Doctors, listen up! You’ll be a patient soon.

As I age, the probability of acquiring yet another health condition seems to, unfortunately, increase. There’s always one test or another that is on my to-do list, be it bloodwork, X-ray, MRI, or maybe a CT scan thrown in for good measure. I comply usually with a sense that it is for the benefit of my health, i.e., to enable my doctors to determine the best mode of treatment for me. Among the collection of lab tests/procedures that I have experienced, some carry more significant “emotional baggage” with them than others.

For example, my mom died of colon cancer, so when it’s time for me to be scheduled for a follow-up colonoscopy, it gives me pause to think about my own mortality. Don’t get me wrong — I am thankful that such tests exist. They enable us to have a fighting chance to beat cancer when the odds are in our favor. Back in the 1970s and ’80s, such tests were not routinely done, so my mom lost her life far too early.

Every year for the past three years, I have had either a follow-up MRI or CT scan to check on my kidneys for any suspicious lesions. In November 2016, I had a suspected cancerous lesion removed from my kidney. So my life, emotionally, hiccups when I see the date of my next one circled on the calendar.

What follows is a compilation of my thoughts and emotions that I have experienced as I “grin and bear it” on my trips to a lab annex or imaging department. I think I can safely assume that others will be nodding their heads in agreement as they read through what follows. The point being, doctors, nurses, lab techs, etc., we are indebted to you for your skill, knowledge, and training. But please realize that many times when we are scheduled for a medical test to be executed, we, as patients, catch our breath and do not exhale until we see results posted.

Doctors, get back to us in a timely fashion with these results. At this point, be patient and compassionate as you interpret and discuss those results with us. Allow us to ask the questions we need to. We did not go to medical school, so what is common everyday language for you is not for us. Knowledge is a vital tool in knowing how to proceed and dealing with the problem. How you go about doing this, can mean all the difference in the world as to how the rest of our health story unfolds.

I want answers. I want to know why this is happening to me. Facing the adversary directly is better than living in a state of limbo. I need the opportunity to formulate a plan of attack. I need to restore a degree of control. Hopefully, by coming to this place, I will have a chance for resolution.

I sit anxiously awaiting to hear my name. Those around me also look to be in suspended animation. Each pausing his life to be here, each awaiting his turn to begin the unraveling, each wanting to be elsewhere.

My name is called out, breaking the silence and tension in the room. I follow obediently back to an alternate space to have a small sample of my life’s blood packaged in a pristine vessel that is to be passed on to those who know. Will they be the ones to find answers for me?
I leave with my mind filled with unknowns. I search to find other random items to fill the void. Trying to create a distraction, I walk along a woodland trail. There I see a pair of squirrels frolicking on the branches above my head unaware of my existence; a rabbit is joyously munching on virgin blades of grass. Life is simple for these creatures, each merely enjoying the present moment. They are unaware of the skirmish going on in my mind. I envy them.

Minutes turn into hours, as the hands of the clock move in slow motion. I want to know, but I find myself frozen in time. I try to be a participant in what is going on around me, but my mind is elsewhere, impinging on any sense of enjoyment. Others go about their routines without knowledge of the voices in my mind which are urging me to block the fear, the wondering and to move on with living.

I acquiesce and check the site that tells my life’s story, at least that portion which pertains to my health. Theoretically, it is all-knowing, impartial, and void of emotion. I see an entry. Do I go further, or do I remain in a state of ignorance? I opt for the former since the day has dragged on far too long.

As my eyes scan over what is before me on the cold and impartial screen, there are words that I can not even pronounce, and there are words that make my heart pound faster, my breathing to accelerate: suspicious, inconclusive, cause for concern, further testing indicated.

The hope that all would be resolved has been dashed. The power to make sense of this lies in the hands of my healer. For right now, I take a deep breath and gather the determination to undertake round two of the skirmish with the hope that I will receive my answers. And so I wait, alone with my thoughts.

Michele Luckenbaugh is a patient. 

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