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 instrument—the one you tested negative on—while 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.