As soon as I walked out of the office I felt a moment of panic. I needed an MRI, you can’t get an MRI unless a doctor orders one, and now I didn’t have a doctor. I could research and find a new one no problem but I knew that new patients without referrals get pushed to the back of the line when scheduling. And if I wanted a good ENT it could take weeks to get in to see someone. The women who do scheduling for these doctors could moonlight as bouncers at night clubs in the MeatPacking District. They were excellent at saying no, turning you away, telling you the office was at capacity, and putting you in the back of the line. So I turned on the bat signal and sent an email to my dynamic duo. I tried to be as descriptive as possible and hope that I sounded urgent instead of hysterically panicked in the body of the text.
In a few hours I had a response from Dr. M which read, “An MRI does not pose any increased risk, try Dr. S, he was a resident of mine and is now practicing in g-town and should be able to accommodate the expedited request for a scan. Forward them to my office when you have them. If your tumor has recurred we will need to take a more aggressive approach at resection.” I sighed with relief and then froze in fear. I did not know what the second part of the email meant but I felt the approach we had been taking thus far felt pretty aggressive. I could only imagine if we had to step it up a notch.
It turns out being a patient of Dr. M’s is like clubbing with a celebrity. You don’t have to wait in line, velvet ropes part, they already have your insurance and medical records on file when you show up, it’s great. When I walked in the door for my appointment with Dr. S I immediately knew I was in the right place. The office was small but cluttered with pictures, race bibs, and medals from triathlons that he had competed in. First of all, this made me feel better because I knew he would be more receptive to the fact that I was training right now when I wasn’t necessarily supposed to. Second, most triathletes that I have met are detail oriented, borderline OCD, success driven, competitive freaks and these attitudes also permeate much of their daily lives. There’s a reason why lots of Ironman competitors and marathon runners are doctors, lawyers, and other high powered career people. It’s because the competitive drive for success is something they cannot quiet within themselves. Looking from the medals on the wall, this guy had that same drive. This is who I wanted taking care of me while I was at home.
Something else that made me feel confident in Dr. S before I met him was a woman talking on the phone in the waiting room next to me, “I don’t know Sheila, this is my first time going to see him. I’ve heard that he’s rude and hard to work with but supposed to be one of the best. I don’t know. We’ll see.”
This made me feel better because most doctors who are considered to be in the top of their field but “rude” are not actually rude at all, they are efficient and to the point. It only comes off harsh because they are telling you something that is extremely emotional without emotion. You have a tumor. Silence. There’s a 50-50 chance of complication. Silence. You could die. Silence. These types of docs don’t offer hugs or condolences because they are unfeeling, they simply just don’t have time for all that because they are too busy saving your life.
I had been warned that Dr. M was the same way on my first visit, “Some people don’t like him because he’s cold, but if you can get past that he’s the best person to have taking care of you.” I didn’t need a surgeon who was warm and fuzzy, I needed one who could produce desired results. If I needed a hug I had the teddy bear my brother had given me at home on my bureau.
The visit went better than I could have ever expected. Dr. S had looked at my medical records already so there was no need for the lengthy conversation where you try to summarize your 200 page medical history in 5 minutes. He threaded his fiber optic camera up my nose (ENT’s have a strange obsession with their cameras) and visualized what could “quite possibly be a recurrence but I think a scan is the only way to know for sure.” He then ordered one for me and said that he would forward a copy to Dr. M as well as call me with the results once the radiologist had written his report. See? Efficient. To the point.
Then the efficient and evidently observant Dr. S called me out. “I’m surprised you’re wearing workout clothes Miss Fahs. For someone with most likely a recurrent vascular tumor who has had three surgeries in 12 weeks, a CSF leak, and is also taking high doses of beta blockers, I would think you should be avoiding intense physical exercise.”
“Oh this?” I fingered my workout top, cursed myself for trying to save time by changing into running gear before the appointment, looked up, and lied through my teeth “I’ve just been going for walks, nothing too intense.”
“Let’s see, you have on run gear, swimmer’s build, road ID, and from talking to you for the past half hour I do not get the sense that you are someone who simply enjoys walking. You are rushing to get back in shape for a race aren’t you?”
I hung my head “Maybe.”
“and how’s the training going?”
“Terrible! I can’t train the way that I want when I’m on these beta blockers. You have to help me! What do I do? It’s so unfair!”
He chuckled and gave me a look that told me he understood what I was going through. It’s funny how once you have been through it you can recognize triumph over great struggle in someone’s face. It becomes a type of sixth sense. I can’t explain why but you can just tell. It’s not one thing that a person says or does it’s just their demeanor. Usually you can spot it in the first five minutes of talking to them. In that person’s eyes you can see fatigue from the burden that they have had to carry and sadness at the loss of the life that they had once known. There is grim determination and an iron will which forces them to carry on, a spark of positivity which allows them to laugh in the face of all that this life has placed on them, and most importantly there is a glowing HOPE that tomorrow will be better, that they will be stronger, and that there will be enough courage to endure. It is a painfully beautiful thing to behold and not something that I could understand until experiencing the events of this past year myself. These people may not have trudged through the same battles, but you can tell with certainty that they have known enough uphill struggle to understand your pain.
I would find out later that a few years ago during the peak of a training season Dr. S had been in a very bad bike wreck, had to lay on the side of the country road where he had been hit for quite some time and then airlifted out to a hospital. So I believed him when he said, “Life’s unfair Miss Fahs. We have to play the cards we’re dealt but that doesn’t mean you can’t train. You simply need to go about it a different way. Now is the time for you to work on strength, flexibility, and technique. Get back to basics. Focus on the things you CAN do not the things you can’t and when you return to aerobic training you’ll be stronger than when you had to stop a few months ago.”
Huh. I had never thought of it that way…
“I’ll warn you, you may need to let go of this race. It may not be in the cards this year…but I’ll let you in on a little secret.”
“What? What’s that?” I was all ears to hear whatever snippet of wisdom he could give me. The magical answer that would get me back on the road.
“Whatever race it is, it will more than likely be held again next year.”
“H.O.P.E. Hold On Pain Ends”