154. A patient must be patient

 I need a bit of revision on this crucial How To Be Patient course. It comes in three modules:

  1. A patient must wait patiently in waiting rooms.
  2. A patient must wait patiently for test results and doctors' verdicts.
  3. A patient must wait patiently to get better.

Let's go through them in turn.

1. Waiting rooms

This, I am delighted to discover, is an outdated module. I can only think it's thanks to Covid, although I'm not sure quite how that has made it consistently possible to see me within five minutes of the appointed time, whereas before I'd have to settle in with my knitting. So, moving swiftly along to module 2.

2. Test results

I really thought I'd got better at this. One day last month, the hospital sent me five letters simultaneously (clearly, Covid hasn't quite managed to sort out a way to reduce spending on postage). Each contained instructions about a different trip to hospital. (There were a couple of other trips too, including a Covid test, but for those I was summoned by phone).

22 March: check that I'm fit for surgery
31 March: get breast injected with something radioactive
1 April: get operated
8 April: get wound inspected
13 April: see the surgeon in the Breast Clinic.

That last one... that's the one I was waiting for. That's when I was going to be told whether anything dodgy has shown up under the microscope. That's when I'd find out whether it's onwards and upwards from henceforth, or whether it's back under the knife, the radiotherapy machine, perhaps even (gulp) the chemotherapy lounge.

I hadn't realised quite how much my life has been on hold until that pivotal verdict. I thought I was fairly relaxed about it all, perhaps more or less convinced that it'll be the Onwards & Upwards possibility. But you never know until you know.

I much prefer to attend tedious appointments (injections, tests, operations) on my own, but for anything involving news & information, Husband comes along as it's not just news for me, it's news for both of us. So, we duly turned up for my 11.50am slot and were called in by a junior doctor at 11.51 (see? No need for module 1). When she took us past the Chief's office to a room all by herself, I knew it was Good News - in the same way I knew it was Bad News when on previous occasions the breast care nurse called us in and accompanied us to the surgeon's office, as such reinforcements are usually needed for bad news situations.

What I hadn't counted on was that it was simply No News. The lab results hadn't come back yet. Nothing more to say. The Chief will see you next week instead, or actually, let's make that a phone call.

It was a lovely doctor, but she didn't know the answer to any of our questions (to her credit, she didn't make up any answers either, but wrote them down with a promise to pass it on to the Chief). Questions like:

How does hormone treatment work? Is the job of those pills to prevent the cancer coming back in your breast - in which case, is there any point in taking them, now that I have zero breasts? Or is it their job to prevent any cancer cells with travel plans? Also: Now that I've got two breast cancers under my belt, would it be prudent to have genetic testing? Two daughters, you see. And what is the best way to cope with all that spare fluid sloshing around behind my new scar?

It was a case of all dressed up with nowhere to go. I barely had the energy to sit upright on the bus home. I collapsed for the rest of the day, not just with the physical effort, but also (I think) with the distress of having to wait yet another week for those possibly life-changing results. Tips on how to cope with that kind of waiting, anyone?

3. Getting better

It's not easy for us, women of the multitasking generation, to go with the flow and have NOTHING on the must-do list. Now that I'm two weeks post-surgery, I realise that Do Nothing was in fact on my to-do list, but that was last week's list. For this week, and the weeks after that, there were things like Go for longer walks and Sew a new wardrobe and Sort out photographs and even (in week 5 perhaps) Write that paper you won't have time for once you're back at work.

You see, even at times like this, there are expectations. That's my own expectations, by the way - everyone else (including my colleagues and manager at work) instructed me to "take as much time as you need" and "don't worry about anything". They are right, of course, but will I listen??

Because here I am, worrying about my inability to do Restful Things, like sewing, or reading a book every day, or talking to friends.

At least I really do know now that it will get better. But when? That is not under a patient's control. Last time, I was properly back at work after a year but it took about three years before I was truly back to full health and energy. I don't even dare think about that now.

Here endeth lesson 3. I'm going to have to lie down after all that. I won't be back on this blog until next week, so you'll just have to be patient. Happy Easter everyone!

Note to self: Be patient...