The word mundane is defined as an occurrence that is very ordinary and, therefore, not interesting. However, what may be mundane for one may be monumental for another, especially if one’s health is in question.
An ultrasound provides needed information to trained medical personnel for the evaluation of the health status of an individual. In many situations, it is a means to alert the physician to a potential problem situation for the patient. The procedure is rather commonplace for those who administer the evaluative test, but it could be an entirely different situation for the patient. Following is an ultrasound experience for one patient and an up-close look at its emotional ramifications. As a technician who administers the ultrasound or a physician who orders one, think about the effect this relatively simple diagnostic test has on your patient. A mundane ultrasound … maybe not.
A warm gel oozes over my torso, seemingly a blanket of comfort over my abdomen. As I lay on my back on the exam table, a multitude of thoughts and what-ifs rush through my mind. The small room I find myself in is shrouded in semi-darkness, illuminated mostly by the light reflected off the screen of the machine perched at my side … a machine whose purpose is to peer within me, to go beyond the obvious. It stands in silence, except for its intermittent clicks and beeps, a language I do not understand. A hushed voice is heard … my guide on this journey when my life is put in slow motion.
Moving and pausing, the probe presses deeply against my skin as if asking my body to give up its secrets. But what secrets can I have against this invisible force? It hovers for seconds, sending back electrical images to be viewed and pondered. I am an innocent witness to the process taking place within my body … a dialog between what lies within and the impartial machine beside me.
I am here in this space to partake in an anniversary of sorts, a trek made yearly to peer inside me, to determine if the enemy has broken through friendly lines. An early warning system to give the all-clear sign or one to alert the troops for battle. A time of much anticipation and anxiety as the months and weeks march toward this date … a date that has been marked off in red on the calendar, a date that cannot be forgotten even though I try. I wonder if anyone else knows its weight on my heart and mind.
Will life go on unimpeded, or will it, instead, swerve suddenly to the side like a careening car? Laying motionless, I hold my breath and then exhale as the probe makes its slow journey about my body. In my mind’s eye, I see myself walking the mountain trail I love so much, but this reassuring image is short-lived. Reality returns … as the moments crawl by in silence … as I listen to the beating of my heart within me. Its rhythmic beat tells me to be strong, to endure. And so I do, and the task is over.
I leave this darkened space and move into the sunlight with uncertainties weighing me down. The question that is yet to be answered remains with me as I attempt to move into the normality of living, to rejoin the mundane. Doubt is there like a shadow cast behind me. And so I wait.
A message arrives, and my heart speeds up as I cast my eyes upon the words. Do I want to know, or do I want to linger in the unknown? I summon my courage and stare at those words … “no changes since last year, stable condition.” I have won the battle … this time.
A smile slowly spreads over my face, and a sigh of relief rushes forth. I have been given a reprieve. Life is here for the taking, and I will enjoy and savor it until next year when this date on the calendar revisits me, and life will again stand still.
Please think about the importance your patients may place on this diagnostic test. For some, it represents moments in time that may profoundly affect their future.
Michele Luckenbaugh is a patient advocate.