Sunday, January 16, 2011

Part 33: Mile Stones

"It's four o'clock. You should call her," said the husband, eager to know the results from the woman's blood draw that day.

"I know the doctor said four, but I'll just wait a little bit longer to see if she'll call," replied the woman as she screwed in the white outlet plate. The couple had been working hard all day on their basement finishing project. The woman found it to be a good way to keep her mind busy with other things, rather than worrying about the things she couldn't control.

The next half hour flew by. The woman was hoping the doctor would have called her by now because then she would know for sure she wasn't interrupting anything. However, the doctor had assured the woman to call if she hadn't heard anything by four. Getting over her guilt complex, she grabbed her cell phone and jogged upstairs to make the call.

While waiting for someone to answer on the other end, the woman couldn't help but wonder what her results would be. She desperately wished to have the chemo treatments behind her, to move on to the next phase. It was funny how such a little number could have such a big impact on her life, and no matter how much the woman wished for it to be over, she had absolutely no control over any of the outcome.

"Alo?" answered the doctor.

The woman greeted back, trying to keep conversation on the topic and as short as possible. Both the woman and the doctor were on vacation, and she didn't want to impose any more than she had to.

"Well, I got your results back from the lab," the doctor began. "In discussing your results with the lab consultant, it turns out that the negative values for the HCG test were re-developed. Whereas before, a value less than 0.8 was considered negative, now any value less than 2.4 is considered negative. This week your value is at 1.3."

The woman pondered the meaning of this news. Two weeks prior, her value was at 2.0, which meant she had unknowingly already experienced her first negative result! Not only that, but since she had undergone a chemo treatment at that time and her value was still negative this week, she would no longer have to do any more chemo!

The woman didn't quite know how to feel. She had been waiting months for the day to finally be able to say with certainty that her HCG values had reached negative. Had the reference values for the test stayed at less than 0.8, her value that week would have still been considered positive and she'd be on another round of methotrexate injections. It was a welcomed surprise, but it was in some ways almost anti-climactic considering her real first negative had been two weeks prior. Even so, it was still a big mile stone in her recovery from gestational trophoblastic disease and a huge answer to prayer.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Part 32: Fault and Fuss

The woman closed her car door and walked towards the parking garage elevator. After waiting a minute or so, the down arrow above the entrance flashed, the doors opened, and she stepped inside for a solo ride. She was still waking up. Six forty-five was too early to be running around on any day, let alone on her day off, but it was for a good reason. She was scheduled for a blood draw, and hopefully today was the day her HCG result would be negative.

The elevator bell dinged as it reached the subway level. The scene that emerged from behind the parting doors left her a bit perplexed. A security gate was blocking the entrance to the main hall. Maybe they just haven't opened yet, she thought to herself. Maybe they open later since it's a day before a holiday. Lucky for her, she knew her way around and had a badge to get in.

The absence of people seemed odd to her, but she dismissed the irregularity and continued over to the main collection center. When she arrived, there was no one around. A sign displayed at the front desk which read: "Push button for assistance. Someone will be with you shortly." Something about pushing a strange button in the absence of anyone else made her a bit apprehensive, almost like she was being watched on candid camera, but she pushed it anyway and waited...and waited...and waited.

She was pretty certain the phlebotomists weren't too busy behind the closed doors considering there wasn't a single soul in the waiting room. Working up some courage, she decided to take a peek to see for herself what exactly was going on back there. To her unsurprised dismay, no one was on the other side. Why would they schedule me for a 6:45 a.m. draw if there wouldn't be anyone around? the woman thought to herself, still not realizing that she had actually misread her appointment schedule.

Determined to get her blood drawn, she walked over to another outpatient center across the street, thinking perhaps it would be open since it was connected to the hospital. Unfortunately, the attempt was just as successful as her first, and now she was becoming a little more agitated. To her luck, someone from the staff was able to direct her to where she could go, though she would need to drive there.

The woman walked back to her car, got inside, buckled-up, and drove a mile down the road to an affiliate hospital. Inside was a small outpatient office that also serviced the emergency room patients, so it was most definitely open that day. Relieved to finally accomplish her three-minute appointment with a needle (after her forty-five minute adventure), she left and headed home, stopping for a coffee on the way. She only hoped it had all been worth the fuss.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Part 31: Good Medicine

Tears pooled in the corners of her eyes while her abdominal muscles tightened, forcing an involuntary voiced breath with each glottal release. When all usable air had escaped, she'd gasp deeply and run through the whole cycle all over again. She hadn't laughed this hard in months. An evening of family game night was just the diversion she needed, though it took her a little convincing at first to participate. While looking at the faces joining her around the table she thought to herself how thankful she was to be a part of a family that knew how to laugh.

Christmas vacation was turning out to be somewhat emotional for the woman, something which she hadn't prepared herself for. She found herself reliving some of the deeper emotions that had plagued her early on and she couldn't fully understand why. Disappointment, denial, and despair had all made their rounds wearing heavy on her heart. The woman carried with her a sadness that occasionally unleashed mini crying sessions throughout the day. She had just started her period that week, so her hormones were most certainly out of whack, but she knew that couldn't have been the sole cause.

Laughter, however, managed to break her free from the depressing funk. The others' laughter only fueled her own. The longer it continued, the lighter her soul became, as if to disperse little stress relief bubbles throughout her entire body, indeed so proving the time tested saying: a joyful heart is good medicine.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Part 30: Unexpected Blessings

The woman's pager rumbled against the desktop surface beneath her flat-screen monitor. More often than not, she forgot to bring it out of the side drawer, let alone actually turn it on, and when she did finally did, there would usually be at least three unanswered pages waiting for her from the days before. But today was different for no good reason. She turned to the coworker sitting beside her and excused herself as she reached for the little vibrating box. An unfamiliar number displayed on the screen, which all the more validated in the woman's mind the need to return the call.

She lifted the receiver and dialed the number. After two rings, a familiar voice answered from the other end. It was the woman's oncologist.

"Hello," the woman greeted back, a bit perplexed to be receiving a page at work from her doctor. True, they both worked for the same institution, so it was not an impossible notion, nor was it unwelcome. She just anticipated a more conventional means of doctor-to-patient communication, considering she wasn't even expecting anything in the first place since she just had her appointment the day before and had already started her sixth round of chemo.

"I have been speaking with the lab director about your HCG results," the oncologist began. "When it gets into the lower numbers, the results can get a little tricky. The main instrument that performs the HCG testing has a negative reference value of less than 0.8. Your HCG result when run on this instrument was a 2.0, so it is still positive. However, an alternative instrument that performs similar testing has a negative reference value of less than 2.0. On this instrument, your HCG was less than 2.0, which means it is negative."

"What is the difference between the two tests?" the woman asked.

"The first instrument detects more isoforms of HCG. However, the second instrumentthe one you tested negative onwhile it detects fewer, is what has been used in various literature discussing Gestational Trophoblastic Disease."

"So, what does this mean?" asked the woman.

"Well, we will see what happens in two weeks when you get your next blood draw. Depending on the result at that time, I may count this week as your first negative."

Her first negative!? The woman could hardly believe it! There was, of course, some odd stipulation: if her level remained at 2.0, the doctor would count it as negative, but if her value went lower, then she wouldn't. It had something to do with the fact that every person's "negative" is different; not everyone has a 0.0 level HCG. The woman wasn't sure what to wish for. A part of her wanted the level to go completely down to zero; remnants of the hormone made her feel tainted. However, staying at the same level meant no more chemotherapy shots, something equally or more so desired.

The doctor ended the phone call by giving the woman her cell phone number. She would be on vacation when the woman had her next draw, and in case the doctor didn't call her with the results, she wanted the woman to be able to get a hold of her.

The woman felt showered with blessings. Not only did she have a doctor who went above and beyond, but also she received an early Christmas present of half-negative. The unexpected surprise brightened her future outlook and the woman hoped for the best in the weeks to come.