Monday, December 12, 2005

November 22, 2005 - Biopsy

Claire and I arise before dawn and drive the five miles or so to Ocean Medical Center. Our sixteen-year-old daughter Ania had been curious, the evening before, about why I had to go to the hospital. Claire told her it was just a medical procedure. (Technically true, but still far less than the truth.) But we’re agreed that now is not yet the time to tell her. Thankfully, she didn’t ask for any further information.

At the hospital, I end up in the new interventional radiology suite. When I make my way back into the outpatient-procedure staging area, I find that my nurse is none other than Tom, an active member of our church who frequently ushers on Sunday mornings. I’ve always respected Tom’s professionalism as a nurse, as I’ve seen him at work in the course of my hospital rounds, and my good impression is confirmed today. He is appropriately concerned, and responds with genuine sympathy when I tell him of the possible lymphoma diagnosis. He assures me he will keep my situation confidential, and I trust him.

From my vantage-point lying on the gurney, I can see two other people I know: Diantha, another member of our church – a longtime hospital volunteer who works in this unit – and Charlie, member of a nearby Presbyterian church and the grandfather of two of our church members. There’s no anonymity in a small town, I remind myself. Neither one comes over to speak with me, though, for which I’m thankful. I’d rather keep the circle small. (Claire will tell me later on that she spoke with Diantha, but that she had discreetly asked no questions about the reason I was there.)

After being wheeled into the little anteroom outside the interventional radiology suite, I discover that the nurse there also knows me. She happens to be the sister-in-law of a church member, and remembers me from when I conducted a funeral for a family member a year before. I mention my desire for confidentiality, and hope for the best.

The staff inside the high-tech procedure room is cheery and professional. They administer what they jokingly refer to as "happy juice," through an IV line. My recollections from that point on are dim. I recall the nurses talking to me, and one of them shaving the hair from my abdomen and swabbing it with disinfectant, but I have little recollection of what follows – although I do recall Dr. Feng, the radiologist, telling me some time later that he’s about to take the tissue sample, and hear a clicking sound as he does so. Somehow, the medicine will blot out all other memories. The CIA could use this stuff for brainwashing.

The nurse who spoke with me in the anteroom told me all about how wonderful this medication feels, and how patients frequently ask if they can have some more, but that’s not my experience. "Happy juice," they call it? No happiness for me – just blessed indifference. But it accomplishes its purpose well enough. I awaken back in the outpatient-surgery staging area, with the comforting sight of Tom hovering around and Claire sitting by my side. I recover quickly, and we return home. I nap for a couple of hours, then walk over to the church late in the afternoon. The day before, I had told Diane, our church secretary, that I would be taking the morning off for a medical test, but today she asks for no further details. The soul of discretion, is Diane.

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