"In this sticky web that we're all in, behaving decently is no small task." -- Novelist Stacey D'Erasmo

Sunday, February 16, 2014

My Chest Hurts

     It started at the beginning of November with a sore throat and a little cough. B had been suffering from a cold, so I didn't worry about it . . . although what she had seemed different. And it just didn't feel like a cold. My nose wasn't stuffed up; my eyes weren't puffy; I wasn't sneezing.

     Maybe I was suffering from an allergy. I sometimes get a little irritation in the spring and fall. Anyway, I was scheduled for my annual checkup, so if it persisted I figured I'd just mention it to my doctor.

     In mid-November I got a call from my medical group. My primary care physician had gone on some kind of leave, and I was told to schedule my physical with another doctor. So I went to the website and found one who was taking new patients. He was younger than my old doctor; he had good credentials; and he was located in the medical office closer to my house.

     I showed up at the doctor's office, and since I was a new patient he asked about my history. I have a pretty long-lived family. My mother lived to age 89; my dad to 91. My aunts and uncles lived into their 80s and beyond.

     We have strong hearts in my family. But we do have a history of cancer. My mother had breast cancer, twice, and eventually died of pancreatic cancer. My dad finally fell to lung cancer. One sister has had breast cancer; and I had an older brother who died of Hodgkin's lymphoma back in 1965.

     So you can see what I worry about.

     The nurse told me my blood pressure was perfect. The doctor listened to my lungs, tapped my knees, looked in my ears. Everything checked out. He ordered blood tests, and later that day his nurse called to tell me everything was normal.

     I told the doctor about my throat, and he looked into my mouth. He said I could have post-nasal drip, or possibly acid reflux. He suggested some over-the-counter remedies, and then if my issue with the throat didn't go away, he said I should come back and see him.

     I went home, happy with my checkup results. But my throat did not get better. It seemed like there was something stuck in there, and coughing just wouldn't clear it out. Then about ten days later, my throat got sore, and the discomfort in my chest was worse. I went back to the doctor.

     He inspected my throat again and confirmed that I had post-nasal drip. "I can see it in the back of your throat," he told me. He also said I was likely suffering from an infection, so he prescribed an antibiotic. "This should take care of it," he said. But again, he told me, if it didn't get better I should come back to see him once again. "I'll order an X-ray, just to make sure," he said.

     "You mean, now?" I asked.

     "I'll order it now," he explained. "But don't do it now. If you're not better after the antibiotic, we'll do the X-ray then. Just call the radiology department, make an appointment, and after they do the X-ray, come back and see me. But really, I don't think you'll have to do that. It should clear up."

     I went directly from the doctor's office to the pharmacy and bought the antibiotic, along with a cough medicine he prescribed. I went home and took the antibiotic, and used the cough medicine at night.

     After a few days, my throat felt better; the cough went away -- or, mostly went away. I kept taking the antibiotic, but I stopped using the cough medicine because it made me anxious and disturbed my sleep.

     Ten days went by. I finished the antibiotic. I felt better. Not all better; but much better. But then a few days later the discomfort in my chest returned. It's hard to describe how it felt. It wasn't really painful; but maybe a little pressure; a little burning sensation. It was right in the middle of my chest; but sometimes moved around to one side or the other.

     A few more days went by. The "feeling" was still there, but it wasn't really painful. Was I being a hypochondriac? But it wouldn't go away, and I kept thinking:  by this time I'd had the problem for almost two months.

     I made the decision to go back to the doctor the night B and I were in church, listening to a Christmas concert. Instead of enjoying the music, I was sitting there worrying about my chest, my throat, my lungs. What the heck was wrong with me?

     So the next day I called the doctor's office. The nurse agreed I should get the X-ray, and then come see the doctor again. I called the radiology department, and they scheduled me in around the New Year holiday.

     A couple of days later I arrived at the lab at 8:45 a.m. The place wasn't crowded and a technician ushered me right in. I stood up against the plate. The technician took one picture. I turned to my side. She took another picture. I was done. The whole process took less than five minutes.

     I left the medical lab and drove up to my doctor's office. The waiting room was crowded. I checked in, took a seat. The nurse called me into the examination room and took my blood pressure. It was a little higher this time. But she wasn't alarmed. She told me to wait for the doctor.

     Five minutes went by; ten minutes. I paced the little room. What was keeping him? The office was busy. But . . . is he stalling because he has bad news for me?

     The door finally opened. The doctor came into the room, shook my hand, and asked my how I was doing.

     "Well, you tell me," I said.

     He looked at me. "The X-ray did show a little spot," he said. "But don't get too worried. The report does not indicate that it's suspicious. It could be a blood vessel, or a cyst. It could even be an error."

     I sat down on the examining table and looked at him. "Alright," I replied, taking in a big breath, then slowly letting it out. "But . . . it could be cancer?"

     "I can't rule it out," he admitted. "But I'm not too worried. The report did not use the term suspicious, so that's not where they think this is going."

     "Okay," I said. "So what's next."

     "We take a CT scan. That will tell us what's really going on."

                                              -- To be continued --


DJan said...

You are not a hypochondriac, Tom, but someone willing to go the extra mile to find out what's going on. We all know when something is amiss, and I applaud you for following through. I hope it's nothing, but you know in your own mind that it's something. Hopefully nothing serious, though. Fingers crossed to hear what the CT scan shows.

Douglas said...

Your story reminds me of my own... starting in 1997 and through 1998. I hope yours turns out better. Keep after the doctor, trust me on that. If they make a mistake, they might lose a bit of income but it is your life that hangs in the balance.

Olga said...

What a tease. Geez.

Hauola said...

In reading your story it reminded me how medicine has a systematic findings process. Even with modern screenings, and space age medical research and equipment, it is not possible for a patient to show up at an appointment and leave with the bottom line answer or diagnosis the very same day. Your persistence and patience are to be applauded Tom. Thoughts are with you as you await the outcome of the CT scan.

Tabor said...

It is good that you are persistent and determined for the truth. I am so hoping all this is left over allergic reaction from your cold. Or a cyst. I and many of us have been through this trip and I wish you well.

Linda Myers said...

The waiting is the worst, I think. Good for you for being persistent.

Meryl Baer said...

Thinking only positive thoughts and pulling for you. Smart to persist and investigate until you know exactly what's happening.

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

Oh, I hope it turns out to be entirely benign! I'm glad you were persistent in seeking medical help and hope that it all turns out well for you. I'll think good thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Good luck. I am hoping Thursday when I see the oral surgeon I find out what's going on in my jaw. Dianne

Friko said...

Acid reflux? Your symptoms sound like a pain in the oesophagus.

Best of luck.

Rita said...

Yikes. Let us know the results.


Anonymous said...

This lag in posting the results is passive aggressive; really not fair to your readers. BOO

Beverley Baird said...

Glad you were persistent. But it seems sometimes doctors don't listen well to us older folk.
All the best.

June said...

Well, GOOD FOR YOU for following up and not just trying to ignore it all!
You are going to feel SO GOOD when you find out it's nothing serious!