Tag Archives: chest x-ray

Keeping that tumor in my past

Today started like any other Monday during the school year. We all woke up overtired from the weekend.  Dave immediately flung himself into the shower.  I began rousing sleepy children who, unlike either of the kids of the past two mornings, would have been willing to stay in bed until noon if I had allowed it. My girl was very cranky and my boy needed to look over a little something for a test today so I raced to get him ready and to his books while trying to exhibit any patience a Monday morning would allow me with my daughter.  Suffice it to say, we got through everything and I watched as they rode away with their dad to school.

I had a few things to take care of at home before jumping into the shower for my doctor’s appointment.  Today I would be seeing the thorascopic surgeon who removed the tumor in my chest cavity last December.  I can hardly believe it’s been three months.  It sort of seems like ten years ago … and, then again, it sort of seems like ten minutes ago. Much has happened in my life since then and, while I try to remind myself every day of how lucky I am to have received such a positive outcome with everything, I will admit that I am human and have had plenty of selfish ‘woe-is-me’ moments since the surgery.

Truthfully though, I mostly don’t think about it much anymore.  Every now and then, I run into a family member or a friend who I haven’t seen in a while. Someone who keeps up with the blog but hasn’t seen me since everything happened. And they always hug me and ask “How are you feeling?” And I find myself standing there, stupefied for a few seconds, fighting the urge to say “Fine.  And you?” because I know what they mean.  I just keep forgetting that the story in the back of my mind was my own.  I forget about all of the doctors I saw, for business and for pleasure last fall … and all of the tests I took … and all of the reports I wrote.  Frankly, I don’t know how I had the energy.  It’s been a very exhausting 2012 so far.

But today I was anxious to put things behind me for a while with this appointment.  To get it over with, as they say.  Which is why I was a little frustrated when I got the call from the doctor’s office to come in two hours later.  But I know my doctor and I know how busy he is so I complied and busied myself with some of the many things I put off around the house until it was time to leave.  I literally had one foot out the door when my phone rang.  Not recognizing the number, I took the call. It was the radiology department of the hospital calling to make an appointment for a chest x-ray.  No one mentioned anything about it to me so I called my doctor from the car to confirm it and learned that I did in fact need to have the x-ray.  It would be my 6th since November. 106th if you count my CT scan, which my doctor says is equal to 100 x-rays.  (Incidentally, when I googled it, all the other websites had even higher ratios.  The record was one CT scan being equal to 1,000 chest rays.  So perhaps this would be my 1,006th x-ray since November.)

In any event, I needed to get another one. Today. This morning. Before moving on to another part of the hospital for the actual doctor’s appointment, for which I was clearly now going to be late.  I managed to find a parking spot pretty quickly and headed off through the garage to enter the hospital. I realized as I was walking toward the main building that I hadn’t been in that area since my big surgery weekend.  It was kind of odd being back there again walking into the door I walked out of after the surgery.  I remember sitting pathetically on that bench while Dave went to get the car and save me the long walk.  And making small talk with a very bothersome but very well-meaning old man who wanted nothing more than to hear all about my surgery while I was still looped on its accompanying drugs.  This time, I walked in by myself, fully coherent but increasingly anxious about the whole thing.  Something I was just now realizing about myself.

I took a few wrong turns once inside the building and was about to call the radiology department from my cell when I finally saw the signage I was seeking.  Honestly, it was such a direct path inside the building that I have no idea how I got lost in the first place.  Then again, I get disoriented traveling from my bed to the bathroom in the middle of the night so it’s really no big surprise.

I approached the desk and was just starting to get my bearings back when the receptionist began speaking to me.  It was obvious she had no idea what I was talking about when I began explaining why I was there.  So, she called over a co-worker who seemed equally confused about the strange woman who materialized requesting an unauthorized chest x-ray.

Do I have the papers? Who called me? When did they call?

Shit if I knew. I just wanted to get my damned x-ray and get out of there.

And then, thankfully, I remembered that the caller left a voice mail on my cell phone.  So, I played the message which, apparently, unlocked the mystery and revealed the desk upon which my paperwork sat uselessly. And I was granted permission to begin the process of registering for the x-ray that I didn’t even know I needed thirty minutes ago.

Finally.  Everything was rolling along.  Until I made a big mistake.  Huge.  With an x-ray, you always get asked the pregnancy question. Well, women do anyway.  Only this time, it wasn’t as black and white as I remember.  It seems like in the past they’ve merely asked ‘Are you pregnant?’ It’s a simple yes or no question, to which I would have answered ‘No!’ But today, they threw me for a loop and asked some existential version of the same question.  I think it went something like …

“Is there any chance that, in this life or past, based on the Moon being in the 7th House and Jupiter aligning with Mars, to the best of your knowledge, establishing justice and ensuring domestic tranquility, you could be pregnant … with liberty and justice for all … on a sesame seed bun?”

I was confused.  I was in the headlights.  And I was a complete and utter dumb ass. Geez, I don’t know.  Is there a chance? Between 0 and 100%?? And all the decimal points in between???

Me: “Uh, yeah, I guess there’s a chance,” I stammered … like a COMPLETE idiot.

Her: “Then you need to take a pregnancy test. And that’ll take another hour.”

Me: “What? Noooo! I mean NO, I’M NOT.  I’m definitely not pregnant.”

Her: (laughing apologetically) “Sorry, baby. It’s the rules. You said you weren’t sure so now you have to take the test.”

Me: (defeated) “Fine. I’ll take the stupid test.  What is it? Just a urinalysis?”

Her: “No, it’s a blood test.”

Me: “Of course it’s a blood test.”

So, I surrendered to the lab tech, thankful that she was at least quite handy with a needle and that my bitching completely distracted me from the one prick necessary to obtain the sample she needed. I asked permission to grab lunch during my hour wait, since I hadn’t eaten since 6pm the night before and it was now past noon.  I went downstairs in the hospital and grabbed a surprisingly good sandwich.  Rosemary bread.  Better than I expected for hospital fare. Oh, and I had a cookie. Totally cheated considering I’m trying to lay off sweets. And now I’m confessing it … to you. Please just tell me to say ten Hail Marys and let’s get on with it.  I also killed time reading my book.  Thank you, Suzanne Collins, for occupying me with the second installment of your Hunger Games series.  I think I speak for tweens everywhere and the moms (like me) pretending to read your books for the sake of our children when I say your work has definitely sucked me in.

At the end of the hour, I returned to radiology ready to learn if my family was getting any bigger or if I was getting a chest x-ray.  My money was on the latter.  And I really wish I had placed that bet because I was in a hospital gown prepping to be exposed to more radiation within minutes.  The tech took only two images, confirmed that they were satisfactory and sent me on my way (scans in hand) to see my doctor.

As I walked out, I wondered about the scans and what they revealed. I resisted the urge to look at them.  Until suddenly, I was overcome with curiosity and thought “They’re my damned scans.  I don’t need anyone’s permission to look at them.” (I am such my son’s mother.) So, I stepped to the side in the long hallway, slid one out and stared at the now eerily familiar images of my own bones.  I checked the spot where the tumor had formed previously. Nothing.  Well, at least nothing as far as I could tell.  My years of medical training total exactly zero.  Still, I thought seeing nothing on the scan was better than seeing something, right?

Now operating on autopilot, I finished my walk and found myself standing at the door of my doctor’s office.  I went in, approached the receptionist and explained, no doubt unintelligibly, why I was arriving nearly five hours later than my original appointment time and handed her the scans. I don’t know if she even said anything back to me.  God, I was more nervous than I thought.

I sat in the waiting room, taking in more of my book.  I’ll probably have to read those pages again though.  I’m not sure I actually processed any of the words.  I noticed every person sitting around me was holding the same, oversized white envelope from radiology.  And I wondered about their back stories.  Was this their first visit? Were they about to get life-altering news? Were people waiting for their calls as soon as they left the building?  Yeah, I probably need to read those pages of my book again.

Then, they called my name.  And the first thing they did was to weigh me. Really?  I’d just had a Bacchanalian feast in their coffee shop. Well, at least I won’t be surprised at the staggering numbers. Blood pressure was next.  I really would have worn a different top had I thought about all of the things that were being done to me today.  It was bad enough that I had blood drawn topless.  (How many of you can say that? Stupid fitted sleeves.) After a few attempts to get a good reading through the fabric, the nurse was finally satisfied with my pressure results.  She exited the room and I waited to see my doctor.

When he came in, he looked just how I remembered him.  Jerry Van Dyke.  My family thinks that comparison is hilarious, given the actor’s usual dimwitted, slapstick performances. But, of course, that’s not how I mean it.  The two men simply look alike physically to me.  But that’s where the similarity ends.  Fortuitously.

He took a few minutes to review my files and re-familiarize himself with who I am and why I was there. I heard him talking to himself about “tumors” and “spindle cells” and “schwannomas.” (How many of you think of that old song by The Knack every time you hear the word ‘schwannoma?’ No one else? Just me? Guess that figures.) He seemed surprised all over again that someone like me would exhibit this medical condition. I reminded him of my actual age.  He laughed and said he thought I was “much younger.” (If you thought for a moment that I wouldn’t share that little gem then you don’t know me very well.)

He tacked one of the scans up onto the light and stared at it. “Not even a trace of it,” he muttered under his breath. Then, he put the second image up. “I don’t see anything there at all.”

These are good words to be hearing from my doctor.  I exhaled.

He took a look at the actual incisions and I explained that I had my dermatologist zap the scars with a laser to help diminish them just last Friday.  I also explained that, just prior to that treatment, the largest incision (from which the tumor was removed … I know, gross. Sorry!) was starting to bother me a little again.  I talked about my recent vacation and everything else I was doing around the time the pain started and he said that it was normal for these feelings to occur.  Especially with the jerking around associated with roller coasters and rides of that nature.  Oops.

We talked a bit longer and he deliberated the need for another CT scan but then decided against it.  He went on to discuss the dangers associated with repeated and unnecessary exposure to radiation.  (“That’s alright, Doc. I’ve already been exposed a potentially deadly 1,006 times,” I thought to myself.) And, in the end, he merely recommended that I come back to visit in the next year or so.  We both laughed when he suggested making an appointment for that future visit.  There’s no way in hell I’d remember something that far away.  Of course, now it’s even worse because I have to remember to call and actually make the appointment in the first place.  Can I assign someone here the job of reminding me in a year or two? Will you all still be around?

I will.  I confirmed that today. I wasn’t aware of how nervous I was until I started encountering all the obstacles blocking me from getting through this appointment.  I walked back to my car and realized that I felt like I was about to fall asleep.  I’d used up my entire day at the hospital and it was now time to pick up my kids.  I drove through McDonald’s on the way home and bought a giant Diet Coke.  Besides the obvious caffeine, a bursting bladder always has a magical way of keeping me uncomfortably awake.

Everything looks good.  That’s the three-word version of the ridiculously verbose epistle above.  I needed to flesh it all out in writing.  If not for you, then for me.  Thanks for “listening.”


Crazy ramblings from the day before my surgery (LUNG surgery, for anyone not up to speed)

I woke up this morning and shook off my crappy night of dream-riddled sleep. My husband and I attempted to have a calm, normal morning (which is a bit of a farce the last few days) for the kids. But I think they were fine and managed to get ready for school and out the door on time. I took care of a few things I wanted to get done before tomorrow and got ready for my 10am registration appointment with the hospital. I drove there by myself sort of in a daze and realized I probably shouldn’t have pushed everyone away who offered to come with me this morning. Still on autopilot when I finally arrived, I pulled in the skunky old parking garage and began circling for a spot. If I wasn’t anxious enough about the whole situation, the fact that the ceilings seemed to be only five feet high finished me off. I drive a Honda Pilot, not an overly tall vehicle but not a small one either. And in any garage with low ceilings, I have that cringing feeling whenever I drive under a concrete beam that it’s going to nail the roof of my car. Or least take off the luggage rack. This garage was so old that the beams looked to be covered in stalactites, or at least those free-form Biscuit drop biscuits we all ate as kids. Long story short, it was gross. But I trudged on, nailed nothing with my car, parked it and took the elevator to the first floor.

When I got there, I checked in with the receptionist and she told me to take a separate elevator to the fifth floor. Naturally, I walked into the elevator and pressed the ‘6’ button. I stare at the keypad as it started to ascend and realized my mistake in time to avoid extra elevator travel. When I got out on the fifth floor, I checked in with the receptionist and waited for their insurance person to get me registered. After we were done, there was more waiting. Next, I was called by the staff person who was responsible for explaining all of my surgical instructions as well as the terrifying consent forms. She asked where my husband was as he was required for this part. Crap, I had told him not to come. A quick phone call remedied that problem and he was there about fifteen minutes later. I don’t know what I was thinking. I should’ve had him there from the beginning. There’s just so much to go over and remember.

We signed everything mindlessly until we got to the Thorascopy/Thoracotomy Risk form. I found some of the information listed here to be a little frightening and others interesting. Here I share with you some of line items that jumped off the page at me.

10-15% of thorascopies are unpredictably converted to thoracotomies. Come on, 85-90%!

Nerves are always compressed between the ribs during chest surgery and will cause pain or numbness for four to eight weeks post-operatively. Crap. Four to eight WEEKS?

Chest tubes are necessary to drain the air space left in your chest and must remain until all air leaks have stopped, and only then can you be discharged, normally 6-10 days. My husband and I both did a spit take on this one, which was weird because neither of us was actually drinking anything. NORMALLY 6-10 days? When we asked about it, we were told that this “normal” range typically applies to older patients who are not in the good health that I am in. At this stage of the game, they are hoping and expecting that I will be able to have the chest tube removed earlier than this “normal” prediction. Crossing fingers on this one.

The overall risk of death is 1 to 3% when removing lung wedges, lung lobes and other chest masses. Well, yes, that number is very low but, you know, it would have grabbed your attention, too.

We glossed over everything else about possible hemorrhaging, infection, respiratory and pulmonary failure, nerve damage, chronic pain, fluid leakage, renal failure, myocardial infarction, stroke, paralysis and coma like champs. Once we were done, there was more waiting … this time for the anesthesiologist … or maybe it was the nurse anesthetist. I have no idea. Like everyone before her, she asked a million questions about my medical history in an effort to avoid any problems tomorrow. She explained that I will be given anti-nausea medication as soon as I arrive (at 5am!) and they will begin prepping me for surgery. She said the procedure takes about four and a half hours and that, once it was over, they will bring me to ICU and attempt to wake me, at least a little, as soon as I get there. Things like when I leave ICU for a regular room, have the chest tube removed, get to go home, etc. all depend on what type of surgery is performed (which will be decided on the table) as well as how I’m doing afterwards. All signs now indicate that things will be textbook case and I will be fine. I like those signs. They are my friends.

After we finished with the anesthesiology consultation, there was more waiting … this time for my lab work. They asked me what I’ve had done lately. I figured my response of “blood work, chest x-ray, EKG, CAT scan and MRI, all in the last two weeks” would have been enough to dismiss me and enable to go home … but no such luck. The blood work and the chest x-ray both need to have been done in the last seven days. So, off we went to see the nurse who couldn’t have been nicer but provided me with the most painful blood extraction of my lifetime. I know I had previously awarded this title to my MRI tech but this one topped it. The problem seemed to be my “tiny, rolling veins.” We tried … and tried …. and tried … and finally got the vein. But then, she needed to call in an extra nurse to push on the vein because it was draining too slowly and she was afraid she wasn’t going to get enough blood. By the time it was done, I was, too. And I told my husband that I would likely be taking a little anti-anxiety medication later today. (I don’t know why I’ve been fighting it really.) After the blood work, I had only to take a few more chest x-rays. Sure, all of these x-rays are slowly killing us but they sure are a walk in the park compared to the needles.

Now wound up like a top, I walked back to my car with my husband, thrilled to be leaving but as anxious as I’ve been since all of this mess started. And very happy that my wonderful friends were literally waiting for me with a cheese tray at a friend’s house to eat and dish and just chill out for the rest of the afternoon. (Thanks, ladies. It was both delightfully relaxing and delicious.)

It’s now the witching hour. The kids are home and toiling through homework. Dinner is looming and I still have to pack my bag. (Does anyone have any suggestions on what I should pack?) And there are several other little details I want to take care of before tomorrow. And, yet, somehow I feel this post still isn’t the last you’ll hear from me today. Writing not only chronicles everything for me but it also provides the greatest relaxation I’ve found so far. I think it forces me to process everything systematically and sensibly. And I need as much sanity as I can get my hands on right now. Though as the clock ticks and the meds permeate, you can likely expect typos, word misuse and other craziness in my ramblings. Enjoy the rawness.


This blog entry is the hardest one I’ve written to date

Will insurance cover any complications that arise during elective surgery?

Remember the question my husband keeps asking the doctors … and how the answer we keep hearing is basically … NO?  For this reason, all breast doctors want you to get a mammogram before surgery.  Some doctors (Doctor 1 in our case) even want you to get a full physical workup. By doing so and ruling out any potential health issues beforehand, your risk of problems during surgery drop to almost nothing.

Seemed like a pretty good idea to me. Plus I haven’t had a good workup in years.  “Years” meaning never.  So, I decided to bite the bullet and submit to a complete medical examination and all the joys that go along with it.  It’s always good to know where your health stands anyway, right? I called my regular doctor … which resulted in a general exam (weight, blood pressure, etc.), blood tests and a surprise PAP (and it wasn’t even my birthday) yesterday as well as chest x-rays and an EKG today.

Some, not all, of the results are in.  The blood work is fine.  Always good to hear. Unfortunately, the chest x-ray (the first I’ve ever received) is not.

I have a tumor. On my right lung.  On the pleura (lining) of my right lung.  Which, apparently, if you’re going to have a tumor on your lung is the best place to have it.  About the size of a ping pong ball.  Or a jawbreaker.  Believe it or not, this was debated for a few minutes.

They don’t know what it is. So, I’m going in for a cat scan tomorrow. My husband and my parents know. And two of my good friends.  And now you.

For the record, yes, I am concerned.  More so than with the breast lump we discovered six weeks ago.  And pissed off with myself for being concerned.  I have a good friend in the hospital who is actually having surgery tomorrow to have a mass removed.  If you send out any good vibes tonight, send them to her.  She needs them.  I need a good night’s sleep. And maybe a valium. I’ll be fine.