The Gifted Underachiever

My life so far

Getting the call

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I had just left Subway when I got the call. “Tom, this is Sam Shuffler.”

“Oh, hi Sam,” I said before thinking. Sam is my urologist, and I’m usually not so informal with my medical caregivers. But Sam, er, this doctor is new, and I wasn’t really prepared for his phone call. Not that it was out of the blue, but I was hoping for a call from his nurse.

I had a prostate biopsy performed about a week before. At the end, pardon the pun, Doc told me that if everything was OK I’d be receiving a call from his nurse. If anything showed up he’d call me himself. You don’t have to be Sherlock to know that the call was not the best of news.

Yeah, they found something, in Sam’s words “mildly diseased.” One thing about Doc Shuffler, he has a great way of putting your mind at ease. He said it was nothing that couldn’t be taken care of, and that my wife and I should make an appointment with him to discuss options.

I immediately shared the news with Pamela trying my best to imitate the Doc, but not being too successful. At the time I had no idea what we were facing because the C word was never mentioned. How many things could go wrong with a prostate anyway?

Got a note from a friend a few days before the biopsy saying that a mutual friend had just undergone a radical prostatectomy. I related the news of my upcoming event and was greeted with empathy. He made it sound like a rite of passage.

What did I expect from the biopsy? Well, you have to understand that just a year earlier during my annual physical, my GP found a heart murmur. Trust me, he wasn’t the first one to discover it. I had been echocardiogrammed a couple of years earlier for the same finding. Nevertheless, he referred me to a cardiologist who subjected me to a nuclear stress-test. So, $7500 later I get the same results: mitral valve regurgitation – another birthday gift.

So when the prostate exam went a little longer than usual, I knew that another referral was in the making. And I was right. He explained that there was an “unusual firmness” on one side. He’d like me to see a urologist for verification. To say that I wasn’t fully on board with that decision is an understatement.

The last specialist chased a red herring. I expected the same results with a urologist. But at this stage, I’m not one to play games with my heart of anything else close to it, prostate included. So I kept the appointment.

This guy must be popular because I waited a half-hour in the reception area and then waited another hour in the exam room. Personable fellow, and it’s a good thing, because what he was about to do would immediately turn me against one of lesser personality.

I have been having prostate exams for about 15 years now. In all the history of prostate exams there was never another to match what was about to come. General practitioners practice their art in a gentle manner in “those” regions. I came to understand quite quickly that urologists see absolutely no reason to be fleeting in their assessment of my decidedly male organ. I heard my prostate shout out loud to me, “What did I do to deserve this?”

“Yeah, I feel something, too,” he said while removing his gloves. I echoed those sentiments silently. He wanted to schedule a biopsy. His explanation of the procedure was thorough and horrific. Basically it’s a needle that they stick in you 14 or 15 times to draw tissue samples. Did you hear me? A needle! In your behind! Sticking you! Tom, this is your brain; are you listening? I nodded my head; the doctor thought I was agreeing with him. I guess I was.

The sooner the better, so two weeks later I’m back in the office on a Friday morning. Due to the graphic nature of this episode I shall sum it up by saying it was uncomfortable but endurable. All dignity is checked at the door, but promptly returned. I realize now that some doctors have an art to healing. Doc Shuffler practices it well.

So Sam called. Dammit. “Make an appointment for you and your wife to come in and talk.”

Me and the wife? That statement is like one big “uh oh.” I explained that Pamela was 700 miles away in Florida and that I was the temporary citizen here. I was allowed to come alone.

Of course, I called Pamela and explained the message. Of course, she got upset. Of course, I hid my upsetness.

Five days, that’s how long I waited imagining the worse. Finally, I was ushered into an exam room and promised that the doctor would be right in. The nurse handed me a printed sheet entitled Patient Empowerment Report. The diagrams and text reminded me of 10th grade biology.

There, right below the lab name and my name was the diagnosis in bold. The only bold type on the page: Cancer of Prostate. You know how when you drop a match in your gas tank and it take a while before you hear the big whoosh and see the flame shoot out? Yeah, it was like that. Just words on a page. I’ve read words like that before in the newspaper and science magazines. But my name was printed right above it.

To be continued….

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