Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Bedside manner: an international retrospective

Let me start by saying: it's not cancer! This story will be funnier if you know that up front.

And now, with that out of the way, let's begin, shall we?

There are things that are different overseas than they are in America. The milk is different. The traffic is different. The falafel are different. And the medical professionals? Oh, yes, they are definitely different.

There was that time in Armenia when the doctor wanted to treat my kid, who had a sty in his eye that wouldn't go away, with beef broth and blue lights. Yeah, okay. And the nurse in China who, when I showed up at the clinic, newly deaf and, coincidentally, newly pregnant, didn't really want to treat the sudden deafness syndrome but felt strongly that I should get an abortion because "China isn't really a good place to raise children."

Last week I got my Jordan story. I went to the dermatologist, as I do periodically, because skin cancer is sort of a thing in my family. (Aside: wear your sunscreen, people!) I'll spare you the details, but she found some things that troubled her, and we made an appointment for me to return for a biopsy.

So I went back, not really worried, because I've had biopsies before and they usually turn out to be nothing much exciting. I waited in her office for 45 minutes, sandwiched in between two women who were covered head to toe except for their eyes (what's wrong with their skin? I wondered...), watching their husbands smoke in the doorway. The nurse finally summoned me back to the doctor's office. She greeted me warmly before asking "and how are your warts? Are they better?"

Ummmm. No, I reminded her. Not warts. Biopsy.

She looked down at the chart, confused. She showed it to me and asked again, but, your warts? Since the entire chart was in Arabic, I wasn't really able to clear it up for her, but I held up my (thankfully wart-free) hands and repeated: no warts. I'm here for a biopsy.

At this point she got really confused and looked more closely at the paper in front of her.

It turns out - and what are the chances of this in the middle of Jordan? - that she has another patient with almost the exact same name as mine. And that lady has some serious issues, poor thing. Not gonna out her on the name, but weird. I've got a doppelgänger.

Anyway. Once we cleared that up and determined that it was a biopsy that I was after, she took my family history again. We covered the basics, which I've heard since I was a teenager: it could be any of three things we were dealing with here. None of them, interestingly enough, was "benign." No, we went straight to "it's probably one of these three cancers..." And then she explained to me, kindly and in great detail, that we want it to be basal cell carcinoma, because that is very slow growing. If not that, it could be squamous, which is more troubling. Or, she said with a slight shrug, if it's melanoma, "we could lose you in two to three months."

Riiiight. Two to three months. The room sort of spun for a minute while I contemplated this new and awful death sentence. I had to remind myself: a few minutes ago she thought I was covered in warts. I don't necessarily have to trust everything the woman says. Right?


Bedside manner, people. It's important.

She did the biopsy and then gave me a little jar of whatever it was she'd chopped off of me, with instructions to hand carry it down the street to the lab. Only slightly less gross than carrying your own urine sample around in an Embassy Health Unit when you go in for a pregnancy test. So I walked down the street, sun shining brightly overhead as I carried a small piece of myself in a jar, thinking, melanoma. And for the next three days, until the results came back negative, I contemplated her words. We could lose you in two to three months.

No thanks, lady. I have a pack out to take care of.

So that's the story of how I almost died but then didn't. I now have a few stitches in my leg and a newfound respect for doctors with good bedside manners.

What I don't have? Cancer.


Emilio Fernandez said... [Reply]

Good morning, how are you?

My name is Emilio, I am a Spanish boy and I live in a town near to Madrid. I am a very interested person in knowing things so different as the culture, the way of life of the inhabitants of our planet, the fauna, the flora, and the landscapes of all the countries of the world etc. in summary, I am a person that enjoys travelling, learning and respecting people's diversity from all over the world.

I would love to travel and meet in person all the aspects above mentioned, but unfortunately as this is very expensive and my purchasing power is quite small, so I devised a way to travel with the imagination in every corner of our planet. A few years ago I started a collection of used stamps because trough them, you can see pictures about fauna, flora, monuments, landscapes etc. from all the countries. As every day is more and more difficult to get stamps, some years ago I started a new collection in order to get traditional letters addressed to me in which my goal was to get at least 1 letter from each country in the world. This modest goal is feasible to reach in the most part of countries, but unfortunately, it is impossible to achieve in other various territories for several reasons, either because they are very small countries with very few population, either because they are countries at war, either because they are countries with extreme poverty or because for whatever reason the postal system is not functioning properly.

For all this, I would ask you one small favour:
Would you be so kind as to send me a letter by traditional mail from Jordan? I understand perfectly that you think that your blog is not the appropriate place to ask this, and even, is very probably that you ignore my letter, but I would call your attention to the difficulty involved in getting a letter from that country, and also I don’t know anyone neither where to write in Jordan in order to increase my collection. a letter for me is like a little souvenir, like if I have had visited that territory with my imagination and at same time, the arrival of the letters from a country is a sign of peace and normality and an original way to promote a country in the world. My postal address is the following one:

Emilio Fernandez Esteban
Avenida Juan de la Cierva, 44
28902 Getafe (Madrid)

If you wish, you can visit my blog where you can see the pictures of all the letters that I have received from whole World.

Finally, I would like to thank the attention given to this letter, and whether you can help me or not, I send my best wishes for peace, health and happiness for you, your family and all your dear beings.

Yours Sincerely

Emilio Fernandez

Kate said... [Reply]

Very happy you are not going to die in 2-3 months. I had a nearly identical experience here in Brazil. And I'm still alive. Yay us!

Popster said... [Reply]

Well, I remember the story of a man going about with a lantern looking for someone with an honest face: another someone going about looking for a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow; persons going about seeking peace and happiness... but I never heard of anyone going about with a jug of body pieces looking for enlightenment. Sounds like a good lead into a thriller novel.

I'm just happy that it all worked out for the better.

Please. Write your own stuff.