Gut Rumbles

January 18, 2005

strange to me

I watched a movie today called The Doctor, starring William Hurt as a wiz-bang but heartless surgeon who is diagnosed with throat cancer. Once the doctor is sick, he finds himself experiencing first-hand that sausage-factory that modern medical care is---and he doesn't like it one bit.

Of course, he survives, becomes compassionate and a much better doctor because of his newfound understanding of his patient's feelings. The movie was pretty good until it hit that bullshit wall. I just don't believe that doctors morph into Mother Teresa once they get a dose of their own profession from the receiving end.

One thing I found fascinating in the movie was the doctor's reaction when he learned that he had cancer. He flipped out and went into all sorts of existential contortions. He couldn't perform surgery anymore. He was scared shitless.

I remember vividly my experience in the same situation. When the doctor told me that three of the eight prostate biopsy samples he took tested positive, and that I definitely had cancer, I didn't get excited at all. I listened to what he had to say, I looked at the MRI pictures and I asked for his advice. In fact, I was so calm in accepting the news that the doctor asked ME if I understood the diagnosis.

I understood it perfectly well.

Maybe I was prepared for the news (I waited two weeks for the biopsy results) or I was numbed by it--- I had a lot of other shit going on in my life at the time---but I never felt a sense of panic or desperation. Screaming and crying about it wasn't going to change anything. I just had to play the hand life dealt me.

I did, too. And I did it with more of a sense of resignation than of fear. I was NEVER afraid of dying, but wasn't happy with my prospects if I DID survive. Still, I chose the knife. I don't believe that I did anything courageous, either. I consented to the recommended treatment and I knew that there was no turning back once I did.

Why worry in that situation? It's out of your hands.

That's what I did. Now, think about it. How do you believe YOU would react if you were diagnosed with a potentially fatal form of cancer?


I don't know... that's a good question. I just talked to a business associate whose going in tomorrow for cancer surgery. I asked him how he felt and he said exactly what you just said. "It's out of my hands now." In that situation we have to trust the professionals and our faith or whatever we draw strength from to get us through the situation.

Posted by: Dash on January 18, 2005 05:21 PM

Hmmm, maybe the parts you thought were bullshit weren't and vice versa...The doctor was scared shitless because he really knows the truth about how dangerous the cancer is. Remember, they wouldn't call it practicing medicine if they knew what they were doing...and they probably aren't thruthful enough with their patients for them to get as scared as he did.

Second, I don't think a doctor would ever experience the "sausage factory" healthcare. I'm sure they take care of their own just like any other trade does...

I don't know exactly how I'll react when the time comes, but I agree that worrying ain't gonna help it any.

Posted by: Circa Bellum on January 18, 2005 05:30 PM

I wait for that shoe to fall every time I have tests since my parents died of cancer. I'm not sure how I would react; I know I would do what the doctor recommended, but I think I also would be sad to think that I would be missing the rest of my kids/grandkids lives.

Posted by: Michele on January 18, 2005 05:36 PM

Well, I have never been diagnosed with cancer, but I do work in medicine.
My grandmother died of a brain cancer, which is about the extent of my personal experience.

I do not know how I would react.

That professional courtesy only goes so far. It really doesn't mean a real change in anything as far treatment goes, but only manifests as a few more moments talking, and maybe a certain amount of runnning through the questionairre faster since you already know what questions are really asking, and what answers they are looking for.

When my wife (an anaesthesiology resident) went through surgery, there was not much different, besides a little more attention, and a few more of the staff checking up on her.

I hope that I would be able to meet any such bad news with a certain amount of dignity. I have lived well, generally speaking. I am not yet thirty, but I have few real regrets. I do not spend a lot of time wondering about what might have been had I done things diffferently. Honestly, there ain't much I would have changed, mistakes and all. I have lived my life pretty much on my terms. I accept the fact that I have no guarantee of life, and that it is always a chance that any given day or hour may be my last. If I die tomorrow, I shall die doing what I chose to do, I shall die at my post.

I do so love my life, and have already gotten out of it more than my fair share, so I do not think that I can begrudge death should he decide to collect his due premature, since I still will leave with more than I perhaps deserve.

Posted by: doc Russia on January 18, 2005 08:25 PM

Don't you read your eMails anymore ??

Posted by: MommaBear on January 18, 2005 09:02 PM

I think that I reacted to the prostate diagnosis about the same way you did. My first question was "when do you want to go in and take it out"? All the side effects were described and a week later, it was out. My feelings are that there are some things that you can do something about and somethings that are out of your control, so just go with the flow. We all have to die sometime

Posted by: AndyJ on January 18, 2005 09:36 PM

I reacted to the PCa diagnosis pretty much like you and Andy J. I did a lot of reading and studying before deciding on the surgery. Then I didn't look back. I remember that I broke up the anesthesiologist with Rob's line, "You have your good days, and your bad days, and then you have your fleet enema days."

Posted by: Ernie G on January 18, 2005 09:56 PM

I have been diagnosed with this shit. Breast. 2001. Found a little lump on an otherwise fantastic ski vacation in Colorado. Bummer. When I went in for diagnosis, even the surgeon said he probably didn't need to send it out for biopsy - it 'felt' like cancer. He was right. Took 7 weeks between feeling the lump and having it removed. Thank God, no lymph node involvement. No history of cancer in family, either.

Bottom line: FEEL those breasts, ladies! Help is always welcomed, guys.

Posted by: KathyP on January 18, 2005 11:54 PM

Compassion actually is doing your job.

I had a C3-4 [neck] disc you could see pushing right into my soft spinal cord. I had the fear and trembling, then became very calm and methodical. Actually I was worried that I wouldn't wake up, but had got over that enough to plan to ask the recovery nurses if the sex change had been a success, if I woke up. I tried but could only babble. Yes, it was a success. I am a new man.

Seriously, it was a miracle. The guy whipped it out in an hour, using a fiberoptic scope. I had no pain, no symptoms at all. He was going to take it out almost on the spot, at my first exam literally [the CT scan was done a week prior], just because he is a hot dog. Seeing my stunned look, he relented for 16 hours "just to let the crew rest up". I like hot dogs. Screw "compassion".

Posted by: Ga-ne-sha on January 19, 2005 09:05 AM

Talk about angry! I wasn't resigned, I wasn't afraid, I was flat out pissed.

I was diagnosed with terminal cancer - an invasive hydatidiform mole, apparently my premie daughter's twin that metastasized to my marrow bones, pituitary gland and lungs instead of growing into a baby.

I was told I had three days to get my affairs in order, find someone to care for my premie daughter, and prepare my funeral. They said my timing was good, because I could have my funeral on Saturday and not inconvenience anybody.

I took the surgery, the radiation therapy, then the chemo that they said might extend my life another week - and lived in spite of it all. See, they made the mistake of not telling me which three days would be my last, and I haven't picked them out yet.

You want to know what pissed me off the most? Being told my death wouldn't inconvenience anybody. There is no way I will die to suit somebody else's schedule.

That was 22 years and three relapses ago.

Posted by: S L on January 19, 2005 02:57 PM

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