes, and then hooked me up to take my blood pressure. I started my deep breathing and closed my eyes.

"Don't worry," the nurse said. "Most people have elevated blood pressure coming in to a biopsy... Huh... 115 over 81..." Let's hear it for deep breathing. Gotta try that zen thang the next time I'm in a stressful meeting!

The lights were dimmed and the doctor arrived. I swear to god, he looked like Artie Lange. You know, Artie Lange? Formerly of Mad TV, now Howard Stern's sidekick? This guy:

Reassuring, no?

In the darkness, I see this pseudo-Artie Lange, in some green logo t-shirt, hovering over me. "Hey, I'm your doctor, let's do this!"

Oh craaaap! A disheveled fat frat boy is about to stick needles in my neck! Gaaaaah!

He told me to arch my neck back as far as possible and focus on a spot on the back wall. "Imagine there's a photo of Brad Pitt there."

Again - my sense of humor failed me. "How about Brad Pitt's house? I want his original Craftsman bungalow.. ow.. ow.." (Insert sound of crickets chirping...) "You know, if Brad Pitt's available, that's fine, too." (Shut up, Merujo. Shut up, shut up.)

And so we began. The worst part? The injection of lidocaine to numb me. That felt like a blazing hot shot of acid to my throat. But in mere seconds, I felt nearly nothing. I kept my eyes focused on Brad Pitt as the gentle frat boy pressed a long needle repeatedly into my thyroid. Each time he took a sample, I could hear a beep. The nurse kept the ultrasound sensor pressed against my skin to guide the doctor's route. I cannot tell you how many times he reinserted the needle. I suppose I could count the marks at the base of my throat, but I'm not going to bother. They're fading fast.

Finally I heard a voice at the doorway. "Where is the pathology?" Frat doc responded, "There is none. It's just fluid. I dunno... go ahead and spin it out, but you can't keep it on a slide." He turned back to me. "They're just big cysts. Eh, I'm going to go back in and clear them out." So the needle returned a few times more. And then, it was over. The doctor was out of the room before I even realized it, and the nurse leaned over me, "See, he already gave you good results. Just fluid. That's great news."

It was great news. No pathology.

No cancer.

They cleaned up my neck and put a bandaid on me. I hobbled out, redressed, and was handed a discharge slip. I found the Sasquatch and we walked out. Leaving the building I told him my doctor had been "My White Mama"and he laughed. And then, when we reached the car, I told him the results. No cancer. And we both cried.

No cancer.

We celebrated with one of the most awful-for-you meals known to man: the open-faced hot turkey, mashed potato and gravy sandwich at Chicken Out. That damn thing probably has a week's worth of carbs on one plate. But when you've just given fate the big middle finger, it sure feels good. (And hey, if you eat it with a Coke Zero, that negates all the carbs, right?)

And there we are.

It still hurts a little to laugh and yawn, and singing along with the car radio is out for a few days yet. But those are inconveniences I can live with. I go see my doctor in a few days, and I imagine I'll start a thyroid-regulating medication at that point. That's nuthin', though. A cakewalk. And I will be thrilled, frankly, to get my energy - and my eyebrows -back through the wonders of chemistry.

No cancer. That's a beautiful thing.

Be well, everyone. Have a great weekend. Make sure your friends know you love them.

Peace out.


J.M. Tewkesbury said...

I'm so glad the results were/are positive! And kudos to the Sasquatch. What a good, good friend.

P.S. Love you!

paulnojustpaul said...

What J.M. said! That's really really great news!

Love you also. :-)

Heather Meadows said...

I'm so happy to hear the good news, and that you should be feeling better soon. That is fabulous. *hug*

Anonymous said...

Wow! What great news. A pill or two a day for the rest of your LONG life; as you said that's a cake walk, a breeze, a mire blip on the radar, ya can do it with your eyes closed. Although I don't advise it, I've managed to miss my mouth with a glass of water in the dark, but never mind that, this is suppose to be about you, You, YOU and your very big, very good news!!! Frat boy doctor and needles in the neck – who’d a thunk it would have such a good outcome!

elizabethm42 said...

Great, glad to hear the good news!

kristen said...

Thank god! I was sending positive vibes your way, and I'm so glad you're okay. This is such good news. You're so right about appreciating good friends. It's times like these where they can shine the brightest, and help you through the bad stuff.

Side note: Who knew Artie Lange was an accomplished doctor?

Anonymous said...

"No cancer" is a really REALLY beautiful thing. Indeed:)

I'm glad it was ruled out, and glad the rest will be regulated, all that ajzz.

No cancer, yeah, that's a good thing.

Chuck said...

I had a thyroid check done recently. Actually my new doc wasn't real chatty but when he found out I hadn't been to a regular doc in a couple years he did the "kitchen sink" of tests on my plus an EKG and chest x-ray. (I was there for a case of bronchitis.) I'm VERY glad you had a competent (if funny-looking) doctor and that everything turned out well, and the NO CANCER is gread news indeed. Hope you feel back to normal ASAP!

Cyn said...

Oh my. This was so much worse than I imagined. Sooo glad for the happy ending :-)