Wednesday, May 20, 2015

It Always Happens on the Weekend

Dr Santiago and his battalion of cancerfighting superheroes were not my first team of doctors. My first team, whom I adored, were urbane, professional and educated, and they treated me like a princess.
 Nothing but the sheerest desperation would have led me to cheat on them, which is what it felt like to me when I called Dr. Santiago. I didn't even plan to cheat on them. You know how these things just happened.

 Although there's a certain amount of party trick value in finding out that by pursing your lips a certain way, you can make a Bellagio style fountain of water jet out of the side of your neck, it freaked me out the first time it happened on Palm Sunday morning. Palm Sunday in Mexico is the beginning of a two week period where the country is essentially closed. Gone Fishin'.
Gone to the beach is the fact of it, and Guadalajara, rich and poor, my doctors included, had headed for the coast. I ended up at Dr.Santiago's because the fix they had put in place to get us through the two week holiday period hadn't lasted the weekend, and I was headed for a panic attack and I didn't have a doctor. It was a Sunday, and Dr. Santiago, who I had been hearing about around town, is one of the few, or possibly the only, local medico who has a fully functioning webpage which allowed me to make an appointment for the next day. In Chapala! No schlepping to Guadalajara!  Because obviously I wasn't going to get through the next two weeks in the get up shown below;
Me, relieved to have gotten an appoint-
ment with a Dr. in Chapala for the next day.

This situation had been coming for some time. I had been balking for weeks, absolutely unwilling to admit that anything might be going wrong, although any nitwit that wasn't in one hundred per cent denial would know that the fistula was already something gone wrong.
 But see, the way I saw it, I had done my time for Cancer. I had had surgery. I had had part of my tongue removed. It was stage one, clean margins. Done with cancer, let's carry on with my excellent life.  No double jeopardy. One bite of the apple only.

But then there was more, and I had to have radiation. Day, after day, every day, for thirty five days, I was driven into Guadalajara by a rotating cast of loving friends. Once there, I would be attached to a bed by means of clasps on a mask, that when placed over my face, were fastened to the corresponding hardware attached to the the bed. Yes! It is the stuff of horror movies. You can be thankful I don't have any pictures of that, although this comes surprisingly close:
Athletic types will recognize this as a hockey mask, but
it's actually surprisingly close to the hideous apparatus they actually used.
On Halloween, I pasted a Bandido moustache on it when the attendants
weren't  looking. Haha. A little radiation humor.

So after both of those things happened, nothing else was possible. Because it wouldn't be fair, right? Lightening can't strike three times. Oh boy, fair schmair, that's cancer.

 This fistula thing, we all told each other, was because of the radiation. It had made the skin so weak and fragile that it had literally collapsed. That explanation I was willing to buy. When my first surgeon , who had done such an excellent job on my tongue, started talking about operating again,  using words like skin grafts, I went deaf. Not possible. No surgery. My surgeon was a fierce little firecracker, and she really, really hated cancer in all it's hideous forms. She also loves surgery.
     I, on the other hand, had become afraid of surgery. I never had been before, finding it kind of cool that you disappeared from the world for a snap of the fingers, and then you wake up fixed. But that's when you're talking about a wisdom tooth or something. This was a different animal.
 It was that snap of the fingers, that folding of time that made me anxious . I didn't like it anymore that  I'd count back "99, 98" but when I got to 97, a whole alternate world had occurred.

Do you remember those Al Jaffee Mad Magazine fold-ins?A regular size magazine page had a  normal (for Mad Magazine) picture on it, but you could unfold it and reveal another picture entirely.
Only in this example, of general anaesthesia, when you unfolded the picture, what would be found inside were phone calls to my family in the States, decisions about my quality of life and what it meant, conversations with surgeons about discoveries they had made as a result of cutting me open, good or bad, and what they were going to do about it. And while that picture was coming alive, I would be lost in that crease in time.

The decisions to be made while I was "in the crease" so to speak,  would decide whether I could speak or eat or breathe on my own when I woke up. Bruno and I had spent a lot of time in serious and very difficult conversation and we were in agreement on what to do with the choices that we knew about. I knew he wanted what I wanted and would honor my wishes, however difficult the choice. But I was afraid that options would be revealed that we didn't know about, that we couldn't discuss and that Bruno was going to have to choose.
My medical duo--oncologist and surgeon-- admitted there were a couple of mysteries they'd like to solve before they put me back under. One, there was something peculiar located at the base of my tongue that kept showing up on MRI's and various other modern diagnostic monstrosities. The mystery thing  was getting smaller since my vacay in  the chamber of radioactive horrors, but it was still puzzling. It was either malignant, which meant cancer, or it was "necrotic" which meant okay. Believe me, you've come to a hard place in the world when you're hoping for something located in your head to be necrotic.

 The second question that begged an answer was, what was causing the fistula? So team one and Bruno and I had a conference and agreed on a plan. The plan called for a pet scan, the only kind of test I hadn't yet taken,  horribly expensive,  available at one lab. Hopefully this Pet Scan would solve the riddle--is it or isn't it, yes or no? Their other suggestion, which I grabbed on to like a drowning man, and which you've already heard about, was to try to fill the hole in my neck with, well, with surgical crazy glue. There was a chance that it would set and last for long enough for me to enjoy a few months of pretending I'd never heard of cancer, get the pet scan, and gather some strength for the next step.  Both parts of this plan met with my approval, because neither involved surgery. The downside was that it left me with no doctor to turn to when the the surgical super glue failed the weekend after it had been put in. It had lasted just long enough for all of us to agree that it had been a big success, and for the my original oncologist and surgeon to shout "Cowabunga" and head for the Pacific Coast.

    (Sitting in a new doctor's office the day after Palm Sunday a surgeon in Guadalajara I had never met looked at the  photo that Dr. Santiago  had snapped and sent on his phone. This remote new surgeon took a  less delicate approach to my desire for options other than surgery. Without so much as a glimpse of the real me, going solely on the picture, he didn't hesitate . "Oh Shit" says he."I know what's making that happen. Yep, it's got to go."

"Er," says I, to Dr. Santiago, who was manning the smartphone that made this conference possible, "shall I have a pet scan?"
    "Pet scan?" replied the doctor from Guadalajara "Why bother? You're going under the knife, sister, so get used to it.We'll find every thing we need to know once we're in there."
The tone of his response made me feel as though I had asked if I should take a Meyers Briggs Type Indicator, or a Cosmo dating quiz. )

Obviously, this translation of the conversation is something less than accurate. But the gist of the exchange was clear from where I sat, eavesdropping on Dr. Santiago's Samsung.

This is the end of this post, but not the story. Things happened fast after that, and as we know, I left very good hands to end up in very good hands, for which I am grateful. As it turned out, as we got further into the process it appeared that I might be able to eventually see the man who would become my new surgeon through IMSS, or the Mexican National Health Care, and so that had a lot to do with the change. But mostly it was timing. By the time my first doctors got back from their richly deserved annual vacation, the surgery had already been done. The fistula fixed, the cancer removed, and me in the hospital getting better.
It's a shame about the quality of my one and only picture of Dr. Delgado.
He's the one who played Luis Miguel instead of having me count backward.
Look at me..don't I look like someone who's hoping to get asked to Prom?



  1. You missed your calling as a writer, my friend. Love & healing vibes from your Chitown peeps! ♡ ♡ ♡ ♡ ♡ ♡

    1. Yeah, not as an editor, though. Jesus. Love you.

  2. Thinking of you Elliott. I am sorry you are dealing with f%$#ing cancer!! Praying that you heal fully and quickly and kick this cancer for good! I have so many great memories of all the crazy, fun times we have shared . I am happy you are surrounded and loved by so many in Lake Chapala. Sending prayers for healing, peace of mind, and strength! Love you!

  3. LIsa, some of my most vivid memories are with you! I love to see Steve Thomas' posts online..what an archivist he is! Thanks for your prayers..strongest medicine in the universe!