“We thought we’d start the chemo on Monday.”
“But I have a meeting on Monday.”
“You could wait a week if you want, like if you have plans to go to Jamaica this week.”
“No plans for Jamaica.”
“So we’ll do the lumbar puncture at 9:00, and you can start the chemo at 9:30.”
The lumbar puncture at 9:00 was my choice. The lumbar puncture was not.
If anyone’s taking a vote, I’m all for changing the name from "puncture" to "prick". I’m not sure there’s such a thing as accuracy in pain description. I'm not sure pain description is even helpful.
Who knew there were so many methods of torture to get fluids out of the body? I used to be terrified of needles. Now I just hum along to whatever’s playing and don’t even notice.
Friday morning, everything started smoothly. No unexpected test jumped me at the administration desk.
While I waited to have my blood taken, I went to pee in one of the single bathrooms next to the lab. There was a hole in the wall beside the toilet. I imagined the overwhelming frustration that forced a foot through the drywall – a loafer, a workboot, a high heel, a sandal. I finished up quickly, suddenly overwhelmed by all the pain and disappointment that had been expelled over time in this tiny room. It’s surprising there’s only one hole. No one has fixed it. Maybe they’ve left it so people can stare at it, like I did, and think I could have done that.
The young blood technician ties the rubber band around my arm. A funereal version of I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas is being pumped into the lab.
“All day?” I ask. She rolls her eyes.
“It’s brutal,” I say.
“Totally brutal,” she says. “Couldn’t they get some decent rock?”
“That would be a good job for a volunteer - making a great hospital playlist.” She nods and smiles. For a moment I think I’ll get one of my musical friends on that task.
My dear Dr. J hugs me as he enters, and asks about my week.
“Well, it’s been pretty rough. I’ve had this irrational fear that they would find a brain tumour. You can put that to rest right now.”
He smiles sheepishly then starts to talk. The sentence doesn't begin with the reassurance I'm seeking. “Scans often turn up incidental findings. Things they weren’t looking for." My body does that now familiar cross between a cringe and a cramp – hunkering down. "Well they found a little something in the sac of meninges. You know, where you get meningitis" I nod, but no, I don’t fucking know. "It has a signal on it. We’re seeing an abnormal duralumin enhancement.” He’s rolled up a stool beside me, and is flipping through pages, pointing to words in the report, like that might help me.
Can’t anything be straightforward? When does the no surprises part start? I’ll even take a good surprise, like “surprise, you didn’t puke from the chemo” or “surprise it’s shrinking.”
An abnormal duralumin enhancement. That’s what they need the lumbar puncture for. Spinal fluid to prove it’s nothing.
“You can wait a month for that. There’s no hurry.” We’ve spent some pretty intimate time together, me and Dr J. He should know waiting is out of the question. They are pretty close to absolutely sure it’s nothing. Sadly, in my now potentially malignant brain, pretty close to absolutely, is a hike to absolutely.
So, Monday. The day after tomorrow. I’m not sure I ever thought I was going to exercise my cancer treatment opt-out clause, but I feel a bit ambushed by the information that it's starting in two days, and incapable of seeing how I’d even consider examining or choosing an alternative in that time.
Dr J says he’s going to be away in New Orleans next week.
“Will I see you again?”
“I hope so,” he says, then laughs and looks uncomfortable. I’ve triggered his fear of flying. Ya well, he’s triggered a few of mine.
The machine in the hospital parking lot won’t let me pay. It tells me there’s zero balance, but when I try to leave, the barrier won’t lift. I keep shoving the ticket in. It keeps refusing.
Oh come on. I have until Monday before I've signed my life over to this place. But that’s an illusion. I already have.