A visit to the doctor

To read my full surgery story, go here and here.

Scene:  April 6, 2016, Doctor’s Office at a Hospital in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The office is pleasant in its own way, especially for a doctor’s office waiting room that’s located within a large hospital.  There is a table with coffee and tea.  There are magazines on tables between rows of chairs.

I take a deep breath, pushing away thoughts that I don’t need to be there.  I’m here for a followup, for a past issue.  I walk to the front.  The woman there apologizes to me and says that they are running behind, the doctor experienced complications during a surgery she performed earlier that day and now all appointments are running late.  I take the clipboard with the new patient forms, start filling out the front page.  She asks for my insurance cards and ID, and to take my picture.

Then I find a seat and fill out the rest of the forms.

I rarely count how many other people are in a room unless it’s immediately relevant to my experience.  The room isn’t full by any means, but there are enough people and there’s a steady trickle in and out while I’m there.  I hear an older woman talking to another woman.  Talking about grief, sadness edging her voice as she mentions her husband’s recent death.  “Does it get easier?” she asks.  She mentions her cancer is in remission.

With this exchange, I’m reminded of where I am:  an OB-GYN oncology office.  I feel out of place.  My ovarian tumor was borderline.  Somewhere in between.  Something that did not need chemo or radiation, but needed surgery and removal and regular followup.  I recognize the other women sitting in the waiting room may have very different stories.  An uncertain but hopeful prognosis definitely has a lighter tone than a potentially fatal one.

I wait, breathing in and out.  I grab a magazine with cover stories that catch my eye and then realize that it has those perfume samples that set me on edge.  I put the magazine down, looking messages on my phone. It might have been good to bring a book, but I don’t think I would have read much of it.  My attention is scattered.

Finally, minutes – almost an hour – pass, and they call me back.  More waiting, pauses in between a nurse taking my vitals and going to the wait in the doctor’s main office for a consultation.  Her office…looks like a regular office.  It could be the office of a CEO, or anyone of importance in an office-based environment.  It reminds me of offices in TV shows where people go when doctors deliver bad news about illnesses, in that there is an element of comfort about it:  photographs, artwork on the walls, a sense of homeyness. The environment puts me at ease, and I imagine that could be intentional. I look at the large mixed media art piece on the wall and find a place to focus on – my mindfulness skills come in handy in situations like this.  It has a quote from a Rumi poem written in pencil across the top.

mixed media piece in doctor's office

The doctor’s assistant, a young woman, comes in, asks me more questions.  When she asks me my marital status, I say partnered, engaged.  “That’s exciting,” she says, and her eyes find my ring.  “I like your ring,” she says, asking to see it up close.  “It’s aquamarine,” I say of the stone.  “That’s very unique,” she says, “There aren’t many rings out there like it.  I’ve seen about 10 people with my ring.  I can’t blame my husband, because I picked it out.”  She smiles, pauses, and then continues down the line of questions.  When she asks what I do, I say I’m an artist.  She looks back at the piece on the wall and says, “That’s cool.  Another one of her patient’s was as an artist.”
I’m struck by the word “was” here, realizing that could mean a number of things:  Someone who is no longer a patient.  Someone who is no longer an artist.  Or someone who is no longer alive.

The PA finishes her questions and leaves, saying the doctor will be there in a few minutes.  And she – the head of the practice – comes, wearing a dress and high heeled boots. Her demeanor is matter of fact, straight forward; generally kind but not too soft. She looks at my records, realizes that she doesn’t have my surgical records and will have to request them, putting call in to my primary care doctor.  She asks me how I’m feeling, and I answer that I’m doing well.  No bloating, no pain, my periods are regular.
She tells me that she’ll do a physical exam and answers my main question about the frequency of followups: I’ll need to get an ultrasound, bloodwork, and a followup appointment every six months for up to 5 years post surgery (I’m at about 2.5 years at this point), then once a year after that. I nod, saying I wasn’t sure – my main surgeon wasn’t an oncologist (although I did have oncologists participate in my surgery and the biopsy of the tumor) and had recommended annual followups.  She agrees that having more regular appointments is better:  “You’re young,” the doctor says, “And borderline tumors can come back.”  It’s better to be certain, cautious, safe.

The physical exam is fairly straightforward.  I’m generally amazed that this kind of exam has become almost routine for me:  I used to dread gynecologist visits and put off making the appointment.  I used to have to soothe myself for a few hours afterward – it felt invasive.  Now, I know that that was probably mostly sensory related, with perhaps some other trauma mixed in.  But after I first found out about the tumor, I learned to soothe my body and my mind, to tell myself that I needed to do this for my health, that it was uncomfortable but necessary.  And yes, I still dread making appointments.  I still experience some after effects…but it is more like a comma in my day as opposed to a period at the end of a sentence, energetically and personal space-wise.  After going to occupational therapy and doing my sensory diet on a regular basis, I find it easier now on a tactile level, too.  Not fun by any means, but easier.

It’s over.  I put my underwear and pants back on and make appointments for my next ultrasound and doctor’s appointment, which lands right before my wedding date in October.  I wait to make sure they’ve been able to located my surgical records, then walk out.  Once I am out of the elevator and step out into the springtime afternoon air, I breathe a sigh of relief. It’s over.  I won’t have to do that for awhile.

I am continually grateful for my health, for my body, that I live in a time that I was and am able to get treatment.  That my insurance currently covers the medical bills. As much as I may wish that I didn’t have to go to the doctor as often, I also recognize that this is one way in which I take care of myself.

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