Today my oncologist made me promise to come tell her everything that’s bothering her, no matter how small. I am to walk in to her clinic without an appointment or email her directly. No more trying to solve things on my own.
It was a difficult thing for me to do. I’ve spent almost 30 years as an engineer. My job was to solve problems. As I progressed up the management ladder, it became my job to turn other people into problem solvers.
“Don’t bring me problems,” I’d say. “Bring me the issues that you face and your recommendations for how to solve them. Please come to me when you can’t finish your project on schedule, but come armed with ideas for additional staff or resources or ways to bring it in on time.”
But this situation doesn’t work that way. Through this whole breast cancer thing I’ve sometimes felt like a hypochondriac whiner, with problems that seem obviously trivial, and for which I don’t have solutions. It’s too bad that most of my complaints have been actual real problems.
Me: Umm, my toenail ( then assorted other toenails and fingernails) hurt and are oozing.
Dr S: Mrs C, I can smell the infection from here. Go here to get them removed.
Me: Umm, the fingers where they removed five nails really hurt and are oozing.
ER doctor: Mrs C, we’ll be admitting you tonight.
Me: My arm is starting to swell so I think that I have lymphedema. Oh, and, umm, I have a painful lump in my armpit. That’s just an irritated lymph node, right?
Dr S: Mrs C, you have a new tumor. Your cancer has spread.
Me: Umm, my arm has really swollen up and is bruising badly. I guess that I should be seen in the weekend clinic.
Clinic doc: Did they tell you the ultrasound results? You have deep vein thrombosis.
Hmmmm. Every single thing that I thought was a whiny trivial complaint turned out to be a nasty complication. I guess that in this mileau, I’m not such a hot shot problem solver.
I told Dr S that I felt like I was bothering her. She said that she would rather wade through every little thing than to miss anything, hence my promise to bug her with everything. It helps that we are both very comfortable with email. It helps that she considers me to be medically very, very savvy, and brings me in on calls when she’s consulting with other doctors. She respects my deep and abiding need for A Plan, and is always ready to articulate one along with reasons for her decisions. I can agree with her cost/benefit analyses, and although I really don’t want to give myself 2 shots in my stomach every day for the next month, staying on fast acting blood thinners makes a whole lot of sense.
Change is hard on me, but having a great doctor to work with makes it easier. I’m going to try really, really hard.
And as an update, I got a new PICC line today in my neck and had my second chemo. Only Gemzar today, so a short appointment, but much later in the day than usual for me. It’s almost 2 am here, and I’m wide awake from the steroids and have waves of nausea passing through. Oh joy.