Friday, June 11, 2010
I’m probably fine. This is the way it always goes. Some anomaly pops up, some uncomfortable, invasive test is ordered and I sit around in some innocuously tasteful waiting room pondering my future. It almost always turns out to be nothing.
So, here we are again. The hospital sure is a drag when you’re not expecting a baby. I feel bad for the well-dressed gentlemen in the radiology waiting room who seem to be new to all this. They look so vulnerable and so bravely uncompromised in their work clothes, holding on to that last shred of their identity before it’s hospital-gown-and-probe time. Me, I can’t even sit down. They made me drink 32 ounces of water and hold it in before this test, and I’m standing on my tiptoes, shifting my weight from one foot to the other in a maddening internal struggle not to pee like Niagara Falls. Even the languid tropical fish tank is pissing me off. And a “Best of 2005” issue of Seattle magazine? That’s just plain insulting.
I don’t remember this being such a production the first time. My doctor had the ultrasound equipment right there in the office, and he let me look at the screen as he measured the ovarian cysts, instantly reassuring me that it didn’t look like cancer. Not today. It’s just me and the tech, and she’s got the screen turned away from me. I stare at the disturbingly sex-toyish instruments on the wall and try not to speculate. She presses my belly here and there, this way and that, presses until it hurts and won’t stop hurting. Probe, probe, click, click. I don’t want to ask.
I’m probably fine. Last time, sixteen years ago for goodness sake, it was only endometriosis. The biggest cyst was the size of a baseball and it swallowed one withered ovary like a fat burst of popcorn swallows its spent kernel. And it hurt. So much. Nothing hurts this time, so maybe there’s nothing going on in there after all. Or maybe my body’s so stretched out from the pregnancies and miscarriages and surgeries that it barely registers cysts anymore. Who can say? I could say, if she’d just turn the screen a few inches in my direction or let me know what she sees. But she doesn’t.
I was 24 last time, worried and fascinated. Endometriosis is no big deal. It’s just painful and inconvenient, and it can affect your fertility if it goes on unchecked. “If you were married, I’d tell you to have your children now,” my doctor had said. Gulp. I wasn’t married, of course. I’d just started dating some guy in a Grateful Dead cover band who, for all his pot-headed charm, was not what the kids call marriage material. Not that that mattered much to me. I was just barely getting a career off the ground, just barely setting up housekeeping outside of a university setting. Finding some guy to marry was the least of my problems.
But a few months later, waking up in the recovery room after my surgery, the first thought that flooded my consciousness was “I’m alone.” I wasn’t, of course. My mom was in the hospital waiting room, ready to take me back to her place to recover. But I was still young enough to take something like that for granted. All I could see was that I had no boyfriend (Grateful Dead guy and I had broken up by then), no real job beyond my various temping and tutoring gigs, and no children – not even the prospect of children.
I’m not sure why that mattered to me all of a sudden. I guess, like most female-reproductive-system diseases, endometriosis has an air of blame about it. It used to be called “working woman’s disease” because it mostly affects women in their 20’s and 30’s who haven’t started spawning yet. Don’t let your body make babies and the damn thing starts making little cyst-babies of its own. I guess on some level it felt like a punishment or a warning or some such. Mostly, though, it just underscored how very adrift and alone I was feeling.
So, all’s well that ends well . . . sort of. Yes, I ended up with a wonderful family and an easy, joyful life. But I’m still alone in this hospital. It’s pretty clear the tech isn’t authorized to tell me anything, so I start reading into her every move like it’s a first date. Did she take more measurements on the left side than the right? Is her stoicism a bad sign? Wouldn’t she say something reassuring if there were something reassuring to report? Finally it’s over and I’m sure a radiologist will come in and explain everything. No. But my doctor will have the results in 2-3 business days.
I patch myself together, put my clothes back on, and toss my hospital gown in a disgusted heap. I don’t go home. Instead, I drive a few blocks north to the neighborhood where Mr. Black and I shared our first Seattle apartment and wander around the old streets, trying to reason my way through it.
Sixteen years ago I was mourning the absence of a husband and kids. Now the saddest thing I can think of is dragging them along through whatever medical bullshit the future holds – maybe not this time, hopefully not this time. But someday. Didn’t I realize that it was better to be sick when it was just me?
I’m probably fine. This is how it always goes. Anomaly, invasive test, reassuring results, and back to life as we know it. I’m going to feel pretty embarrassed next week when my doctor calls to tell me I’m fine. But for now, for some reason, it’s hard to let go of the hypotheticals. Endometriosis doesn’t worry me. It’s not like they can scare me or shame me with tales of threatened fertility anymore. Bring it on. Just don’t let it be the other thing. The cancer thing. I don’t want that.
The chances of it being ovarian cancer are slim indeed. There’s nothing in the family history, and my initial blood test results weren’t that bad. I just wish they’d conclusively rule it out already, so I can put the worry away for good.