Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Breathe, Baby, Breathe

This morning I woke up worried again. I was going to get a chest x-ray--my first ever--because my lungs haven't felt right since the fires a year ago. My doctor thinks I have adult-onset asthma, and he's the doctor, so he may be right. But I've been resisting systemic meds for my shortness of breath because...well, because it doesn't happen all the time, and doesn't happen when I'm walking or dancing or climbing.

I went to see him on Tuesday because when I get colds these days, they go to my chest and make breathing difficult. I wondered if I needed a little something, or maybe just a placebo-like pep talk to get over the hump.

My doctor was not pleased. He said there's a "rattle" in my chest, and that my Peak Flow Meter reading is way too low. He handed me the usual collection of Rx slips, and I looked at my shoes and announced: "I think I have lung cancer."

It's true, I worry about it. This girl from my gym died of lung cancer--she was young and didn't smoke. But I was a little surprised when--without changing his expression--he said "Well, let's get you a chest x-ray then." Um, does that mean he agreed with me? He whipped out his little tape recorder and narrated, "Patient has chest congestion, chronic, yada yada, thinks she has cancer, yada yada, next appointment one week." Eek.

This morning I went to the clinic, and couldn't help noticing that a lot of people were there for radiation. As in, they do have cancer. I twisted my fingers and darted my eyes around for the full five minutes it took for them to call my name. A lady who was apparently incredulous that I'd "never had a chest x-ray!" instructed me to put on the blue robe backwards, after which I leaned back on the little bench and actually screamed--it was that cold on my skin. The whole place was like a meat locker. Seconds later (I'd been told 10 minutes) a stone-faced technician led me into a brightly lit room and pushed me against a little wall while I posed like I would shortly be diving from a spring board, then snapped the results into a giant camera. I watched from behind as a picture that looked like lungs appeared on screen. They were black, except for two GIANT lumps (they appeared to be the size of fists) one on the bottom, and one along what seemed to be my spine.

Ohmigod. I am riddled with tumors, I thought. This is it. I'm not gonna make it. Suddenly, the technician whirled around and said, "Thank you. You may go."

"But," I began desperately, "What is all that?"

"Your doctor will call you. We don't read the results."

"But." I really didn't know what to say. What I wanted to say was, I think I'm dying. Please, please, please tell me I'm not dying. Instead I said, "When will he call?"

"In a couple of days. This afternoon if there's anything wrong."

I flung myself back in my clothes and raced to the parking lot, already dialing David. I broke down. "There are HUGE lumps in my lungs. I am dying. I don't want to die. How will you two get along without me?" I sobbed, and drove around in circles. I didn't know where to go. What was the point of going anywhere?

There is something about becoming someone's mama that has increased my hypochondria a hundredfold. It probably doesn't help that 40 came nipping on parenthood's heels. Every lump, spot or pain is clear evidence to me that my child will not remember me by the time she is 10. Perhaps this is a common phenomenon. All I know is, it's frequently paralyzing. It keeps me awake at night.

I drove to my doctor's office. I didn't call first. When I opened the door, it was kind of dark in there, which seemed odd for noon. There were three nurses milling around, but no one else. Based on my subsequent behavior, I am thankful for that. I asked the nurse I recognized, Lorraine, if the doctor was there. She said no, and asked what was up. My face crumpled and I sobbed:

"I just had a chest x-ray, and I think I'm dying! There were all these lumps!"

"You saw the x-ray?" one of the other nurses said wonderingly. "How did you see it?"

"I just looked!" I sobbed. "Giant lumps!"

Lorraine, whom I have known awhile, and the very young nurse, now began to avert their eyes from the crazy lady. But the other nurse, who had a kindly face like a stately oak and was named Linda, exhibited some genuine compassion for me.

"Oh, you know what, sweetie? I can almost guarantee nothing is seriously wrong, or they would have been on the phone to us the second you stepped out of there, looking for the doctor. And it's been, what? 20 minutes? And no calls."

This mollified me only slightly, and I continued ranting. The two other nurses returned to their regularly scheduled activities while Linda nodded and looked concerned. She then volunteered:

"You know what, if they'd seen something they really didn't like, they wouldn't have let you leave without more pictures. You would have had an entire album. And they didn't do that."

Now that actually seemed believable, and hence, I was somewhat comforted. I paced around for a while, but the phone never rang, and I recovered enough to feel slightly foolish. Linda took out a Post-it and a Sharpie and said "Now I'm going to put your cell number right here above the phones, and the second anything comes in, we'll call you."

I thanked them and returned to the car. I called David with the hypothetical news, and he sounded sufficiently excited by it. I left my Blu-Tooth on and drove to a meeting. I was probably in the car for 20 minutes, and then checking in for another 10. I had just sat down when my cell phone rang, and I lunged for the door, spilling my purse. I ran out into the hall and rasped "Hello?"

"Hi Sam, it's Linda," she said with a smile in her voice. "I'm looking at your report right now. It says 'NO ACUTE DISEASE.'"

"No acute disease. That's a good thing, right?"

"It's a very good thing."

"I can't tell you how much I appreciate this. I hope you have a wonderful day."

"You're welcome, and I KNOW you're going to have a wonderful day."

And you know what? She was right. Linda was like my guardian angel. Turns out the call with the report never came, but she couldn't get my distress out her mind. So she called them herself to follow up. Is that sweet or what?

I learned some valuable lessons, Readers.

Lesson One: Don't try to read x-rays. I guess I can admit there a couple things I don't know a freakin' thing about.

Lesson Two: The squeaky (or crying) wheel always gets the grease. (Unfortunately, I already knew that one.)

Lesson Three: Hypochondria may lead to further testing. Be prepared for this when you tell people you think you have cancer.

Lesson Four: Calm down. (Repeat as necessary.)

It was a wonderful day. Tune in next week when I find out what else that x-ray said.


Type (little) a aka Michele said...

i was waiting for a punchline this whole post. I kept thinking you were going to tell us the dark spots were your boobs.

Sorry you were so upset, and yes the hypochondria is BAD once there's a short person in the picture.

Hugs, lady.

Caroline said...

Oh, you poor thing! I'm so glad that she checked for you and that all was well.

Anonymous said...

Im so sorry!! That is so awful to feel that! But I do have adult set asthma which sounds a lot like what you have. I run and I dont always feel a tightening in my chest...but I do when the season changes, especially when I get allergies and different weird times!

Melanie Sheridan said...

I get a cold and seconds later I'm wheezing. I used to get bronchitis easily as a kid and it's stuck with me. We are our own best advocates. Glad you're OK!

LunaMoonbeam said...

Oh, goodness sweetie...what a scary day! What a sweet nurse, though.

I hope you have a GREAT day!

Anonymous said...

hey do you have email?

I use symbicort--it's an inhaler that I use once daily--but not like a rescue inhaler. It's called an a typical, it basically helps keep it under control so you shouldn't have the symptoms and rarely need to use a rescue inhaler. I didn't have asthma until I was 22 and it scared the crap out of me when I had to go to the hospital. I didn't know what was wrong with me.

Anyway I tried advair first...i hated it because it's like a little powder and it was disgusting and I couldnt feel it working...with symbicort I feel it working and it's in the form of an inhaler, so I like it a little better. Since I started using symbicort (6 months now) I have not had to use my rescue inhaler at all! (And I hate using that thing) I do notice a difference though if i forget to take my symbicort...if i dont take it for a couple of days (ok, ok really i forgot a whole week...who's counting??) then I can feel oncoming symptoms! But other than that mine is very controlled and I dont have any problems at all!

if you have any questions at all email me at

dena said...

I love your "valuable lessons". I should actually keep them posted on my fridge & several other locations throughout my house.

You see, it seems as though I suffer from the same disease... hypochondria. (I keep telling myself it's a normal "Mom" thing. It is, right???)

Glad to hear that your lungs are cancer free! Hang in there & try not to worry so much.

Anonymous said...

Next time, call me. I will talk you down from the ledge ok?

I am sorry you were so spooked. And, I sure like your lessons, too. I will definitely keep them in mind.

Hugs and love.

Teresa said...

Why can't more health care professionals be like Linda? Too often we get the feeling in doctors' offices that we're customers--at best--or numbers--at worst ('cuz who would leave a customer waiting an hour past an appointment time?). Linda took the time & care to think of your issues as your own & consider the best way that she could address them to make you feel better & not just put you in the "crazy lady" category & go back to her business.

I think I'm going to learn something from Linda, too, something about seeing people for who they are & not who I want them to be.


Anonymous said...

Holy shit, now I am having chest pains. I'm sure glad you are having this checked out.

I am right there with you on the fear of death thing since becoming a mother. I lean less toward terminal illness and more toward a violent death though.


Last Place Finisher said...

As I turn 50 this month, I think about the good old days when I knew the red patch on my forehead was acne and not a melanoma.

Anonymous said...

You're so right that freaking out just gets you tested more... and then that makes you freak out more... and then we're in a vicious circle! Next time we talk on the phone, I'll share my own little medical story along these lines with you - - too graphic for a comment. :) So glad that in the end you don't have giant tumors in your lungs! And hope your dr is able to suggest something that will help. xx Liz

Anonymous said...

Ack--just thinking of you, Miss S! Sending you a hug.

Miss J

The Wades said...

i've had a fluttery feeling in my left lung for months--scared to know if it's cancer. we're meant to be friends, i tell ya!!! :)

sorry for your scare, but now you can appreciate your good health!! isn't it exciting to know you don't have lung cancer--that's one you can now rule out! (i got to rule out brain cancer about two years ago w/ an mri.) good times!