Three lessons have stuck with me after emergency medicine training last year. First, never say “Oh, Shit!” while working on a patient. Maybe this seems like a no-brainer. . . what can I say?
The second most valuable lesson, even more difficult to accomplish than the first, is to never give a patient false hope. I remember asking my instructor, “If you can’t tell a person it’s going to be ok, what can you tell them?” The answer was basically anything as long as it doesn’t give them false hope.
For months, my husband and I were concerned over a spot on his shoulder. It got larger, the shape changed. . . it got darker. He asked several doctors about it – they told him don’t worry, it’s nothing.
During a routine check-up, his new doctor in our new city snapped a picture of the spot to show the resident dermatologist. It was a Friday morning. They phoned on Monday and told him to stop by the office the very next day.
We sat in the small examination room while an intern explained their concern. This spot had the telltale signs of melanoma; an oblong shaped dark spot with darker spots within. He reassured us several times these spots are not always melanoma, thus the reason for removing the entire spot and sending it out for further testing.
My husband sat on the exam chair with his shirt half on and half off to reveal the “spot” while I sat in the customarily stiff chair beside the doctor’s desk. The air in the room was mixed with nervous tension, and a touch of hope.
The intern left to fetch the doctor and a physician’s assistant. There was nothing surprising about this doctor. She walked and spoke with purpose; matter of fact. And, she took the air right out of the room in one fell swoop.
Having honed her bedside manners over years of experience, this doctor minced no words. With one look at the spot she announced it was definitely melanoma. She must have noticed the shock on our faces. She went on to explain that obviously tests were needed to confirm her suspicion, but she had seen a lot of these spots during her career. We took a deep breath, and they took out a pretty good piece of his shoulder that day.
For the endless days of waiting on test results, we researched the bejesus out of this new topic. My husband held stedfast to whatever he was learning, and I did the same. It had happened so fast. Life had almost returned to normal when the test results came back. Melanoma. There it was.
My husband looked at me and said, “Can you believe we have cancer?”
The parking lot was full. I circled Garage A twice, cussed my way through one frantic pass through Garage B, and headed back to Garage A saying a prayer that God would help me find a parking spot now.
We had debated whether my husband and I would both leave at 6am for the 1-hour drive to the Medical Center for pre-op and radiology, or whether I should wait at home as long as possible to let the dogs out one more time. By 9am, surgery had been re-scheduled to noon and I was glad I had waited. Now at 11:15 with not one parking spot to be found, I was nearing panic just as I spotted an older couple walking slowly down the ramp.
The nurse had just called for my husband to be taken to surgery when I walked through the door of his room. We kissed, he handed me his wedding ring, we kissed again, and I told him I loved him. I wondered if he was nervous.
Three hours later they had found the “sentinel node” using a dye and radioactive substance injected into his shoulder earlier that morning. The node was removed, sent out for testing, and will eventually disclose the stage of this horrible disease.
Cancer has been around forever, and has probably affected someone we all know; my Uncle, Aunt and my Dad, our good friends Irene, Judy and Doug, my Mom’s best friend. Treatment has become more effective over the years, and now there really is hope.
We’re waiting on another call ~ the one that will define the next steps in treating this cancer. I don’t know whether the news will change our lives, encourage us to join in the battle to bring awareness to the world at large, or if we’ll chalk this up to just another bump in the road of life.
The third lesson I learned from emergency medicine is to never stop giving aid to someone in need. No, we can’t believe we have cancer, but we’re in this battle together.