Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Diagnosis That Wasn't

The doctor’s office calls just as I am finishing breakfast. The doctor, her secretary tells me, wants me to come in and “discuss the results.” Not good, I think -- especially since this very busy New York specialist has set the appointment for just three working days from now. (Still, there’s a holiday weekend between now and then so it’s a long time to wait). I hear myself calmly saying to the secretary that since it must be something “of concern,” perhaps the doctor could call me sooner with the headlines.

Lungs or sinus? I’ve just had CT scans done of both, as part of a follow-up study of people who inhaled the dust at Ground Zero. Lungs, I expect. It comes back to me that when I first had a chest scan a couple of years ago, the doctor had mentioned that it showed something that almost certainly was nothing. Still, he said, probably I should have follow-up scan in six months. He sounded pretty unconcerned and I never got around to it. A surprising lapse, considering my tendency to overreact and my late-onset hypochondria.

Will I hear from the doctor today? Probably not, I decide. I mean, worst case scenario, you don’t want to tell someone that she has inoperable lung cancer over the phone. I sternly remind myself that this is just the kind of thought I do not need to be having right now.

So I have five days to get through, including the long weekend. How to make the time pass?

The phone rings again and it’s a neighbor in my co-op apartment house. She’s calling about the divisive issue of whether the building’s window frames should be restored or merely painted. She wishes to grumble about the treachery, short-sightedness and frequent idiocy of the co-op board. This is not a subject I normally have much patience for, but now I am all ears for a good twenty minutes.

Then I have to think of something else to do.

I consider going to the gym and swimming laps until I’m exhausted. This would make me feel virtuous, but would it also give me too much time to think? See a lot of movies? That might work.

I end up cleaning out my office, a job I attack with fierce intensity. In the event that life becomes chaotic, I’ll want an uncluttered office, or so I tell myself. But there’s something else. It comes to me that this is a lightning stocktaking. What to keep? What to discard? Taken together, these countless small decisions help me understand where I am in my life.

Sorting through dusty piles and files, I find: a military dependent ID card from when I was 16 and weighed 111 pounds, or so I claimed; a travel story about going snorkeling in the Maldives; instructions, never used, on the proper way to launder cashmere. Also a Mother’s Day letter from my daughter listing all the things she’s learned from me. This makes me cry, and then I feel better.

I work up the nerve to call the doctor’s office again. My new plan is to ask the secretary if she might possibly squeeze me in for an appointment before the weekend. Instead, the doctor herself comes to the phone. Yes, she can discuss the results right now: Sinus scan, fine; lungs, the same. I take a deep breath; bluebirds sing, bells chime. I can go back to being an ordinary hypochondriac.

The doctor keeps talking but I barely listen. Apparently in the vicinity of my thyroid there is possibly something that almost certainly is nothing. It would be a good idea to have a follow-up scan but there’s absolutely no rush, she says.

Of course, I say. Just as soon as I’m ready to be reminded again about being mortal.

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