Thursday, June 12, 2014

Testing. Waiting.

This is the 7th of a series of posts chronicling Chris' battle with Acute Myeloid Leukemia.

Tuesday, October 8 - Wednesday, October 9
North Louisiana Medical Center

After the tumultuous week I had experienced, I felt that being hospitalized was a vacation. I wasn't experiencing any pain (thanks to Dilaudid, that nectar of the gods), I was sleeping like a baby, and people were actually trying to find out what was wrong with me.

First thing Tuesday morning, I met my surgeon for the first time - Dr. Byrnes. I was a bit confused as to why I needed a surgeon, but I decided to roll with it. He explained to me and Karen that in addition to the inflamed lymph nodes that were found on my CT Scan, there was also a small spot on my intestines. Getting a biopsy of that spot would help us nail down exactly what it was we were dealing with. He would put me to sleep and perform a biopsy of the top end of my small intestine. Essentially, just stick a camera down my throat and peek around. Fine by me. It was the easiest surgical procedure I've ever endured. Non-invasive, no side affects or pain. Plus I had Dilaudid anyway. Unfortunately, he couldn't get deep enough to find the spot in question. On to Plan B.

Cue ominous music

Plan B was a colonoscopy on Wednesday morning. Dr. Byrnes felt that our best chance of obtaining a biopsy of the spot was to try an "alternate" route. So late Tuesday afternoon, the sweetest little nurse in the world brought in two liter-sized bottles of crystal gravy. In her tender voice, she made clear that I had two hours to drink these two thick, salty beverages. "Two hours?" I thought to myself. "That's easy." 

It wasn't easy. 

I got the first one down relatively quickly. The nurse would peek her head in periodically and ask, "Everything okay?" Each time, I expressed my concern that this wasn't going to work. Each time, she chuckled and said, "Oh it'll work." Slowly, but surely, I knocked back the second bottle - with time to spare. And then I waited, and waited. "I don't think it's doing anything," I'd say. "Oh it'll work," the nurse would respond.

It worked. Again and again it worked. All night long it worked. By the time the nurses came on Wednesday morning to wheel me back into surgery, I felt like a pitiful marathon runner who finishes last place at the Olympics, lumbering into the stadium under the low murmur from the straggle of fans still hanging around. Completely exhausted, devoid of energy, fluid, or passion. "Somebody inject some drugs into my body that will put me to sleep and help me escape this misery!" 


Then I woke up. I felt rested. No pain. My life, and my bowels, were a clean slate. The doctor had explained to Karen that he was able to obtain a tiny sample from the spot on my intestine, and that he had sent it off to the lab for identification. We were to return to his office on Friday morning to find out the results. 

Then we went home. 

In a way, we felt like our adventure was over. My pain was gone. We ate dinner that night. No pain. Had God healed me? That was our prayer. I couldn't know it at the time, but cancer was still growing inside my abdomen at a very rapid rate. But since there were no obstructions left in my digestive tract, I felt nothing.

Friday, October 11

On Friday morning, Karen and I drove to the clinic and rode the elevator upstairs in relative silence, both sensing that we were about to learn something really important. We waited for a little bit before seeing the doctor. When he came into the room, he explained that the lab had sent my biopsy to a "reference lab," which is standard practice when a particular tissue is difficult to classify. Unfortunately, we wouldn't learn the results until early next week. Try sleeping on that

Karen and I had a hundred questions. Why would they send our tissue away? What does our lab think it is? Certainly if it was cancer, they'd be like, "It's cancer." So the fact that they aren't telling us is probably a good thing. 

The next week began in relative normalcy. We tried to live our normal lives, even with the unknown test results looming over us at all times. I went to work. I played with the kids. I ate meals. No pain. Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. Every day brought a bit more frustration that we hadn't received test results, but also more confidence that nothing was wrong with me. By Thursday I was almost convinced of this fact. The doctor's call would just confirm it. 

Thursday, October 17

On Thursday, I went to lunch with Jason Howell and Sutton Davison at Chili's. I was feeling completely healthy by this point, and enjoying every moment of it. Toward the end of the meal, however, I began to sense a familiar uneasiness in my lower abdomen. Is that the same feeling I had two weeks ago? I wasn't sure. But as the pain steadily increased, a cloud of dread began to descend over me. I finished the meal quietly, not wanting to burden the guys with my worst fears. I didn't want to go back to work, so I decided to go home and rest to see if the pain would pass.

I got home to a quiet house. Karen and Charlotte were out to lunch. The boys were at school. I laid on the couch and listened to the soft hum of the ceiling fan over my head. I willed its gentle breeze to calm me down, but to no avail. I was scared, again. Helpless. Why hasn't the doctor called?! It's been eight days! Did they send my tissue to Sydney by boat? Or Carrier Pigeon?! As these thoughts passed through my head, I drifted to sleep.

I woke up to my cell phone ringing. It was my doctor. 

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