Sunday, February 13, 2011

CANCER SCARE: In the snow

Getting to the hospital proves dicey and difficult
Despite receiving several requests, I hadn't planned to address Columbia's snowbound paralysis.  Then my wife called me from the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center, fearful over a growing, post-lumpectomy lump in her breast.

The nurse checked it during her routine examination, which has regularly preceded chemotherapy since she was first diagnosed in November 2009.   The tumor -- an aggressive bastard that thankfully hasn't made a reappearance -- vanished before surgery, chemotherapeutic killing agents doing their righteous deeds.  I've written about it twice, thanking God, Ellis Fischel, our doctors, nurses, healthcare providers, family and friends, and a health insurance policy our government better not touch. 

This week, though, it looked like our old enemy was back, and my wife was on the phone urging me to join her for what might prove a time difficult enough to match this matchless chill. 

My big blue truck, however, was stuck in the snow, where it has been for over a week, on a public street, forced further under by a lick-and-a-promise snow plowing job that carved a thin dirty brown line wide enough to admit three quarters of a car.  Try as I might, wheels spinning, snow shovels flying, and ice melt falling all around, I couldn't move old blue, and my wife was alone at one of those critical times.

I haven't missed any of those times, and I wasn't going to miss this one.  The cavalry rescued me in a giant 4-wheeler, and dodging ice slicks, snow piles and backed up traffic threading down two-lane streets reduced to one lane by the lingering snow, my friend Amir got me to the hospital just moments before my wife's surgeon appeared.  
Our peace of mind now lay in the same trusted hands that removed the tumor, leaving nearly flawless medical artwork behind.   We paced the floor and she clutched my hand.  "It's really gotten big," she said. "Just in the last few days."  She noticed the change after her nurse asked.  It sounded like the tumor was back. 
He wasn't too worried, her surgeon explained.  Looks like a seroma, a harmless fluid filled sac.  But it was sure large, and definitely unwelcome where her breast tumor used to be.  With a medical student watching quietly and my wife gripping both of our hands -- med student and me -- trembling almost to the point of shaking, her surgeon scanned her breast with an ultra-sound wand.  "See," he said.  "Clear."  
And clear is good.

He took a large needle and carefully aspirated the sac, pulling out mil after mil of clear yellow liquid.  It was the kind of liquid we had wanted to see first time around, and it meant that she was going to be fine.  This, my friends, is scary, scary stuff.  The other shoe is poised in the air for the rest of our lives, ready to drop any time.  But my wife's surgeon is a calm man with a boyish demeanor that takes the edge off.  And today, the shoe stayed put.    
"I'm not sure if you take story suggestions, but would you write something about the civic responsibility of cleaning one's sidewalks?   It seems a lot of people in residential areas feel that they don't have to clean their sidewalks.   It's especially annoying when they get their driveways plowed, but ignore their sidewalks."
That was a note from Lance, who has joined a loud chorus of other protestations over a hardy midwestern city paralyzed by a one day snow.  "The city does have an ordinance about cleaning sidewalks, however it seems to never be enforced."

Lance has a good point, though I tend to think the ordinance isn't practical.  Regardless, there is an undeniable logic in the idea that Columbia's snow-coping abilities are lacking.  Everything closed for a week; piles of snow shutting down life. 
But life reminds why I hadn't noticed.  After cancer, paralysis by snow seems like a skate in the park (once you get there, of course, over the white-piled sidewalks).   

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