It's Just a Brain Tumor
"... I figured I was just behind the curve, and that I’d learn to smell as I grew up."...
I’m a 35-year-old wife and mother of three. I’m an instructor for a medical program at a local technical college. I have a passion for animals, psychology, community service and the arts. I enjoy writing, crocheting, photography, and long walks on the beach at sunset (just kidding).
I’m a terrible driver. Seriously, awful. Who made this a thing, anyway? And parking? Don’t get me started.
Sports perplex me. I don’t know, they seem risky. At least most of them. We watch films based around the barbarics of Gladiators forced to perform in grand Colosseum-like venues merely for our own selfish entertainment, and know that they were wrong to do so. You don’t do that to people, or even allow people to do that to themselves. And yet . . . I mean, have you seen an arena, race car track, a “dome”? I don’t think we’ve come quite as far as we think we have. OH! Also, I tend to overthink things.
I’m deathly afraid of spiders. Ridiculously-so. I will scream like a banshee and burn down my house if that’s what it takes to get rid of a spider. At the same time, I have a strict “two-attempt-rule”. If I make two consecutive attempts to kill that sum-beetch-spider, and he out-thwarts me? He gets to scamper off and tell his tale. Fair is fair.
My favorite shows are both the farthest-removed from reality, as well as actual reality television. The ridiculously, operatic fiction allows me to remove myself from reality. The reality television allows me to observe truly FASCINATING human behavior. As does frequent trips to the local WalMart. Or anywhere, really. People say that they “people-watch”, but I really watch people. Their demeanors, their body language, facial expressions, vocal pitch, reactions to their environments and counterparts. And not just with people, with animals as well. Which is probably why I like them better.
I can’t smell! Anosmia, it’s called. As a child, people would go on and on about great and awful smells, and I would play along, but really never knew what they were talking about. I figured I was just behind the curve, and that I’d learn to smell as I grew up. That didn’t happen. Kids are weird like that.
I refuse to eat anything that is red or blue in color, with several exceptions: Rare meat, tomato-based products, tomatoes themselves, and bell peppers. Don’t know why. I can’t think of a single blue exception to the red/blue rule. This applies to food, medicine, GUM (oh, don’t start me on gum!), and drink. The only thing worse than blue and red edibles, of course, is purple. Because red plus blue equals: the bastard progeny of blue and red! Purple is closely followed by pink. A physician once had to administer red cough syrup to me much like one would to a dog in order to keep me on the job for the day. He drew it into an oral syringe, grabbed me from behind, injected it into my mouth, and then massaged my throat until I complied. Just. Can’t. Do it.
When I drink liquids of my own volition, I do so only by swallowing in multiples of two and/or five. Yep, every time you see me drink something, anything, I am counting! I can land on a two, five, eight, or ten, but never a three or seven. That would be weird.
Neither of us expected it to show a damn thing, doctor, I know that.
I’m an insufferable klutz. I also bruise like a banana. The backs of my hands are almost always bruised because I attempt to think and walk at the same time, thereby accelerating my walking and decreasing my spatial awareness, so I smack them on door frames. Also, it took me nearly 32 years to figure that little gem out.
I don’t sleep, at least not well, and never have. I can’t really shush myself long enough to drift-off most of the time, and once I do fall to sleep, I can be woken by a mosquito fart. People who fall asleep quickly and maintain that state successfully both piss me off AND fascinate me. I had a sleep study once. I was so sleep-deprived that I misunderstood the instructions, and kept myself awake for the 24 hours preceding its administration. It did help me to initiate sleep during the study itself, however, according to the sleep specialist, I only achieved about 3 minutes of REM sleep. When I told the doctor how long I’d been up prior, he was rendered speechless and uncomfortably escorted me out of the office.
I’ve had ridiculously persistent headaches, and on a daily basis. Ever since I was probably 7. When I tell other doctors about them, they’re dismissed because the medication that I use (love you, generic Excedrin!), can also cause “rebound headaches.” Meaning that not having the medicine causes the headaches. But I’m thinking you guys don’t always know as much as you would have us think. I also think that you probably THINK you’re taking the big picture and all moving parts into consideration at all times, or at least trying, but my experience both personally and professionally has been that you’re simply not.
This brings me to the reason for my letter, doctor. Just several days ago, I presented to the emergency room, full-well knowing that I needed some intravenous fluids. I was having bowel issues, we don’t need to elaborate or focus specifically on that. I was unexpectedly admitted to the hospital due to fever and wonky labs. Okay, you’re watching out for me, and I thank you for that.
Sometime in the middle of the night of my first night there, I began experiencing absolutely the worst headache of my life. On a scale of one to ten (because I know you want us rating these things accordingly), it was a solid eight. Then I’d attempt to move my head in any which way, shape or form, and it would be a freaking fourteen! So, again, in my best interest (and thank you for that), you ordered a head CT as soon as the nurses informed you of the situation. I complied.
Neither of us expected it to show a damn thing, doctor, I know that. I’m sick, I’m dehydrated, I’m feverish and haven’t eaten or had anything to drink by mouth for over twenty four hours now. My body is clearly just punishing me. You prescribed me a medication for my headache pending results, and again, thank you, cuz damn!
Later in the day, a new nurse comes on shift. I asked her about the CT results, really just wanting to know that the entire hospital wasn’t backed-up and an overall mess (*hint: if dictation/transcription, i.e.: those who manufacture the radiology and other reports are behind, you’re in for one or FIVE freaking hellish days of boredom). The results were in, though. And it came from this nurse (with your blessing, doctor) that everything was “fine.”
Bless this particular nurse, though, because she went on and read to me the part about there being a small meningioma (she didn’t clarify location for me for some reason, other than it was the brain and not spinal cord).
Medical terminology is tricky. The meninges are these three thin layers or membranes that line the brain and spine. “-Oma” is a suffix in medical terminology which simply means tumor. There is no other meaning of “-oma”. It’s a proliferation of cellular activity, as with any tumor, and they’re usually benign. I know this. Benign, but somehow not entirely inconsequential as to the part of the brain that they’re impeding upon. A meningioma pressing upon any one specific part of the brain could actually influence a lot of outward factors. Personality, sleep patterns, headaches, the senses, just to name a few. I know it’s silly to tell you this, doctor, as your training has already enlightened you to these basic concepts. Unfortunately, the nurse clammed-up at my peaked interest and told me to speak to you, in the morning if I wanted more information.
So that’s what I did. You flew through all of the progress I’d been making, we agreed I’d leave the hospital later that day with antibiotics and a follow-up with my primary care provider. Then I asked you about the meningioma. My freaking brain tumor. You were surprised! Taken-aback, even. Then quickly explained how small it was, that you didn’t have the report in front of you, so you couldn’t tell me exactly where it was, and that you weren’t worried about it. That I’d need at least two follow-up CT’s a year to “keep track of its progress,” but it’s “NOTHING!” Defunct-detached-physician-say-what, now?
It is because of your behavior that I thought, maybe if you knew more about me as a whole, not just this snapshot image of pathetic-me, in a gown with diarrhea and a fever, that maybe you would slow down. Take a damn beat. Recognize the gravity of words, especially coming from a trained professional held in such high-esteem, as yourself.
I was released from the hospital on the precipice of a long, 4th of July weekend, so my follow-up won’t be for a hot minute or two, to say the least. But as I wait, doctor, it’s really hard for me to reconcile the terms “NOTHING,” and “brain tumor”. You don’t know how long it’s been there, whether it’s already grown, let alone WHERE it is and what it could be doing to me right now, but, hey, at least my pooping is under control. And with even the minimum amount of information available to you at the time we talk, you tell me that this thing does require expensive biannual imaging, just to be “sure”.
I’m not pissed about your inability to predict my future, doctor, don’t be mistaken, but you basically just tried to minimize to me the fact that there is a tumor pressing upon my brain. I could be wrong, but I don’t think that anyone EVER wants to hear that it’s just a “little brain tumor”, or anything even remotely similar.
I get that you’re a hospitalist, we’ll likely never cross paths again, and that you probably saw fifteen people before me and will see another twenty after. But I was the chick there, in the middle, who you told “just had a small brain tumor,” and not to worry. Dick move, sir. Dick move.