2 June 2019

Living in fear, part 3

[This is the third part of a three-part series. Read part 2 here.]

That sentence in the medical report didn’t initially sound ominous to me, simply because I didn’t have the knowledge to understand it: a sizeable, hypodense lesion had been detected in my thyroid. It wasn’t the time to be upset that nobody at the hospital had recommended I seek additional advice or follow-up examinations. I am however thankfully privileged enough to have access to any quality healthcare I require and, more importantly, to have the funds to cover for any treatment I may need. The futility of one’s life does then appear more evident though: working to earn a wage to afford healthcare. And then why work at all if one isn’t spending much anyway and since it’s all going to end badly anyway. As Bill Campbell would say, “things are always darkest before they go completely black”.

Lack of advice reminded me of the similar experience I had when I was released from hospital two and five years ago, after pneumothorax surgeries: I wasn’t told explicitly what I could no longer do, when it would be safe(r) for me to fly again, what I should pay attention to. It’s only thanks to what my mother read on the Internet, that great source of super reliable knowledge perfectly adapted for self-diagnosis, and to chance discussions with doctors over the years that I garnered additional tips: for example, that amusing yet serious recommendation to sneeze out loud and not by pinching my nose lest it creates too much pressure inside my thorax, thus risking to cause another pneumothorax incident.

The problem was that this time there was an issue – with my thyroid – and I usually don’t read my medical reports once a doctor has explained to me that I’m all fine. Stress only accumulated once it was confirmed by other doctors over the phone that it was indeed quite necessary that I consult an endocrinologist (try to pronounce that word in one mouthful – if you can’t, I recommend you visit a maxillofacial surgeon; and if you still can’t pronounce that, then there’s nothing I can do for you). Listing my medical history to the doctor on the phone elicited the usual “joke” about how I seemed to collect trophies, considering the number of unfortunate and unprovoked surgeries I had gone through at my such young age (I’m only 24 after all – no, I don’t need to talk to a psychiatrist… or do I?!).

Blood tests were quickly booked. For once the prick of the needle wasn’t a reason for me to moan too much. Yes, I do always moan, mainly in anticipation of the hypothetical pain than the pain itself. While the human brain is such built that it forgets pain, the medical environment – the white and light blue blouses, the neon lights, the distant screams of an elderly lady – and the knowledge that something will be artificially inserted into my veins are enough to almost provoke a sense of panic in me. I do know this is for my own good of course – which is why I keep apologising to and thanking the medical staff which attends to me. I’ve also been through hell before (the recovery period shortly after pneumothorax surgeries in particular) so I do believe I know what “pain” is. And yet, the fear is always there inside me, more or less expecting that doctors will systematically find something wrong in tests conducted on me.

That fear bizarrely alternates with bouts of sudden calmness in mind – or rather a numb resignation of what’s to come. I cannot escape. I have to go through the motions of it all. I will have to experience the pain. So be it. And then fear and stress start kicking in once again. Fear of suffering. Stress that I am still not taking decisions about my life so I can feel happier – should I quit and disconnect from everything to go read and write on a beach?

That’s perhaps why waiting for blood test results makes me annoying, unbearable to others around me and to myself. Nightmares force me to wake up in sweat. Friendly reminders to “take care of myself” make me upset, in part because my medical conditions mostly – or even completely – have no known cause, according to the doctors themselves. I am not proud of writing all this; I’m simply trying to write down what’s going on in my troubled mind, so I can find some strength and so that perhaps others can understand and forgive me one day.

As the blood test results trickled in, they appeared good. I was nervous, to the point that it was my partner who was connecting to the portal on my behalf, reading out results aloud. I wanted to rejoice, already thinking that a quick consultation the next day would thus become a formality to close things off for good.

But there was one more document to open. The result wasn’t good: the measurement was twice the reference value. I didn’t want to think anymore. I didn’t want to hear the results of Internet searches yielding semi-positive news that a number of benign reasons could explain those values, for instance the intake of iodine a week before. While that specific blood test result would be quickly dismissed by the endocrinoligst the next day, another blood test was prescribed and, worst of all, the nodule appeared to be 60% larger than initially measured during the CT scan ten days earlier. I wouldn’t escape the biopsy.

The nodule did “look” harmless on the ultrasound and family history didn’t prove too dramatic for the corresponding gland – but as the doctor said, one can never be 100% sure until actually analysing the cells… and checking things on a regular basis.

So this is where I stand, a few hours before going through the biopsy which in this case appears to be an easy operation. And then it will be “the wait” once again, until results come in. Once more I didn’t want to know the Internet-provided percentages of malignant vs. benign nodules. For me, it would be binary – good or bad; it didn’t matter what the statistics were for the entire population. Having a collapsed lung had already put me in that special class of one in ten thousand men. I would be more than happy to give my loyalty card away. For free. Any takers?