My own pulmonologist, and my own demon monk
We cornered the hallways in Georgetown Hospital’s pulmonary department, me with an oxygen monitor attached to my finger and him, a medical Fellow, reviewing the readings as we went. Just walk at your normal pace, he told me; I eyeballed him suspiciously, walking ever so carefully in a straight line. If they wanted to check me for public drunkenness, then they should have the courtesy to just say so. Sure, I’d gotten a little rowdy in the chemo wards in the past, but those days were behind me. That business about dancing with an elderly woman’s IV line was mostly just a media myth.
Still, we walked.
When we returned to Dr. Reichner’s office, the Fellow informed her that I had passed the sobriety test. Not in those exact words, of course, but I think we were all speaking the same language. Unsatisfied, she sent me to get a “pulmonary function test.” (This should be read with air quotes.) I think I know what a souped-up breathalyzer looks like. This one was a glass cage, looking a little like a claustrophobic Harry Houdini water cage where he’s dropped in, hands cuffed and barely escapes with his life.
I was asked to breathe as hard as I could into a mouthpiece several times. Then the cage was closed, air pressure modified, and more heavy breathing. It was like being in the backseat of a ’57 Chevy. Unfortunately, I don’t think I passed this one. I was unable to breathe outward without coughing and catching my breath. We kept trying and I kept coughing. When it was over, the poor nurse had to give me some albuterol, and I wheezed my way back into Dr. Reichner’s office.
Dr. Reichner, my pulmonologist — uh yes, I have my own pulmonologist now. If Dena can have her own bartender, I think I can have my own lung doctor. Dr. Reichner, like all of the doctors we’ve worked with so far at Georgetown, is sharp as well as compassionate. She spoke encouragingly but I could tell she wasn’t entirely happy with my test results.
Have you ever had a bronchosocopy before, she asked? I don’t know. Does it involve drinking a jug of liquid laxatives and having tubes inserted in uncomfortable places? Laxatives no, tubes yes. Only these tubes would be run down my throat. Along with a camera and some medical tools to burn stuff. What kind of stuff? Polypy stuff.
So. I’ve got an “intraluminal ploypid lesion in my bronchus intermedius.” I know, right? Suffice it to say that I’ve got a growth inside my right bronchus (where the trachea splits into airways into the right and left lungs). Possibly a cancerous growth, though there’s a remote chance it could be a latin-spouting monk stuck in there.
As a result, on Tuesday, I go in for a minor surgical procedure in which they are going to either have a stern conversation with this monk or remove the lesion by burning it out. Which means I’ll suspend the radiation treatments for a day or so. It’s not a complicated procedure. The only expected side effects are a sore throat and coughing up a little blood for a couple of days.
I welcome it. It’s been a rough couple of weeks. The radiation treatments have been making me tired, and I think the side effects of the Inlyta are accumulating and causing cycles of nausea and some severe stomach pains. The worst, however, has been the shortness of breath and the incessant coughing. I’m now one of those people that, if you ask if I have shortness of breath walking up stairs, would have to say yes. Which is infuriating. I’m not out of shape, overweight or eighty years old. And, as all the testing in pulmonary shows, I’m not a drunk. So what gives?
The cough and respiratory problems are partly a result of tumor compression narrowing my pulmonary arteries, but also, we hope, the lesion in my airway. Dr. Reichner was clear that we can’t know for sure and therefore can’t know that the procedure will produce the desired effect — i.e., better breathing. Still, we can hope. I have full confidence in Dr. Reichner and Dr. Anderson, who will be performing the procedure. Actually, I’m pretty certain this will help. I can feel this thing catching in my airway at times; to what degree its removal will improve my breathing I can’t say but I am sure it will help.
And if it’s not the lesion, I’m still confident that the doctors will be able to cast out the monk. After all, Georgetown is a Jesuit hospital (and home to the infamous stairs from the Exorcist). Surely they can find a home for this chatty little demon monk pretender. Like, say, a Trappist monastery.