When I Was Thirty
September 2, 2009

I didn't feel well. I was tired and run down. I'd been feeling that way for a while, but I thought I was just getting older.

I was 30.

I'd actually been going to the doctor for the last two years. One little dorky infection after another. Nothing big in and of itself ... but I was not a sickly person. So I was confused at this continuous roll of illness - it just didn't make sense. But, I figured I was just getting older.

I threw myself into my work - I was teaching college writing at the time as an adjunct. That's a fancy way of saying "you teach tons of classes, try to do research because it's still publish or perish, and you get no benefits and not much pay either." But I loved it. It was where I was meant to be.

'Round about this time ten years ago, I was ecstatic - the start of a new school year, fresh students, fresh challenges. The promise of a better paying gig with benefits was being dangled for the next school year. I was content. Actually, I was more than content - I was exactly where I wanted to be, or close enough. Naturally, I would have preferred to be in Texas instead of Indiana, but still. I was doing what I loved and thoroughly enjoying myself.

Well, except for not having much money and a load of school debt from putting myself through college and grad school. And the no health insurance meant that these pesky doctor visits were more than an inconvenience, they were damned expensive even though the doc didn't run any tests. And those anti-biotics? Damn, some of those are expensive as hell.

Still and all, it was good.

I got sick again. Good grief. Now my doctor wanted to run a freaking AIDS test. He wouldn't run a simple CBC (blood count - most basic of blood tests), but he wanted to run an AIDS test. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that while I seemed to have something systemic that I couldn't shake, I did not have AIDS; I'd not been exposed to HIV and I knew I was in one of the lowest risk groups possible.

The semester was starting to wrap up, things were moving at a frenzied pace at work and I just couldn't shake the feeling that my doctor was an idiot. So, the Monday before Thanksgiving, I gave up on my doc and went to a "doc-in-a-box" after I was done teaching for the day and was seen by a very nice semi-retired doctor who just couldn't give up the practice of medicine.

I told him what had been going on over the last two years, the constant dorky little infections ... the case of thrush (which actually made me avoid Coke like the plague and just drink water), the ridiculous amount of tiredness I was having.

"We're going to run a CBC blood test, first," he announced in his amiable and grandfatherly way.

"Is that expensive? I don't have health insurance," I explained.

"Not expensive at all. Roll up your sleeve."

He took blood, left with the vial ... came back and asked for my "regular" doctor's name again.

I tried to listen at the door. It was obvious this was officially Not Good ™. But I couldn't really hear much except that my new best doctor-friend here was handing my old ex-doctor his arse on a silver platter.

He comes in with quite the wonderful bedside manner but makes it clear that

  1. He's pissed at my ex-doctor

  2. I am to go to my ex-doctor tomorrow for a referral to a specialist

  3. He's not real happy that I'm going to drive myself home (what? I drove there

  4. He's pissed at my ex-doctor

  5. I am not to miss the appointment with my ex-doctor because I need the referral he's going to give me

  6. He's not happy that ex-doctor couldn't work me in right that very minute

  7. Did I mention it was obvious he was pissed at my doctor?

Oh, and he mentioned that the reason I was tired was because my hemoglobin was a 5.8 on that little CBC basic blood test. Yeah, you can die in the 4 range .... I guess there was a reason everyone kept telling me I looked pale. And here I thought it was just my Irish roots showing ....

Since I only taught MWF, I could have gone in to ex-doctor at any time, but he couldn't work me in before early afternoon. When I arrived, he was sweating bullets. Seriously. This was now officially Really Not Good ™.

He asked me a series of questions: how tired was I, did my rash (the original reason I went to see him was a rash on my calves) get worse after a shower, how was I sleeping, did i get sweaty whilst sleeping at night. All things I had been telling him over the course of the last two years (as the symptoms popped up). He paled more with every answer I gave. He mumbled something, disappeared to set up the referral appointment. Came back to tell me when the appointment was (not until the next day - dammit, I had to teach the next day).

He also said he would treat me for free if I needed anything that the specialist couldn't do. That I was to keep the appointment and ... most chilling ... if the specialist said I needed to go to the hospital, I was not to think of the cost, I was just to go.


So, for the third time in as many days, I went to a doctor the next day. Ex-doctor SAID this guy was a blood specialist, but when I arrived, it was a Hematology & Oncology office.

Oh. Feck. Me.

It's 1999; I have a master's degree; I have yet to have a year when I break $20,000; I have no health insurance and have had zero time to build up any savings - hell, I'm still in debt from school. Shit, shit, shit.

They do a bone marrow test and other things I don't recall and then ask me which hospital I want to go to.

Umm, excuse me?

I am informed in no uncertain terms that I will be going to a hospital for a biopsy and overnight stay - at the very least they need to get some units of blood into me. (I believe the final count was four or five units of blood - visitors thought I was wearing lipstick, no, no - that was just the first time I'd had blood in my face in months and months.)

So, the day before Thanksgiving, I'm admitted to the hospital for the first time in my life.

Honestly, I began writing out a will. This simply did not look good. And then, on Saturday, I got the diagnosis - Hodgkin's disease. Since one of my favourite movies as a kid was Brian's Song, I figured I was definitely done for as this was what Brian Piccolo had had (or so I thought - looks like he actually had a different type of cancer - embryonal cell carcinoma). However, the nurse was practically giddy -

"No, no, this is a good cancer, if you're going to have cancer."

And he was right - the cure rate is very high regardless of which stage the disease is in when caught. Which is a damn good thing as my idiot doctor who never even ran a simple CBC had let my Hodgkin's reach the cusp of Stage IV. Actually, I'm pretty sure it was Stage IV, but my oncologist was trying to be as hopeful as possible.

I was released from the hospital Monday afternoon - too late to teach class, which pissed me off. (And I think that's why I wasn't released until late Monday afternoon, too, dammit.) Luckily I had only missed Wednesday's class - and really not many students planned to be there the day before Thanksgiving - it was more of a workday anyhow. So really I just missed Monday's class. Not too bad.

Ten years ago.

to be continued ....

Posted by Red Monkey at September 2, 2009 6:00 PM | Struggles | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |


Momo Fali said:

I am SO glad that you didn't let the lack of insurance stop you from keeping those appointments...as many people would. So, so glad.

September 2, 2009 8:54 PM


Tara R. said:

Day-um! I hate that sometimes even simple, adequate health care comes down to $$ and not the patient.

September 3, 2009 12:49 PM
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