Of CT Scans and Kings....

February 24, 2003 AD - December 10, 2003 AD: Year one of my misadventures in oncology.
January 20, 2004 AD - December 12, 2004 AD: Year two of being fried, refried, rotisseried, and jabbed to make sure I was cooked all the way through.
March 9, 2005 AD - December 13, 2005 AD: Year three. Somewhat less of the zappy zappy, about the same amount of the pokey pokey.
February 13, 2006 AD: Yes, I know this tale of between-scans bloodwork was only posted May 14th. Work with me here. (If you do, it'll put you one step above this month's guest typey-person.)
April 11, 2006 AD: A good - if uncomfortably hot - CT scan followed by a lengthy medical interrogation by an Eastern European. I thought the Cold War was over!
September 12, 2006 AD: My supposedly last appointment in Halifax becomes an adventure in watching the status quo get annihilated. The x-ray procedures were different, the intern was very different and finally the next appointment wasn't set for the right date.
March 28, 2007 AD: My definitely probably last appointment in Halifax is one long mass of goodbyes and coincidences. Hard to write, hard to edit, hopefully good to read. Last at Halifax or not, there's only one more left after this.
January 1, 2008 AD: The start of the year and the end of the line, or at least as close as a person ever gets. Five weird and sorta-wonderful years since my diagnosis. While I still have a few loose threads for the new year, and I'll be looking at yearly examinations and regular self-examinations for the rest of my life, this is the last official run-through in my five-year surveillance period.
December 5, 2008 AD: Still here (both in the 'alive' sense and the 'Edmonton' sense), and still losing blood to people with needles. But now they want more. Fortunately, not with needles.
October 16, 2009 AD & December 11th, 2009 AD: An abnormal normal year, in that I had things injected and scanned, but not my regular bits. Some flu shot and knee work follows.
October 29, 2010 AD: Why do people hate me? I'm so cute!
December 2, 2011 AD: Very windy, very uneventful, very loud.
October 26, 2012 AD: I thought I was the broken thing in this room.
December 7, 2012 AD: My second ultrasound. I'm starting to get really, really, tired of attractive young women feeling me up and sticky goo in my underpants.

Ah, bloodwork at St. Martha's in the wonderful winter. I'm only posting this, what, two or three months late? A mild winter, snow-wise, but the wind was doing its best to make sure it we didn't forget it was still winter. Scary moments included crossing the Canso causeway, with winds kicking up waves so large that the spray covered the car, turning the windshield into a blur of salt water.

The upshot of going out in poor weather was that no one was in the hospital. Went through nice and quick.

Unsurprisingly, the typer-person messed up. While I always double-check the blood vial labels they have me give to the phlebotomist, the presence of three labels (instead of the normal two) spurred me into checking before I'd even got back to the waiting area. One was labelled "HCG Urine". Uh, no, wrong bodily fluid, thanks.

I turned around and returned to the desk. I explained things, and it took a bit of insisting that there was something wrong before she did something about it. Had she not got the point, I'd have brought up fact that she had ignored the Maternal Studies thing on her screen, when I'm pretty obviously not the type to be pregnant.

She consulted the other typey person, just back from wherever (thankfully). The words "qualitative" vs. "quantitative" were tossed back and forth, but in the end it came down to her punching HCG instead of BHCG into the machine. She tore up the urine one, printed off a new label, bringing my count back up to three. Still a bit suspicious, I looked them over again on my way back to the waiting area (again).

The AFP test was duplicated. (The new BHCG one was "BHCG/AFP", while the one formerly attached to the urine test label was just AFP.) But I was called in right away, so I just pointed it out to the phlebotomist, and she tore up the AFP one. I presume they can use the one blood sample for both tests.

The good thing being that this whole mess encouraged them to give me the paperwork back (slightly annotated), saving me the trouble of having to ask for it, as my oncologist told me to way back when.

The results? Nothing wrong. We'll be finding out about that suspicious lymph node soon enough, at my next CT scan.

Ah, what a nice spring day for a CT scan. Not a nice day to remember things, evidenced by the fact that I forgot to shave my arm. Also not a day for Gastrografin, as this month's doses almost made me vomit. I began to seriously hope that this beginning wouldn't set the tone for the trip.

Having a half hour before my scan, I decided to take the elevator to the eleventh floor and see if I could get my bloodwork done. After stops at floors 3, 4, 5, 7, 9 and 10, I swore to myself that next time I had to go to the 11th floor just as people were coming in for work, I'd take the stairs. In the end, it was a waste of time anyway, as there was a person ahead of me and the phlebotomist going on coffee break, so I went back down. (Taking the elevator again, which was a much faster trip.)

Colorful Dress Lady again recognized me: "Leonard! You're not supposed to be here!" (Looks at paper.) "Yes you are!"

We chatted for a while about the French language and our shared inability to speak it. Colorful Dress Lady wishes she were bilingual - "Oh, well, maybe my next life." Me, I'm pretty much okay with my Grade 9 level French (Parisian dialect, I think) and Quebecois profanity.

At least the third dose of Gastrografin went down easier. A sign of promise! The guy who led me to the pre-scan IV-setup nook was new (to me, at least), and the length of time he spent looking for a ripe vein didn't lend him any aura of experience. I started lapsing into my "Brace yourself, he's incompetent!" frame of mind, which includes tensing up and teeth gritting. He noticed and asked if I was prone to passing out when jabbed. I said no, and quietly made note that if I did, he'd better not be there when I wake up.

He did well, though, much better than I expected. He was even bright enough to put the last piece of tape on my watch instead of my arm. I thanked him.

The scan was generally uneventful, but the dye went into my arm sloooooooooooooooooooowly. So I got the wonderful extended-play DVD version of the flaming bowel of death feeling. It's hard to explain if you've never felt it, but after about 30 seconds, the warm feeling starts to gain... texture. The general feeling of warmth is augmented by stronger lines of heat radiating outward from the center of the warm sensation. Soon after, small trails of heat begin to wend their way along the skin. It would have been a very cool experience, if not for the fact that the odd growing-hot feeling creeping along the crack of my ass made it feel infinitely more like I had sprung a leak from a part of my body I hope never leaks.

The post-scan tape-pull (like a tractor pull, only with less hydrocarbons) was agony, but at least the technician was bright enough to pull all three pieces of it at once! He might've been a newbie, but he was good at what he did. Book by its cover.

I was rather more of a bleeder this time, as I had to sit with my hand on the gauze for 5 minutes before being free to get dressed and make a break for it.

It was time to go up to the 11th floor again. True to my word, I took a glimpse at the packed elevator nexus (Rush hour, bah - why couldn't it be rush minute?) and made for the stairs. Feeling nine degrees of manly, I ran up the first 5.

Feeling somewhat less manly, I walked up the next 2.

Feeling not very manly at all, I pulled myself up the last 2.

So now she's on coffee break. Half an hour after she was apparently going to go. Fate's got it in for me this month.

Downstairs (elevator this time), I went to the clinic blood collection. While waiting, the ceiling-mount speaker flared to life: "Zoobza zoo zoo zoo six." None of the six or so waiting people could figure it out, beyond perhaps "Booth six." Collectively, we decided just to pretend it didn't happen. No one was screaming and running from a fire, bomb, suspicious vial of powder, or any of the other things one might run from in a hospital, so we figured it probably wasn't that important an announcement.

Bloodwork was fairly fast - not a bleeder this time. Oh, and both the CT tech and phlebotomist commented on my impending birthday. Yay! My inevitable death, a nightmare-filled circus of despair and terror, grows closer!

And, one more time. Alone and slightly chilly, I arrived for my appointment about half an hour early. I was surprised to find myself called in before even getting to the waiting room. I was weighed (They finally put up a hook next to the scale for a person's heavy outer jacket!) and found to be down substantially - eating only when I want to rather then whenever society deems it necessary is really helping. Now to move on to the trick of somehow not eating anything, and I'll have found inner peace.

Good news moves much faster than bad in a cancer clinic, mostly because no one wants to give the bad. So it wasn't long before I heard that the lymph node they were worried about hasn't done anything. It's still the same. Bigger than it was a year ago, but no larger than it was 4 months ago.

I was informed that my doctor was in a meeting (and had been for at least an hour more than expected) and would be seeing me "soon". Hopefully. In the meantime, another doctor would come in and see me. In an effort to have more time to see the expanding roster of patients*, the oncologists are leaving some of the gruntwork of examining patients to GPs. You'll recall that one of the many trainee doctors I've seen by now was a nephrologist retraining for just that.

(* Recent newspaper headline: "Cancer killing seven of us [Nova Scotians] a day".**)

(** Recent tourism ad: Nova Scotia is the place to live if you want to make it past 100.)

Well, this doctor wasn't that nephrologist, though she was strongly reminiscient. A woman of similar age and height, the most telling difference was her incredibly strong accent and occasionally shaky grasp on the language. Likely Russian, but possibly from another Eastern European country.

She was very thorough, I do admit, if perhaps a bit too intent on getting me into a support group. Eventually I had to lie about my family and exaggerate the number of relatives with whom I regularly communicate just to get her off my back. This is the second time in about three weeks that someone's pried into my past and taken the response "I keep my own company very well." as a desperate cry for help. I do so dislike attracting people looking for more crosses to bear and happy to grab at mine. They're not that heavy, I've got 'em, thanks. (Her diagnosis that I'm a "very private person" was a bit amusing, considering that in the back of my mind I was processing the conversation for use on a website.)

However, as I said, she was thorough. I got a mostly-complete physical and a chance to relate my entire medical history. Every major blemish from my torso on up was stared at and questioned. I did notice an odd trait the doctor had - before asking a question she perceived as embarrasing or otherwise difficult to answer, she would state "I am going to ask a question." and pause before asking it. Such questions ranged from (in my opinion) fairly innocuous questions about how many relatives I've lost to cancer to discussions of my sex life (or lack thereof, as would be a more accurate description).

Despite her accent, I had very little trouble understanding her until she asked about "ahoo". Hmmm? She repeated it. "Ahoho."

This didn't bode well. "I'm sorry, but I'm completely lost."

So she tried to spell it. "E-T-O-H..."

The only thing that came to mind was the Japanese company C. Itoh, but that hardly seemed relevant.

So she wrote it down. Took her two tries even then, but finally a coherent word emerged. "Alcohol."

Alcohol! "Oh, no, I don't drink."

"Not even wine?" She paused. "Oh, if I'd said 'wine' you would have understood me!"

"Yes I would have, and no, not even wine." Before she could ask I told her I didn't take any illegal drugs, either. Or legal drugs.

I was then subjected to the 'physical' portion of my surprise physical. I was:
Poked, including my chest; the doctor wanted to know if I was also checking my chest for lumps, in the style of a female breast self-exam. (Answer: No, but now that you've mentioned it....)
Had lights shone on me.
Had my arms moved in various ways (not entirely unlike a reverse slow-motion Macarena) after I mentioned a pain I thought was in one of my chest muscles.

After that portion of Inquisition Lite was over, it was time for the event which has struck fear into the hearts of even dedicated medical doctors and other staunch protectors of the body human: The dreaded check of my testicle.

I was treated to a slightly broken English version of the lengthy disclaimer (the language didn't help the length) I've heard countless times before. Since she'd already asked for details about my recent sex partners, I don't see why seeing the actual bits would be an issue, but whatever. Professional detachment seems to be the sort of thing it takes time to cultivate, leaving me in a more capable place than most of the interns and other trainees I've met.

During the examination, the doctor said "You can look the other direction." and pointed at the wall. Given her nervousness, I took this as more of a request than a suggestion and examined the slightly interesting oxygen and air valves. (Generally I look at the ceiling. I mean, I'm lying down on my back anyway, don't see why I should crane my neck when I'm perfectly comfortable just lying there. If I'm tired I close my eyes and spend time convincing myself not to fall asleep.)

After this, she excused herself to go get my oncologist, whenever she should happen to appear. I started reading a short story in a book I'd brought - the story's only about 10 pages - and finished about a minute before she showed up. It was brief meeting, with as much small talk (about what I'm doing to remedy my lack of employment) as medical talk. (No wonder, the eight(ish) exam rooms must have been packed with her patients.)

So, next appointment for September (she's taking a well-deserved vacation in August), with an x-ray and other other usual hijinks. No interim bloodwork this time (which I'm heartbroken about, really, my wild dancing is no indicator of my mood), so it looks like I'll have a blessed summer free of all the needle pricks not directly related to my inability to sew.

See you on the other side of the solstice!

September 14, 2006 AD: Doing something for the last time is one of the stranger experiences a person can have. It's a mix of the familiar and the unfamiliar, nostalgia's warm glow and a slight spine-chill from fear of the uncertain future.

I remember sitting on a school bus, almost ten years ago, watching my high school appear from behind a nest of buildings, rises, and turns. It was a cool and breezy June day, and as that boxy gray and brown edifice loomed, I realized that this was the last time I'd ever sit on a bus and go to school. Post-secondary education beckoned, but that would be very different than this odd ritual I'd gone through for thirteen years.

Doing something for what is probably the last time is little better. One tries to prepare for both a change and a lack of change, and likely fails at preparing for either.

It was with these thoughts in my head that I walked into the Dickson building on the 13th. You see, there's a chance - two days ago I would have said "very good chance", but the more it seems events should be settling down, the faster things change - I'll be moving soon. Possibly to Edmonton, but wherever it is it will be out of province and away from all my doctors.

Still, chaos of an uncertain future or no, I had a job to do.

I went into the blood collection area and, before I could even reach booth 6 and drop my paper off, someone appeared and offered to take my paper. Unfortunately, that meant I didn't have it ready, and, grabbing at the first one I found in my Envelope of Unending Forms, I didn't hand over the right one. It was a bloodwork form, yes, with the same tests, but with a note to make a copy and return the original to the patient. Seemed like a waste, given that I had two and I might never need one again.

The wait was short, and the technician skilled. The jab was no worse than those I invariably get while sewing.

My x-ray was somewhat more interesting. I registered, as normal, but wasn't told to go down the Long Hall. I had to go to a small waiting area (for another test, some kind of bone scan) just across the Long Hall, rather than down it. I was told to wait for someone who was inadequately described. The reason for this change in protocol was only slightly clearer: "renovations to the x-ray area".

I sat down, grabbed a copy of InStyle, and started reading. So engrossed was I in it (Hey, it was a Sela Ward interview and I'd read a shopping list if it included a cute picture of her.) that when someone matching Ms. Inadequately Described appeared, I didn't even notice. Thankfully, someone else was also looking for her, and snapped me back to reality. Inadequately Described took my paperwork and told me to go wait halfway down the Long Hall.

I spent the next half hour in my t-shirt and jeans sitting in one of four chairs ("four too few chairs", judging by the crowd that soon assembled) in the Long Hall, whose slight draftiness became more apparent as time went on. If you'll recall, about halfway up the Hall's length is a door directly to the x-ray room, which leads to the closet-sized niche where the tech stands. It seemed this was currently the only access to the x-ray room.

One advantage of being in the hall was that it made it easy to eavesdrop on passers-by. One disadvantage was that most of these conversations were either utterly banal or esoterically technical, or both. But I did glean that the renovations were less about prettying the place up and more about moving a new MRI machine in. Since the halls were never made for a machine that big, most of the moving requires one to knock down a series of walls, move the machine, then painstakingly rebuild the walls. Preferably without taking out anything load-bearing.

I also learned that watching a group of three guys who average six-foot-four walk by makes me feel inadequate. When I was a child, my GP guestimated that I'd end up six-foot-two. It had a profound affect on me - Goodness, I was going to be TALL! - and when I stalled at five-eleven-and-a-half (six in my shoes, as I'm quick to point out) I felt for years that I'd somehow failed to fulfil to my destiny.

But I'm digressing. Now to digress on something else entirely: My waiting-room fare (McLeans) reminded me of one of the things I'll leave behind by moving. It noted in passing that Canada doesn't get HBO. This shocked me, as I'd been watching C-Band satellite stations - including HBO - for so long that I'd forgotten that some channels are supposed to be exclusively American. Shame you can't strap a dish with a 10+ foot diameter to your back while travelling. (Heavens, I'll miss Adult Swim.)

The x-ray technician on duty was competent, though her voice - which was loud enough to carry well into the hall - had an odd quality to it. It sounded almost condescending, but without negative intent. It's as if she just spoke in a tone similar to condescension without ever realizing it.

After an extremely long wait, including a stint where the technician vanished while a rather annoyed man in hospital clothes sat around waiting for her to do something (annoyed, perhaps, because the bag of medical papers he had looked like a large purse). Presumably a doctor had to look at the x-rays before he was allowed to leave. I took the time to read a fascinating article about how some playgrounds are actually not all rounded edges and foam rubber anymore - miracle of miracles.

However, eventually I did get to travel through the little booth and into the x-ray room (that booth was not made for two people who don't know each other fairly well). The x-ray went well, though the technician was a real stickler for making things just so. Before stepping into the booth to trigger the machine, she'd not only spend a full minute getting me into place (this is about normal), but she'd take the time to smooth out the wrinkles in my shirt! Front view took two shots again, due to my lungs being long. Or, I suppose, the machine being short.

After the scan, I put my outer layers back on and left for the day.

The next morning and time for my oncologist appointment. On the way to the waiting room, I passed my oncologist's nurse in the hallway and she told me just to proceed to the scale and wait there. Wait I did, and before long she showed up again. She fiddled with the scale (one of those ones with the sliding weights you have to tap until the balance reaches the right spot) to try get it to give a number, but it was having none of that. Every tap either brought it over or under. After three tries she just shrugged and said, "Your jeans are probably heavy anyway." and took the lower estimate. (Either way, I'm up a few pounds. Thought my shirt was a little snug.)

Our conversation was pleasant but short - bloodwork looks good - mostly focused on moving. Turns out she has family out in the western half of Canada and they said what just about everyone who's gone out West has said. "You go there, you find work, you settle down, you don't want to come back."

Soon after she left, the oddest thing happened: I met the ugliest female intern you've ever seen. Broad shoulders, deep voice, excessive facial hair.... Hey, wait a second. This is a guy.

(Climbs to top of mountain.) THEY'RE MAKING MALE INTERNS NOW!

So, after about three and a half years of female oncologists and interns, my possibly-final trip is heralded by a male intern. (Final year: His ID badge had "Dr." before his name.) I'm kind of disappointed. I had a good streak going there.

Like many of his sort, he went through my entire medical history post-cancer with me. He noted that I used to be a patient of Dr. Reyno. I agreed, and pointed out that that had been the last time I'd seen a male oncological doctor or intern before now. He didn't seem to feel special. I mean, hey, I'm trying to work up a brotherhood here. Us stubbly guys gotta stick together.

He also asked me the standard things. All the fun things, like if the waterworks was working (must've picked that turn of phrase up from the nurse), or if my breasts were getting feminine or tender. (If ever I grow breasts - which, if my current male chest fat is any baseline, are going to be at least C cups - I am not waiting for my regular examination to get it dealt with. Though I might wait a day to get the fondling out of my system. I mean, hey, boobs constantly within arm's reach, that's tempting.)

Then, he asked about my AFP and HCG levels before my surgery. Though my chin was fuzzy, my memory was a bit fuzzier. "I think my AFP was normal but my HCG was up.... Does 30 sound right? Somewhere around there."

He made noncommittal but doubtful noises and kept looking for the info in my papers. When he found it I noticed that my HCG way back when was 34. (I still got it.)

After this, he did the standard battery of medical tests. Stethoscope to the back (breathe in and out through mouth), stethoscope to the front (don't breathe, breathe), tapping on various parts of my stomach that he found interesting. Unfortunately, he didn't lift his fingers like most doctors who when moving from spot to spot, dragging them along the skin. I'm far too ticklish for that sort of thing, and started to giggle. I explained why, but he didn't seem to believe me, writing it off to his cold hands. Cold they were, but I don't see how cold could make someone giggle.

And now, the moment you've all been waiting for, the testicular examination. The doctor asked me to lower my pants, in that way some of them have of asking while trying to avoid the actual phrase. He also used the expression "family jewels" at one point.

"Jewel," I pointed out. (Though I suppose it depends on what bits one considers a jewel. I wouldn't know - I'm not letting a lapidary near the hardware. Oh, and incidentally, old habits are hard to break: Even years removed, the only time I refer to my testicle in the singular is when I use the word "testicle". The assorted slang words are still used in the plural - doesn't sound right otherwise.)

He also had me stand up during the actual procedure, which is something most of the doctors I've dealt with don't bother with. The last one, as far as I can recall, was Dr. Rayson waaaaaaaaaay back when I first started getting this done. I don't think I'll go so far as to imply this is a gender issue, I just find that odd.

But, back to the present. I was standing on a footstool, evidently for more convenient access to my bits. (I've been trying to think of a way to frame that that doesn't sound rather sexual, but there's no way. What am I going to say? That if I were lying down, he wouldn't have to bend over?)

In keeping with the crude humor theme, I'd like to spend a moment pointing out one of the finer details of my then-current situation. Standing on a raised platform, in front of an examination table.

Map, with slight assition. Addition.

The examination table was in front of a window. An open window. A gentle breeze was quietly spiralling through the forest of my hirsute backside, and the parking lot bordering South Park street was getting an interesting view, should they happen to look up.

(Later, walking through that parking lot, I looked up and wondered just how visible I was. Judging by the other objects visible in the windows and their guesstimated distances from the glass, I'd suspect the answer is "somewhat", though a blinding mass of pale geekflesh wouldn't have much detail. I thought for a moment about how the dark hair on my lower body might reduce glare and improve visibility. Then I realized that I'd likely just spent more time pondering the use of ass hair for glare reduction than the rest of the human race combined.) [Map bastardized from a larger map at nshealth.ca. Whether that symbol is meant to be a crescent moon or a profile view of a buttcheek is left as an exercise for the reader.]

The doctor was, interestingly, frustrated with the whole event. He seemed annoyed that medical science had not progressed to the point where he didn't have to feel guys up.

Soon after, he left to look at the x-ray and fetch my oncologist, while I got dressed.

She cut right to the chase upon arrival. "So," she said to me, "moving out to Edmonton?"

"Maybe," I replied. "It's all up in the air right now."

The male doctor/intern leaned in to say, "Watch out for the gangs."

Now, since geeks such as myself aren't generally choice gang recruitment material, I presume he meant to watch out for large groups of young people who may wish to hurt me. Now, there's a vast deal of irony in that statement, since it implies that's a problem one would not find in Halifax (trust me, it is). Of course, my address does peg me as a country bumpkin, so perhaps I should cut him some slack.

As it often does, the conversation got away from me as it focused on me. (Or, more accurately, on my condition.) However, some part of it reminded me of something from way back in November of 2003:

To explain this, my oncologist said that "80% of recurrences occur in the first year". I'd heard that statistic before, so I didn't bother thinking much on it.

Suddenly Dr. Petrie pipes up. "What she means is that only about 20% of people have a recurrence. Of the 20% that do, 80% have it in the first year."

My oncologist frowns and looks at Dr. Petrie. "Why? What did I say?"

Dr. Petrie says "You just said that 80% of recurrences occur in the first year. You made it sound like it is going to recur."

"Oh! No! No! It only comes back in 20% of people."

Well, guess what? My oncologist did it again, making it sound like I had an 80% chance of recurrence in the first year or so. This month's intern didn't call her on it like Dr. Petrie (I wonder how she's doing?) did almost three years ago. I didn't call her on it either, since - to be perfectly honest - whether my odds of getting it were 1% or 99%, the fact of the matter is that I didn't get it. While it would have made a (big) difference to me at the time, as time passes it's less about what could've happened and more about what did and could still happen.

There wasn't much left to do - with no definite appointment in the future, I was just told to call in when I knew. I felt so weird leaving there without a new piece of paper that I hung back until I saw my oncologist's nurse, just to make sure I wasn't forgetting something.

With hours to kill, I moved to another parking lot (one that didn't cost money to stay in) and did a bit of window shopping. Though I spent more time looking at the other shoppers (the female ones, anyway) than I spent looking at the merchandise. More entertaining that way. However, I was reminded that my taste in women seems to run counter to that of my fellows: "Sexy" doesn't really work that well for me these days. Maybe it's some pair-bonding instinct kicking me in the ass again, but I'm more enamored of "cute" than "sexy". Case in point: I spent more time paying attention to a young lady with glasses, minimal makeup, plain white shirt and beige slacks than I spent paying attention to a young lady in a smaller/tighter shirt and a denim skirt, with more makeup. I don't know, but if I get a sense the person spends more time working on what's outside than what's inside, I'm turned off. Perhaps a side effect of my dating life, which has involved as much escaping from attractive but painfully dense women as it has actual dating.

I also had an appointment with my MD. Nothing important, but I found out that a lingering chest pain of mine had something to do with my pectoral muscle. (As long as it's not my heart, I'm happy. Oh, quick tip - if you can make the pain worse by pushing on part of your chest, it can't be anything inside your chest cavity.) That, and my eating habits (which involve avoiding food except as absolutely required) aren't terribly healthy. Well, them's the breaks. (When they say you should eat three colors of vegetables, would red, yellow, and green peppers count...?)

October 5, 2006 AD: More relevant to things, though, is that a week after I got back I found out that my "very good chance" of moving had become "no chance". So I called to schedule an appointment for December, four months after my last one. Imagine my surprise when, a week later, I get an appointment card for spring. Let's see....

Vital facts:
My last appointment was supposed to be in August.
My last appointment was actually in September, because my oncologist was absent.
I'm supposed to be going for an examination every four months.
Starting next year, I'm supposed to be going every six.
I usually go every December, since my surgery was in December, and the natural progression of visits each year (every month, then every two months, then every three, then every four, then every six) all divide twelve neatly with no remainder. (First year, 12 visits ending in month of surgery. Second, 6 visits ending in month of surgery. Third, 4 visits ending in month of surgery. Fourth, 3 visits ending in month of surgery. Fifth, 2 visits ending in month of surgery.)

So I should be there every December.

Now, I've occasionally commented on my oncologist's habit of missing vital facts when dealing with me. As you can see from the list of facts just presented, this is a minefield. Math time!

August (when my appointment was supposed to be) + 4 months = December, like always.

September (when appointment was) + 6 months = March.

No points for guessing when my next appointment is.

Now, my oncologist might have her own reasons for doing this, but I suspect she just didn't remember things right. Problem is, if I move, it'll be in the spring. Probably not March, granted, but I was cutting it close with this last one and I don't relish doing it again. I had to arrange my time spent packing and getting my affairs in order around this gaping two-day hole in my schedule, and it was a bit of an annoyance.

So I called, explained things to a nice receptionist, and was told I'd be called back in ten minutes.

Three days later, I decided their ten minutes were up and called back. (This is why I don't relish doing things over the phone. I'm easier to forget about and I've got to pay seven cents a minute for the privilege.)

In the end, the phone tag ended with the oncologist's note saying the appointment was to be in March. (That's another thing I don't like about this kind of fone phun. It puts too many layers between me and the person I wish to speak to.)

And there's still no word on a CT scan appointment. I'll have to call about that, too.

So, in my dispute between my logic and a Post-It Note, the Post-It won. Next - and very likely final for Halifax - trip in March.

(Update, June 20th. Things have been weird. My move was postponed at the last minute, so I'm still where I've always been. Between that mass of confusion and the difficulty in writing this, it's taken me this long to get it proofread and polished. But here it is. Only one more after this, and I have no idea when or where. Check in sometime around December.)

March 28, 2006 AD: It was late January, I believe. I picked up the phone and started dialing, reluctantly. And I was quite literally dialing - I was using an old (but reliable) stuck-to-the-wall rotary phone. It gives you more time to think about things as the dial spins back to default position.

I was making my last appointment with my GP before leaving the province - yep, like the Village People song, I'm going west, at the end of April. While my concentration focused on dialing, the back of my mind was turning over thoughts about how he'd been my GP since I was born - I was born c-section, and he was in the operating room (not a common procedure, but he's not a common doctor). He's known me since before I had a navel. Leaving someone like that behind is, well, damn near impossible.

The call connected. I explained to the office secretary that I wanted an appointment, and for which of the three doctors in the office I wanted it.

"Well, " she said, "it will have to be soon."


"Dr. Acker is retiring in the middle of April."

"Really...?" I knew he wasn't a young man anymore, and that he'd been slowing down and taking more days off of late, but this was still surprising. And yet, he'd be retiring a mere fortnight before I was scheduled to leave the province.... My largest qualm about leaving had suddenly become an inevitability, whether I leave or not. A weight was lifted from me. It's only one of many I'm carrying right now, but it was a large one.

Fortunately, I needed my appointment for the end of March. I worked the details out, thanked the secretary, hung up, and had a good laugh.

I couldn't be losing my doctor at a better time.

To my surprise, I got a call about 2 weeks before my trip scheduling a CT scan appointment. Well, might as well make the finale a big one.

The Gastrografin - I had an emergency bottle onhand - was vile, as always.

You know it's not going to be a good day when you miss your exit. A new exit has been added for the new chopping... er... shopping complex, Dartmouth Crossing, and the roads department thoughtfully took the time to alter the way the other exits worked. I knew something was different about the signs, but didn't sort it out until I saw the road split into two about a quarter mile before I expected it to, leaving me in the wrong lane. It was no great crisis - a short trip through Dartmouth's North End (lockthedoors) and the bridge I normally take came into sight.

You want to make your final trip almost anywhere memorable. You want to tell the nasty boss to take his job and shove it, or you want to say goodbye to your old middle school with some dramatic gesture (for no reason at all I walked into the empty gymnasium, screamed, and then left through a side door before anyone in earshot came by to investigate - great acoustics). You want it to be like the movies - the wind blows your jacket dramatically and unheard music swells to a climax of strings and brass.

But life doesn't work like that. As I walked up the parking lot to the Victoria General, I thought of my previous trips here, and I thought about my mother. My first memories of this place were as a child with my parents, accompanying my mom on the follow-up visits to her surgeon, after her cancer surgery. She returned the favor when I started my trips to my oncologist. Then we wound up accompanying each other to various appointments after her cancer returned. Finally, I travelled without her after the disease claimed her life.

I wanted this to be a quiet and contemplative affair, at least until I got to my first stop at CT registration. The chapel I passed even had a service going, which I'd never seen before. It all seemed perfect.... And then my digestive tract reminded me about how, no matter want I want to do or need to do, it can rearrange my priorities in a heartbeat.

So my first stop was the washroom.

While I don't think anyone cares to hear about this sort of thing, I just have to say how much I hate those autoflush toilets. Because they invariably flush at a time which is neither timely nor expected. This becomes relevant later.

Okay, not relevant, but this is a warning to expect more toilet discussion.

I also have to say I just noticed that the four-digit room number of the men's room (marked on the top of the door casing) in the Dickson building lobby is identical to the last four digits of my home phone number. Silly how things like that can be right there in front of you for years and you never notice, huh?

CT scan time! Colorful Dress Lady is there (lab coat again, boo). We chatted for a while (slow day). She again reiterated her regrets about not speaking French, and her horror at the way the people of my ostensibly French neighborhood butcher its French name. We also spoke about how I can walk to the nearby harbor, but can't get lobster any cheaper than anyone else. (Some people think cheap seafood is a perk of living on the water. It ain't.)

I mentioned my impending move and we spoke about prospects out there. She said, "There's a lot of jobs, but the cost of living is a lot higher."

"Well, I'm unemployed right now, so the cost of living is high here, too!"

She laughed and agreed, handing me my fashionable hospital duds and wishing me well before leaving.

"Thanks. Oh, and I just realized" (Well, okay, no I didn't, it had been on my mind for a good ten minutes.) "that I don't know your name."

She seemed both surprised and amused. "Catherine." (And I probably just misspelled that.)

I smiled. "A very pretty name." I bid Catherine farewell and headed for the changing rooms.

It's a year less a fortnight since I had a CT scan. I was horribly out of practice in getting into my cotton medical clothes. I finally managed it, only when I realized it was supposed to feel like the johnny shirt was throttling me. Unfortunately, the outer robe and the shirt both seemed shorter than normal - just barely to my knees - so I had little room for modesty (or warmth) in the cool waiting room.

The scan itself was an exercise in waiting. (That's what I get for showing up early.) After I finally got into the back room and into the needle-pokey-poke chair, I found out the waiting wasn't done - someone on a stretcher had been sent down and of course they take priority. I was told this by the (fairly young, unfamiliar, cute) woman who set up the IV. She was impressed that I had shaved my arm. I was impressed that I'd actually remembered. But I had this nagging suspicion I was forgetting something important.

Unfortunately, my desire to not look at the needle gave the technician pause. "Don't like needles?"

"The pain isn't a big deal." (I hoped.) "I don't like watching them."

"I understand that. I can't watch someone set up an IV in my arm, and I do this for a living to other people."

There was probably a good joke in there about making sure she watched while she did her work, but I left it pass. I was still apprehensive that I was about to ride the merry-go-round of IV pain. Fortunately, she was as skilled as she was cute. (But if I had to, I'd trade the latter trait for the former any day of the week.)

I had a lot of time to get a last look at the back room. I thought I saw a newspaper clipping of Catherine dressed up in some sort of costume at a party. Unfortunately, it was down the short hall towards the CT scan room and to get closer to it I'd have needed to intrude on their work, and when someone's gonna be pumping chemicals into you, as a rule you don't want to make them mad.

I distracted myself for a moment by pushing the plunger on the saline syringe that I was hooked to, pumping a bit of saline into my bloodstream. It freaked me out - I'd make a terrible druggie.

Eventually, my turn came. One more time on the machine, one more time almost getting shot with that laser in the eye. The technician (also young and cute and female) tossed a cloth of some sort on my chest. Attached to the cloth was a paper or something else with writing on it. I hate situations like this; I'm not allowed to move, so I can't get at the paper in any way. It's at a tantalizingly poor angle, enough that I know something's there but not enough to actually read it. The CT scanner has a 4-inch wide glass strip, shaped like a cylinder, through which the spinning x-ray equipment gazes at (and into) me. I wound up using what little reflectivity it had to read the paper. After figuring out how the text was oriented and mirrored, I realized it was a room number and a string of digits I had no understanding of.

Since it was taking longer than normal to get the show on the road, I also did some crude estimating of how fast the machine spins. At speed, it's moving about 60 RPM. All these wires and mechanisms and support structures, perfectly balanced and moving somewhere between 5 and 10 feet per second in a circle around you.... If you think about it for any length of time, it's a bit unnerving.

Fortunately, the familiar "Breathe in and hold." recorded command came over the speakers, breaking me from my train of thought.

After the preliminary scan, I was wired for sound contrast medium and sent through two more times. It took a few more seconds than normal for me to board the flaming bowel express, but it also lasted longer. Not a good tradeoff, in my mind; it's something you want to get over with.

Afterwards, as my right hand was occupied applying pressure to the post-IV bandage on my left arm, I swung my legs off the scanning table I found the floor to not be where I expected it - the machine hadn't quite finished lowering me to the ground. My feet never gained the traction I was expecting and my arms weren't near anything I could grab, so I lost my balance. While I quickly recovered, I soon realized that in recovering I had instinctually braced my feet wherever I could get purchase, which meant my left foot was a good yard away from my right.

That, the short hospital clothes, and the position of the technician all combined to give her a good flash of my underwear.

My burgundy briefs, amazingly, didn't inflame her passions. (In reality, I'm just glad she didn't laugh at me.) I stood up, said my goodbyes - same as always, as these people change month to month anyway - and the remaining shreds of my dignity followed me out to collect my clothes.

On the way back I passed the IV technician explaining the contrast IV to an older lady in a wheelchair. She said, "It will feel warm...."

I resisted an evil urge to say "Warm as in change-your-underwear warm."

On to bloodwork.... And here's where I realize what I forgot! My bloodwork forms! Never even crossed my mind. Oh, well, time to detour to the 11th floor.

The woman at the desk was, as always, pleased to see me. She got me a form fairly quickly - while she seemed to think she was gone a while, after waiting about an hour total for my CT scan, it seemed like nothing.

11th floor blood collection was closed, so back downstairs. While there were about a dozen people waiting (9ish in the main area, 2 groups of 2 in the clinic blood collection area), the three phlebotomists were sitting around chatting. I was called second (Huh? Shouldn't I be third?) and led around back to the regular blood collection booths.

The phlebotomist was good, but whereas most will say "1, 2, 3" and then poke you, she poked me, then said "1, 2, 3". I suppose the surprise is good, but why count?

We chatted about how wonderful a spring day it was. Little did we know, the very next day winter would be making an encore appearance.

I didn't walk around back to leave, resulting in funny looks from the regular waiting room occupants as they see this guy who didn't enter that way leave that way.

I stopped at that washroom again. This time, to my surprise, the autoflush toilet worked perfectly! My faith in plumbing was renewed.

And then, as I donned my jacket and left the stall, it flushed again.

I'm being mocked by a bathroom fixture.

My next stop was my GP. This was sure to be an emotional visit. My father was along, as we share a GP and it was his only chance to say goodbye. It feels more like losing a friend than a doctor, for both of us.

My doctor and I took our seats on opposite sides of his desk. I looked out the window at the view of Spring Garden Road and Robie Street that he'd had for at least twenty years, probably more, then I took a good look at him. His hair was finally whiter than it was gray. I still can't get used to it. My mind pictures him as he was when he treated my ear infections and gave me my booster shots, 40-something and so very tall, not 65 and my height. The most important thing he probably ever did for me was getting me to a surgeon mere days after my tumor diagnosis four years ago, but the first memories that come to mind are always of the checkups back when I was a growing boy.

"So," my doctor asked, "did you see the announcement in the paper?"

"Er, what?" I responded.

"Of my retirement. An announcement was in the paper, about three weeks ago. Thursday through... Saturday, I think."

I read the local paper (and complain about the typos) but I never read the announcements; it's never someone I know. Except Thursday three weeks ago, I guess. "Oh, no. I called about a month and a half ago." He seemed surprised when I explained my moving plans, but he was amused, especially because he's moved his retirement a bit, to May 1st. His last day in the doctoring business, April 30th, is my last day in the province.

I asked, not really expecting a positive answer, if he knew any doctors up that way. He didn't. A number of years ago, yes, but not recently.

With no specific medical worries, I just got the basic blood pressure/stethoscope checkup. I closed my eyes and enjoyed that wonderful feeling of being taken care of.

We spent most of the 15-minute visit just talking about our respective futures, his ending of a lifelong career and my (hopeful) beginning of one. He's got young grandkids scattered across the continent now, and it pains him that they don't recognize him. There's also a lot of golf courses beckoning him. (A doctor that enjoys golfing, huh.)

We said our goodbyes, and wished each other health and happiness as we started the next chapters of our lives. "Oh," he said with a smile, "call your dad in for me." Saved me the trouble of asking - they'd spoke briefly in the waiting room, but neither one seemed willing to end things without a proper goodbye.

The three of us spoke and joked around for a minute or two. "Oh, don't worry," he said with a smile, "I'll be talking about my patients from Cape Breton for a very long time." I'm sure my mom was included in that statement.

My father and my doctor exchanged their goodbyes and my father left. I lingered a few seconds. Normally I can look my doctor in the face as I speak to him. Now I couldn't. I looked over my shoulder, in his general direction. "I'm really gonna miss you."

He said something. I couldn't think of it five minutes later, but I remember it was appropriate. I left his office for the last time, turning back a moment to slowly, quietly, close the door.

Emotionally drained and a few tears lighter, the next morning I headed in for my last oncological appointment. I showed up early because winter seemed intent on getting a few more hammer blows in, and driving would get more treacherous as the day wore on. I hoped to get things done early. Prepared for a long wait in case that didn't happen, I had purchased my own waiting-room reading material at the nearby international newsstand (all women working there, most of them cute - I sooooooo need to get a job at a news vendor). My book of choice was Retro Gamer, a UK gaming magazine dedicated to the games of yesteryear.

The nurse, Pam, showed up to have me weighed fairly quickly. She looked at the magazine I carried and got some sticker shock from the price. (Import, you understand. But nostaligia's worth the price.) So shocked that she showed no signs of weighing me, so I did it myself. 80 kgs almost exactly - I'm creeping up very slowly. I suspect the stress of the move and employment will reverse that trend, fast.

I was led to one of the rooms overlooking the Dickson building entry area. We made small talk and spoke of how I was moving. And I found out there'd be a new intern this month. Let's see... another male, perhaps?

Yep. We went through the standard things - bloodwork fine, CT looks good but they're waiting for the official result. I said "You guys haven't been wrong yet." but got a confused reaction for my trouble. He tried to convince me to set up an open-ended appointment so if I was in town visiting I could come in for my examination, but I declined. An appointment like that assumes that I'll be visiting relatives in 2007 (I won't) and that I have relatives in Halifax (I don't). The rest of 2007 will see me either working or looking for work, and what little business I have left in Nova Scotia I have in Cape Breton, four hours away from Halifax.

The physical examination was fairly normal, both the stethoscope work and the quick feel about my remaining testicle, except for two things: the speed (despite taking about the same length of time, he seemed to be rushing through it) and the fact that he checked the lymph nodes in my upper thigh. I'm ticklish in my upper thigh (and really, almost everywhere else). I just barely managed to keep from giggling as he checked my legs near my groin. I think the speed partly contributed to this. I felt like I was in a factory getting worked over by one of those people who's done the same thing for 10 years and can debone a fish/sew a boot heel/assemble a complex component without even looking.

But soon it was finished and he left to get my oncologist.

The wait was longer this time, burning off any time advantage coming in early had provided. But I didn't mind. I had a magazine to read and it would turn out to provide the timing for the last event of the day - more on that later.

My oncologist and I traded pleasantries, then she got right to business. "To be honest, I don't think it's worth it for you to get another oncologist. You only have one visit left anyway before the five year mark, which is when you just go back to regular GP visits. So instead, six months from now - when's that?"

I looked at my watch. March, the third month. 3+6=9, and September 11th has unfortunately provided an easy mnemonic for remembering what the 9th month is. I said, "September."

As I spoke, the intern says, "December."

Now, my oncologist can be a bit weak on the numbers sometimes, but she knows that spring + 6 months = fall, not winter. We both looked at him. In response, he buried his head in my medical records and said "It'll be five years in December." Well, fair enough, but not the question on the table.

I decided not to explain why the two numbers clashed so bad. Didn't seem worth it to spend five minutes waving at a calendar, to be honest. Late November was decided on as a compromise (!). So I'm supposed to:

1) Try get a family doctor before then if at all possible
2) Call down with my updated address and nearest hospital
3) Use the bloodwork and x-ray requisition late November, the results of which will be faxed down.
4) Wait for results.

Oh, and try not to lose the papers.

The idea is a family doctor (GP) can do the physical exam, and they'll look over the test results in Halifax. Then I'll be finished.

That sorted out, I received various bits of well-wishing, shook hands with my oncologist, and she took her leave. The intern told me to wait for the nurse to come back with the paperwork. I did, and she did.

She re-explained things briefly, then gave me the papers. On the way down the hall towards the elevators, she gave me a hug (it was nice - I miss the occasional warm hug) and told me to take care of myself.

She said, "I hope someday I see you walking around a shopping mall." We made the obvious jokes about the West Edmonton Mall as she turned to enter an office just off the hall. "Best of luck to you out there."

"Same t-" I stopped short. "Would it be appropriate to use 'Same to you.' in this situation?"

"Sure," she said with a bit of a laugh. "I need all the luck I can get."

"Well then, best of luck to you. 'Bye." I bowed a bit, turned, and headed for the elevators.

Unfortunately, the woman at the desk was busy, and I couldn't say goodbye to her.

Just when I thought I was done, fate provided a small but welcome gift. On our way out of Halifax, we went through a green light at Spring Garden and Robie, passing by our GP's office just as he stood at the crosswalk - I suspect he had stepped out to do some banking in the building just across the street from his workplace. We called out to him, but of course, recognition of someone in a moving car is a tricky beast - you never realize who it is until they're past. Despite being retirement age himself, my father's reflexes were faster than mine. He looked back just in time to see a smile on our doctor's face before the traffic behind us obscured our line of sight.

January 1, 2008 AD: Been one of those months. I wrote this, but the day I was going to upload it (a rather involved procedure, since the PC I write this on isn't the PC I can upload it from) something new happened. I updated, was going to upload it, something else happened. I think somethings have finally stopped happening. Mostly, anyway. So, here it is, my final misadventure as a cancer patient, a story in far too many parts.

December 06, 2007 AD, Edmonton's West End, province of Alberta, country of Canada (that part hasn't changed).

My typically procrastinating self has delayed on getting my end of November medical work done. Oh well, "End of November" would still be valid if November had 40 days.

Yesterday, December 5th, I started making phone calls. I learned two interesting things:

1) The walk-in clinics everyone mentions this place having a lot of? They don't self-advertise. There's about all of three in the entire city called walk-in clinics. Every other clinic, you call to find out.

2) Walk-in clinics don't do checkups. You have to be sick, and not just sick in the head like I am. So I turned to the regular clinics and managed to, on my first attempt, snag a doctor's appointment mere days away. This leaves me confused about how a walk-in clinic works, because something that requires a doctor is either so bad one needs emergency care or not bad enough that a doctor's appointment can't be waited out. Perhaps I was lucky with my doctor, but I have a hard time seeing a lot of conditions in the limbo between "Emergency!" and "Wait 'til Thursday". (December 17 Update: My eternal proofreader Rez has helpfully offered food poisoning and the flu as fitting the bill.)

Still, I didn't like the idea of waiting any longer to get my work done, so I decided to call down to Halifax and seek guidance.

It was right about the moment I hit the last digit of the phone number that I remembered I was supposed to call them when I arrived last month and tell them my new address. Oops.

I left a message explaining everything, from my move being in October and not April to my revelations about walk-in clinics. Fortunately, I put all my vital info (like phone number) at the front of the call, because my meandering speech got cut off near the end by a beep and a dead phone line. A few hours later, my oncologist's nurse, Pam, returned my call. "It's funny," she said, "just this morning I was looking over your file and found out your phone was disconnected. I figured you'd call us if you needed something." My psychic powers have clearly worked again, just as they have won me the lottery grand prize several dozen times. (I commune with Elvis, he tells me the winning numbers.) I also bend spoons in the streets for spare change.

Pleasantries exchanged, we discussed my situation and I was told that getting the tumor markers done was far more critical than the physical. The physical work could even wait into the new year. She suggested I call the local hospital and check their x-ray and bloodwork clinics I thanked her and set off to do that. (I also told her it was good to talk to her. Always nice to hear a familiar friendly voice.)

The local hospital told me that they don't do x-rays of nonpatients. No clinic. Same for bloodwork. The diagnostic imaging person I spoke to suggested I try the Meadowlark Clinic. So I thanked her and set off to feed that phrase to the Googlebeast and see what it spit back. There's three Meadowlark Clinics, it turns out. Ignoring the chiropractic one, I tried the family one. I quietly hoped (or perhaps prayed to the King) that "family clinic" wasn't short for "family planning clinic". I've already had more pregnancy confusion over my blood than any man should be expected to live with.

Luck was on my side, as I think it was a family clinic. Wasn't the right place, though. The helpful phone lady told me that there's privately owned and operated bloodwork and diagnostic imaging in the Meadowlark mall. (Something I doubt even the nearby consumerist behemoth, the West Edmonton Mall, can claim.) Basically, if I have the requisition forms and the cash/insurance, I can get myself zapped or poked whenever. (Fancier stuff like a CT scan would require an appointment.) I thanked this anonymous woman and made plans to head down there the next day. Which brings us to....

This cold (not surprising) and sunny (Blah! Bright sun on white snow!) morning of the 6th found me in the Meadowlark mall's parking lot. Which was full to the gills at ten in the morning. Liberal interpretation of a "no parking" sign was used to secure a space (arriving back at the car later to get an old hospital reminder card, I found that someone had got even more liberal and damnear run over the no parking sign - neat trick, as it was stuck to a door).

Entering the mall was quite interesting. It was a mall, sure, but distinctly less retail-oriented. All the storefront windows opened on waiting rooms and reception areas - the ones that weren't frosted glass, anyway - except for a Shopper's Drug Mart (prescriptions + various hygiene and convenience store items) and a rather-out-of-place Zellers (big-box store) at one end. Essentially, someone had taken the mall paradigm and beat the medical industry over the head with it.

In contrast to the full parking lot, the building felt surprisingly empty. Most of the people were in the waiting rooms and not in the mall itself, unlike a real mall where there's usually heavy between-store traffic. It's quite a shock if you've just visited the West Edmonton Mall, where even on a weekday in winter you're dodging legions of people. (And don't get me started about the food court....)

The Meadowlark mall/medical center was a rough T shape, albeit one with a much longer crossbar than vertical bar, with me at the bottom and a large circular information desk at the junction. I walked to the info/lottery ticket desk (Free health directions or $2-a-pop economic misdirection, all in one place!) and waited behind an older man who was intently debating the merits of various scratch-off tickets. He picked one and turned to look over his shoulder as he started to scratch it. Realizing he was in the way of a developing line, he moved. I asked where x-rays and blood were taken, still fearful I would be told I was in the wrong place. But no! The bloodwork lab was halfway down the mall to my right, towards the incongruous Zellers. I thanked her and headed there, deciding that I should get that out of the way and then worry about where diagnostic imaging was later.

The bloodwork lab was busy, but not so busy-looking that it justified the large half hour wait sign. I handed in my form and Nova Scotia health card in and explained that I was still on that health plan until the end of the year. Some copious amount of writing and note taking later, I got my card back, and the rather confused woman at the desk asked me what my first name was. I found that odd, since it's on both the health card and the bloodwork paper, but that's the problem: I found out that my name was listed on the form in the rather illogical format.

Firstname, Middlename

That comma is both superfluous and confusing. And this wasn't a one-off typo - it looked like some sort of stamp or transfer from raised type, marked in classic mimeograph ink purple. Sure enough, the x-ray form was the same. (As are some 2006 vintage spare bloodwork forms I have sitting before me as I type this. I presume the erroneous comma was a widespread phenomenon in the Victoria General in Halifax, and thus ignored. Strangely enough, my old VG hospital card, whose raised type looks like the perfect source for the transfer, is a different format: "Lastname, Firstname Middlename" all on one line.)

I sorted out the confusion and sat down. Approximately fifteen minutes later I was called back to the desk. The doctor's stereotype of bad handwriting was alive and well, as I had to read my oncologist's written full name to the woman at the desk. I went back to my seat but was summoned back to the desk just before my back hit the chair back.

The woman said to me, "It won't be long now, but we're having a bit of trouble with your form."

"What's wrong?" I queried. I leaned over the desk and peered at it.

"There's a test here we don't understand."

Feeling all sorts of smart, I assumed they got messed up over the handwritten AFP at the bottom of the form. "I've seen a lot of these forms in the past five years. Maybe I can help."

She showed me one of the checkboxes instead. "We don't know what is meant by 'Auto Diff'.I think it's a CBCC, do you know?"

And that is how I learned a woman's voice saying "CBCC" is the sound that indicates I'm out of my depth.

"Uhhhh, could be?" I equivocated.

"I think it's a complete blood cell count - white, red, and so on - because there's none listed on the sheet."

"Seems right," I said, shifting from equivocation right into prevarication.

Another woman came over and after a brief conversation she confirmed her colleague's suspicion that it was a complete blood cell count.

"Sounds good!" I said as I gleefully hid behind someone else's proclamation.

That sorted, I was told to go into back room, hang a right, and sit in the first free chair. I did, and the first chair was also the first free one, so I sat there and rolled up my sweater sleeve. I admired the setup, with the blood collection victimpatient's chair right next to the bloodwork-paraphernalia desk and four sliding cantilevered shelves jutting out of the side of the desk (taking the space under the desk that drawers in the front would usually occupy) so patients of different heights can rest their arms comfortably while getting jabbed. I had little time to admire before the woman arrived; seems that the phlebotomist do all the front desk work too. (Or they let a receptionist take my blood, but I doubt that.)

Our conversation was brief and polite. (And she was good at her work - no pain!) She asked if I had lived in Halifax where my doctor was. I explained that no, I was about four hours out of Halifax. She laughed and said "I'm originally from Newfoundland, where EVERYTHING is four hours away." (It might be worth noting that of the seven or eight people I've told my original address to since I was here, three were from Nova Scotia and two others were from elsewhere in the Atlantic provinces. One of the others was from Manitoba. Some days it seems like the hardest thing to find in Alberta is an Albertan.)

We discussed other things, like why I was there (work, natch) and she mentioned that there was a government office in the building where they had job postings. She also told me where the x-ray lab was. I thanked her and (four vials of blood having been drained from me and my arm gauzed up by this point) she said I was free to go and to remember where she worked when I made my first million. We shared a laugh and I left.

The x-ray lab was along the same wall, but in the lefthand half of the crossbar. After traveling through something of a maze (the mall access is the back door of the office, so you have to wend through a hall that's been repurposed as storage - haven't seen so many boxes making travel difficult since I last played Doom) and following occasional signs I found the reception desk. I explained my nature as a recent transplant to the city and went through some more involved paperwork confusion. They asked my new address, crossed off my old one, then two minutes later asked me my old one. "It's that thing you crossed off." I said. Had to restate it anyway, its abbreviations and the ink-pen obliteration had conspired to make it unreadable.

I was told to wait nearby (rather than in the waiting room), where they keep two wheelchairs and a phone for people to call taxis. I had to regularly move for people who needed the phone (well, for this one lady repeatedly), and moving thusly made me look like I was in line at reception, which confused everyone else waiting.

One mass of confusion later I was called back to the desk as "Mr. Leonard." I explained that the comma on the form was a typo. So the woman started calling me by my middle name. It was then and there that I realized that all three of my names are viable last names. Indeed, my given names are more common as last names than my actual last name! A few seconds of pointing at various parts of the form and saying "That's my last name." "That's my first name." and I finally got that sorted out. Unfortunately, that's the only thing that was sorted. They needed my doctor's Practitioner ID, and I didn't have that. The Alberta College of Physicians was, in the woman's own words, "useless" at finding it, though her tone hinted that they weren't much better when she needed a local doctor's Practitioner ID. After some confusion they realized they could fax a request to the same "fax results to" number as was on the form. I asked if they could use a phone number for the nursing desk. They could, but that was when I realized I'd left the VG hospital reminder card I had brought (two copies, actually) in the car. I went out to get it, braving the cold once again.

Back five minutes later, no progress had been made. They gladly took the card with phone numbers that I offered (the one with the instructions telling me to call once I moved). They asked if I needed it back, but I said no, because I had another. As it vanished from my sight I realized I never checked the back for further instructions. Oops, again.

Ten more minutes of confusion and I overheard a newcomer (older than the other women at reception) say "Nah, just put 'No known practitioner ID' in that box." I didn't know if I should laugh or cry.

I waited another five minutes and then asked if I needed to stay by the phone any longer. I didn't, so I moved into the waiting room before I missed my call to the x-ray room. Not long after I was one of about four people called (I'd probably have heard it from the reception desk, but all it takes is one soft-spoken announcer to screw everything up). We all followed the announcer person single file down the corridor crate maze until we reached a side office.

We were sent to a row of changing stalls at the back of the office and told to remove various bits of clothing and replace them with fashionable paper wear. I asked if I could get away with just using my cotton shirt, like they do at some places (cough cough). Nope, gotta wear the paper vest. To make matters worse, they'd run out of small and medium paper outfits, so they were giving everyone something two sizes too large. It seemed that even large people got ones too large for them, probably in an attempt to stave off depletion of their "large" supply.

Folded in my open-backed paper vest (which looked like it could fit someone about 50% heavier than I am) I found a strip of plastic similar in composition to a plastic grocery bag, about a foot long. Puzzling at its purpose, I finally realized it could perhaps be a sort of tie for the vest. Sure enough, it stretched enough to get around me without breaking. But it had shrunk from an inch wide to a quarter-inch wide in the process, and that revealed another problem: Tying a small and slippery strip of plastic like that is bloody well impossible. I stuffed it in my pocket, defeated. (When I removed it from my pocket five hours later, I found it had tied itself into a knot in almost exactly the right place. So I threw it away. I win!)

I went to sit down in the only empty chair nearby, one of about five chairs resting between two doors which are about to become relevant. (There were no lockers, you just had to leave your clothing in the stall. This makes the Brassiere Incident of 2003 a little more sensible. Though not a whole lot. I mean, that waiting room had almost wall-to-wall lockers.)

A female technician came for the guy next to me and his sexy oversize paper shirt. As he was led into the door to my right, the technician looked at him and said "They gave you a shirt? You're getting your leg x-rayed."

He said "Yeah.", presumably answering the question and agreeing with the statement simultaneously.

The woman probably thought dark thoughts about the coworker who was handing out paper clothing and asked "Do those jeans roll up fairly high?"

The Man of Few Words said "Yeah."

She replied "Okay, we'll go with that."

About five minutes later they came back out. Few Words sat back down and waited. I wondered if he just said "Yeah." when someone handed him that paper shirt.

While I waited, in my manly paper vest, I took note of a few of the people who passed by. And I was shocked by an odd juxtaposition. Two women in quick succession were similar but very different: Asian (most likely Japanese) extraction, similar height and weight. The first looked like anyone else. The second was about halfway between "anyone else" and "Ganguro Girl". I'd tell you to Google Image Search that one, but it may shock and horrify you. (There's also more nipple in that search than I'm comfortable advocating to the general public. Yeah, that'll get you going. Oh, well, your funeral.) Long story short: Tanning + too much white makeup + blonde hair dye. Oy. I dislike makeup I can see from 20 feet off in dim light. Not a fan of any makeup that reminds me it's makeup, actually. Bright lipsticks, heavy rouging, bleh.

That thought in my mind, I couldn't help but notice that the short brunette woman who came to get me was wearing too much rouge for my taste. She was quite personable, though. (Personable or not, I'm still going to start calling her "Rouge" in this narrative.) I was led through the door to my left and saw the familiar bulk of an x-ray machine. I stood in front of it and waited for Rouge to push and nudge me into place. I noticed that the machine seemed smaller than I was used to, and realized why quickly enough when Rouge pulled a photographic plate out of a large envelope and slid it into the machine I would soon hug. Unlike the x-ray machine I was used to, this one used film, not electronics, to capture images. (What a novel idea!) Explained the smaller size, but meant I was going to have to wait. (And explained why Few Words had been waiting after his photos were taken.)

I hugged the machine as requested, rolled my shoulders forward and took a deep breath. Sadly, this one had no handlebars to hold onto, so I felt rather like I was holding a large family-pack box of cereal. With a special surprise inside of a running industrial-size blender motor.

It was over quick, the film was swapped, and I was on to the side shot. No overhead crossbar to hold onto, I just had to stretch over my head in the classic "Hands up!" robbery pose. Or the saddest, loneliest incident of "the wave" ever. As I reached upward, the oversized paper vest shifted, popping out in front and making me look like I had a stomach that required such a large paper vest. Rouge tried to pat it down into place, but it was like a battle with wallpaper bubbles - push it down one place, it pops up another. Eventually she gave up, fortunately before getting frustrated enough that the patting got too violent.

The picture was taken, and I was ushered out to wait for the pictures to develop (Few Words was gone). A few minutes later, another woman (who I'm calling Red for her hair - yes, I'm trying to confuse you) came out from the corner Rouge had vanished around and said "We're going to have to take another shot real quick. I'll just lead you back in through here." I went through the right doors Few Words had used, into that x-ray room, and down a small hall that linked the leaded-glass control niches of the two x-ray rooms, back to the room I had the first x-ray taken in. Why we walked in a J-shaped path just to reach the other side of a door I had been two feet away from, I don't know. But there was something I did know.

"Let me guess," I said. "The edge of my lung got clipped so you have to take another shot of the missing area."

Red said she had no idea. Soon the first technician, Rouge, came back and started prodding at the control panel. Red, clearly curious, asked "What was wrong with the first shot? Did you miss the edge of his lung?"

Rouge replied, "Oh, no, that wasn't it. I missed a bit of the bottom."

Red looked at me with a look of "Sorry, nope." which quickly phased into "Wait a second....!" as she realized that the bottom IS an edge. (I suspect Rouge was thinking of a side, not an edge, when she disagreed.)

Red turned to face Rouge and exclaimed "But that's exactly what he said!" Red turned back to me, as she had no idea how I knew. I didn't tell her about my vast psychic abilities, instead going for my mundane cover story of "I've had chest x-rays before. I'm told I have long lungs."

Red frowned at me a bit and said "You should have told us before!"

Rouge stopped prodding at the control console and cut in with "Actually, if I'd put the film lengthwise, I'd probably have missed something anyway. He's got wide lungs too." (The film is rectangular, probably about a third longer than wide, and can be loaded into the machine either way, depending on whether the target is wide or tall.)

Wide lungs? This was the first I'd heard of that. If I have such large lungs, how come my capacity isn't better? But then, the only baseline I have to compare myself to is trying to sing a long line of a song, and somehow I don't think a talentless and untrained droner like me should match up to a talented and classically-trained soprano anyway. In the interests of blaming a completely innocent scapegoat, I'm going to blame the fact that I'm no longer living at sea level, where I spent most of my life.

The third shot was taken - and was low enough that my belt buckle probably made a nice white mark on the film. I was sent back out and told I could dress, as they didn't expect anything to go wrong, but to stick around until they were sure. I changed and waited, precious and rare paper vest in hand just in case. Red came out from around that same nearby corner as before and told me everything was good and I could leave. She also took my vest and tossed it in the trash for me. I thanked her and bid her farewell.

I consulted the "you are here" map near the exit and realized that several smaller buildings on the same lot (behind this one, from the point of view of where I entered) contained some more conventional shopping mall fare, including fast food places to clog the arteries the in-mall cardiac surgeon just finished cleaning out. I went outside and went into the government offices (no mall access, even though it's all the same building). In a rare bit of government efficiency (or laziness), all the electronic job listings were part of the federal government's job bank website, so it wasn't anything I wasn't checking at home. I grabbed a copy of the local free employment-ad-only paper, though. We'll see what that holds.

Another truck was in the no-parking spot, this one using its boosted suspension to hide the sign outright. I suppose that's fine unless someone exits through the door in a hurry and gets a back bumper in the stomach.

Freeing up a space for someone else to park, I returned to my apartment to call the VG and let them know I had the x-ray and bloodwork done.

December 11, 2007 AD: Had my medical checkup with a GP. All I can say about it was that it was almost entirely uneventful. Seemed like a perfectly nice fellow, listened to my medical history and nodded at all the right points. But there was some weirdness to share, in bite-sized portions:

1) I expected a painfully long wait ahead of me when I walked in and saw a waiting room with about 20 chairs full to the gills. Surprisingly, I was called in within minutes of sitting down, a good ten minutes before my appointment time. I felt the envy of the people who were waiting.

2) The secretary didn't seem to know who I went to see - on the way in the doctor's last name was Romano. On the way out it was Jackman. I'm currently wondering who the hell I ask for when I next make an appointment. Gonna go with the first one, seems the better bet. (What can I say, he looked more like a Romano than a Jackman.)

But the best part was that Doctor Whoever was very happy with my blood pressure and the various bits that he examined. So, yay!

December 12, 2007 AD: I called the VG and let them know I had the bloodwork and x-ray done as requested. A few days later, my oncologist's nurse called to let me know that she got a fax from the chest x-ray outfit. No results yet, but she'd call back at the end of the week with bloodwork results. She called back 15 minutes later; she just learned that Alberta (or Edmonton, anyway) oncological bloodwork is backed up nine ways to Sunday - my blood's in a freezer somewhere in the Cross Cancer Institute and won't be thawed and tested for another two weeks. Since that means right around Christmas, I suspect I'll be waiting another week beyond that.

She also admitted to an amusing near-faux pas. While she had called just after lunch Halifax time, which was right around the start of the working day here in Edmonton, one of her coworkers had stopped her halfway through dialing first thing in the morning Atlantic time - 6:00 AM Edmonton time!

December 17, 2007 AD: There was an item here, but the stars aren't quite right anymore. Keep reading.

December 24, 2007 AD: My word, what a week. On the 18th, my oncologist's nurse called and said I was done with visits to cancer doctors (Yay!) and they wanted to know the name and contact info of my GP up here, so they can fax my information up.

I called to try get the whole Romano/Jackman thing sorted out. It was sorted out - so I thought - and I was officially Dr. Romano's patient. This feeling of assuredness lasted a few hours, until they called to schedule my referral appointment to see a dermatologist.

I don't need a dermatologist.

Turns out there's another patient there with a similar name to mine, and our records had been combined by the behind-the-desk braintrust. That guy is Dr. Romano's patient. So I still don't have a conclusive answer.

After a few days of trying to get it sorted out - glaciers return your calls faster than they do, and to my knowledge no glacier even has a phone - I gave up. I called the Halifax Cancer Center to tell them the whole story. It was the afternoon of the 21st (Friday), too late in the day to get a callback from a live person, but I was just looking for the answering machine anyway. Turns out they turn off the answering machine during non-work hours! The nonanswering machine said to call back when they opened on Monday.

Monday, the 24th, I called back. Got a new message telling me to call back Thursday after Christmas break. I stared at the phone for a little while, wondering why the hell they used a standard call-back-Monday weekend message if they weren't going to be in Monday anyway.

On Thursday the 27th, I called again. Finally got through to an attentive machine and explained everything. I told them to fax everything to Dr. Romano (still say he looks like a Romano) and hope it would sort itself out. (Oh, me of too much faith.)

I waited a bit, then called the GP's office to confirm. They promised to check and get back to me when they had a free minute. They must be working hard 24/7, as it's been a whole day and nothing. (Sigh.)

I know I'll get it sorted out, it's just that I was no good at tag when I was a kid. Playing it on the phone - with an added dash of the waiting game - has not improved my success rate.

Now, at last, the stars are right.

December 17, 2007 AD Redux: Well, it's been a hell of a half-decade. Five years ago to the minute as I type this, I was still a bit groggy from the anesthetic I'd taken a stronger-than-entirely-necessary dose of. I was also learning what you can't do without pain when you've got a freshly-sewed-up scalpel cut in your abdomen. (Lesson 1: Walking at any rate of speed. Lesson 2: Laughing. Lesson 3: It involves bowel movements, so not going into details.)

Now, after countless x-rays and CT scans and a presumed oil drum of blood extracted, it's - hopefully - over. I'm well on my way to becoming the good kind of statistic, the kind that survived the five years until they stop keeping track.

For the most part my long and sometimes lunatic trip has reached its conclusion. From now on, it's just my self-examinations and a few more minutes tacked on to my yearly checkup (and very likely yearly bloodwork). I'll post anything interesting that happens on those little forays, but they will be annual postings, few and far between.

It's been a hell of a trip. Take care, my long-suffering readers. I appreciate the e-mails and all the good mojo I've received, and send some your way if needed. Unless it gets deleted by a spam and/or mojo filter. Those things happen.

Health and happiness,
The Archon

With half of the first snow of winter still clinging stubbornly to the ground, I went to visit my doctor for my yearly checkup and flu shot. The December 5th appointment itself was fairly uneventful for a testicular cancer patient - blood pressure, lungs, check of the lymph nodes and testicle - though the speed was quite impressive. Not only was the exam fast, but I had had about a 2 minute wait between reaching the exam room and meeting the doctor. The end, however....

The doctor said, "You're going to need some bloodwork."

"Sure," I responded. "Standard stuff? AFP, Beta HCG? There's one I'm missing...." It's been too long; some things have been shifted into long term storage and my recall is no longer instant. "Lactate.... No, wait, that one's not a regular one for me anyway."

"LDH? No, it isn't." (I thought more and remembered that LDH - lactate dehydrogenase - was, as my oncologist said, "a prognosticative test", meant for people who've just recently been diagnosed as a way of better determining their odds.)

Unfortunately, my knowledge of acronyms had made the doctor assume I possessed far more medical knowledge than I have. He told me every test he was having me get, a long string of acronyms that were all entirely lost on me. I didn't have the heart - or a durable-enough ego - to ask him to dumb it down, so I let him go on. But the universe wasn't going to let me get off that easy; it had something else in store, and was going to play that card later.

My next stop was the Meadowlark Health Centre's collection lab. I arrived at 9:55, a time I didn't feel was particularly relevant. The backlog meant that I had approximately an hour to wait, affording ample time to admire the room, which appears to have been altered since my last visit. I was sure the reception area was in the middle of the room, not along one end as it is now.

At 10:50, I was called in. The phlebotomist and I discussed the backlog, and I mentioned that where I work, a computer booked in for repair waits about two weeks before it's worked on. I commented on the busy day I'd had the day previous, but partway through I realized I was talking to someone in just as deep, if not deeper. I laughed. "But I guess I have no right to complain."

She started to comment, but then found I did have a right to complain - turns out the testosterone test had to be done before 10 AM, and since I had been booked in at 9:55 AM, they were technically at fault for not taking the blood right away. She gave me a frown for cutting it so close, but I didn't anticipate a time-critical test. Nor did I anticipate being handed a cup and a stoppered vial.

Yep, turns out one of those acronyms that passed me by a few paragraphs ago had something to do with urinalysis. While I won't explain the act in great detail, I will say this: I quickly found that what I expected to disturb me about it wasn't what actually disturbed me.

The whole clean-the-area-with-a-sterile-wipe thing to reduce bacterial contamination risk didn't bother me.

Even the idea of urinating a bit before filling the cup (to wash away any bacteria in spots the wipe can't reach) didn't bother me, though I found that budgeting my urine to be used for two separate purposes isn't a skill I have to any degree.

No, the fact that the cheap plastic cups one urinates into are the exact same brand as the cheap plastic cups they have in my workplace's lunchroom really bothered the hell out of me.

(Incidentally, if you want to make the experience a bit more relaxing, watch the "Peeing on the Third Rail" and "Salsa Escape" episodes of Mythbusters. Not only are they funny, but you'll see some other people who don't generally deal with urine and the collection thereof having to deal with it. It does make it easier.)

But I think things, um, went well. (And, a week later, I got the testosterone test. Blissfully uneventful.)

These are so much easier to write when interesting stuff happens. As such, this one's going to be mostly about something other than cancer.

Friday, October 16, 2009 AD: I went to see my doctor for my cancer-related checkup early, in October during a nice spell when the weather forgot it was fall for a while. Lymph nodes all okay, so that's good. The doctor poked at my sides and declared that my liver and such are where they're supposed to be, so that's even better. Don't want my kidneys getting uppity and moving to my chest or something. (Actually, it's more about organs randomly swelling than about location.) The doctor mentioned in passing - when I mentioned my regular x-rays from days long ago - that for the type of cancer I had, while it can spread to the chest, after 3 years it's really unlikely. Current biggest risk right now is the other testicle, and the surrounding lymph nodes. Other localities in the urinary system is a second but rarer possibility.

Blood- and other wetwork: I fasted but didn't need to. Hardly a problem, since not eating breakfast is a habit of mine. (What can I say? You're not supposed to but I dislike eating, so one meal a day suits me well.) I read over the form and found neither HCG nor AFP. No tumor markers this time (unless it's part of one of the others I can't fathom). But I felt like grabbing the pen in my pocket and marking off that "Barbiturates" test just to see what happens.

My squeamishness about needles is oddly specific: I can actually watch my blood being drawn; in fact, it's neat how I can watch my pulse based on how it pumps into the tube. I just can't watch the needle go in.

The best news of the day was that they changed the cups used for urine collection. Now they're proper sample cups, with volume measure lines and a little notch at the top to make pouring easier. Since I had been dreading having to urinate into a cup identical to the sort I drink from at work, that was the biggest relief of the day. (No pun intended - this is a highbrow operation: No puns, just testicle jokes.)

While I was passing the... er... time (sorry), I reread the posted instructions, and then read the female instructions. Wow. I never thought of labia as an annoyance or obstruction to progress before.

While putting my coat on after all my blood and urine collection was done, I saw a young child getting blood taken (so young and needs bloodwork, man, that saddens me). Obviously not happy about it after the needle went in. It reminded me of my mom telling me about my first vaccination. "You were so happy and as soon as the needle went in, you started to cry." She told me how hard it was to be party to something that was for my own good but hurt me. Not a pleasant experience for her, probably far more than it was for me. I'd have reason to be reminded of this in two months' time.

Friday, December 11th, 2009 AD: A busy day. Time to pump myself full of disease in the name of immunity, courtesy of the H1N1 flu shot clinic. In contrast to the frenzy and four-hour lineups of the first days, the flu clinics of early December were quite relaxed. In fact, Alberta was skipped on this week's vaccine deliveries because we have too large a surplus. Seems like almost everyone who wants it has got it, leaving much of the province unvaccinated. (December 28th: So much for that. There was a Christmas rush as people tried to get the shot before going on vacation and before the clinics shut down.)

When I arrived at the Westmount clinic (little thanks to the clinic site, whose Google Maps link pointed at the wilds of Western Alberta about 3 hours outside the city) I found a lineup of... three. The mall security guy stationed at the front of the line was having a far easier time of it than the days where I'm sure he had to turn people away. He mentioned the clinic would probably be closing down before the end of the month due to the low visitation rates. The security guy fears another rush once people realize most of the clinics on their side of town will be closed. (See above - he was right.)

The clinic itself was in a large empty office area. Orange traffic cones surrounding the evenly-spaced metal boxes along the floor where phone and power lines normally run to. The area illunminated with rather nice lights, in various X, V, and I shapes as the structure of the room dictated. The clinic proper started a few feet into the room, behind half-height office partitions in that unique color of cubicle gray that contains a faint trace of color meant to make you feel less like killing yourself.

Within this room were several major sections: The first was a long and winding rope barrier with arrows on the floor, made of tape, to provide space for about a hundred to wait in line. It was sealed off as unnecessary. Running along one edge of the rope maze and further cordoned off was the registration desk, a table about 20 feet long with people and stacks of forms, staffed for five feet of its length. Deeper into the room was dozens of desks, each staffed by a nurse. Several proper enclosed offices once used by management had been repurposed as clean and dirty/biohazard storage, which made me smirk a bit. Just past the desks was an equally large space with chairs for waiting out the fifteen minute wait-for-a-bad-reaction space. Processing my paperwork took longer than the lineup did. I handed my photo ID and health card over to the lady, she filled out two papers for me: One for the seasonal shot and one for the H1N1 shot. (I am nothing if not thorough. And masochistic. Thoroughly masochistic?) I was then directed to entry to the clinic proper, where a dedicated traffic person (also having an easy time of it) offered me a comfortable-looking chair - carrying a cane has its advantages. Despite some knee pain, I declined. I had an appointment to examine my knee today and after so many false starts and "it looks fine to me"s I wanted it to be as cranky as possible.

I was soon directed to a nurse named Amy, who has the odd distinction of being the first person I've met with a way better ID tag shot picture than real face. It's somewhat understandable - her ID tag showed her hair loose, while it was pulled back into a ponytail while she was giving shots. Made her look both austere and older, never a good combination. In contrast, the nurse at the next station had short hair and looked absolutely wonderful as-is (damn hormones of mine). As Amy filled out further paperwork I looked around and realized it was fairly consistent - the better looking nurses tended to be the ones who didn't need something to keep their hair out of their way. I also noticed that virtually all of the nurses were young average-to-attractive women. I'm unsure if this is genius marketing or a sign I need to try pick up girls at med schools.

Amy interrupted my ogling with "Could you spell your name for me?"

I turned back to the form - it was written there - as I spelled it. "L-E-Oh, she spelled it wrong." Copying it off my photo ID, the front desk woman had somehow managed to spell my full first name as "Lenoard". Twice. Fearing further errors, I asked, "How about I just show you my photo ID?" and Amy accepted. I watched her fill out the form and found it amusing - I'm used to writing down serial numbers at my job in much the same way as she was writing down vaccine and adjutant lot numbers. Long strings of letters and numbers that will be completely useless to anyone and never seen again... unless something goes wrong.

Amy was either very good at her work or my nerves have become good at dodging, as I felt no pain whatsoever. The feeling of fluid entering the muscle is always weird, though. It's only a small syringe worth, but it feels like someone's pumping a glass of water in there.

In my normal will-read-anything-while-bored mode, I noticed that the sharps container was by Tyco, as seems to be common. Toys, plastic computer components, and sharps containers, Tyco does it all. I also read Amy's ID tag while I got the second (seasonal) flu shot in the arm opposite the H1N1 shot (I suppose I could've just looked at the breasts that were right there with the ID tag, but it honestly didn't occur to me. My hormones must deplete fast.) "So, I guess I'm a lot older than your normal clientele, huh?"

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"You're a pediatric nurse. Your ID tag."

"Oh, yeah, I guess you are."

I suppose it makes sense, though, a lot of kids get the needle. Probably more than adults. Several nearby were making their presence known as they cried after being jabbed.

Soon after, I bid Amy a good day, waited my requisite 15 minutes at the back of the room, and left. I passed the security guard again, who was taking a break in the back of the room - the front had become so quiet that even his minimal duties of watching the line were not required.

Later in the day, I went back to my GP due to my knee giving me issues. It gets cranky and sore for a day every now and then, but the symptoms always vanish before I can have someone look at it. This time was different - it was still there days later, and swollen to boot, so I got an appointment for the first opportunity - namely, my next day off work.

I was there before my appointment time but as usual the place was a madhouse (my heart went out to the girl working the phones, four lines ringing and just one of her to answer them all) and I had to wait for 20 minutes next to a small child who seemed afraid of reality itself, randomly grabbing objects, examining them, and then scream-crying at them until she forgot she was holding them. It rather impaired my enjoyment of my book. Her main stretch of silence was when a leaving patient smiled at her and said "Smile!" It didn't work, but seemed to confuse her to the point where she took a minute to process it before starting up again.

Eventually my name was called. I couldn't hear it over the screaming. No one got up. She said it again. I thought I heard an L sound, so I got up. She immediately turned and walked away, leaving me to catch up to her and ask if she'd really said my name. She had. I waited another fifteen minutes in the exam room, but it goes far faster when not next to some small screaming being.

The appointment was short. I told him I didn't think it was anything to panic about, but once you've had cancer once, every odd bulge under the skin sends you to the doctor fairly fast. He smiled at that. Didn't seem funny, so either I'm a better wit than I think or he can appreciate the viewpoint.

After a minute of examining my knee, the doctor said it was probably patellar subluxation (to boil it down to layman's terms, my kneecap's come a bit loose) but that gout and early arthritis were possibilities. Time for an x-ray and more bloodwork! Also, 1000 mg of Apo-Naproxen (basically extra-strength and buffered Aleve) daily to bring the swelling and pain down, plus another visit in a week.

Back for another x-ray! The diagnostic imaging clinic at Meadlowlark had changed slightly for the better since my chest x-ray years ago; the mazy, box-avoiding trip from the mall to the waiting area had been replaced with a stroll through a well-lit and wide corridor. Registration was easy, except I was still listed under my Nova Scotia health card number and not my Alberta one. (It's been that long? Really?) I noticed that the Alberta paper health card they give you was showing its age far sooner than my credit-card-style NS health card ever did.

Getting a chest x-ray and a knee x-ray are two very different things, though they start about the same. I changed into a johnny shirt/gown/thing that opens in the back. I closed it. It opened. I closed it. It opened. I closed it. It opened. I said the hell with it, if anyone wants to see my underwear that badly they're welcome to.

The first picture was also like my chest x-rays, except instead of my chin being bumped by a large box that makes strange noises, it was my backside. It's also worth mentioning that this particular x-ray camera made a series of strange old-electronic-synthesizer noises that varied in pitch randomly (though the same series with each shot) and nonmusically. The general effect was that of an eight bit computer taking a conniption.

Then it got weird.

For the next shot I had to lie down on my left side on a bed as comfortable as a prison cot with a pillow made of hard foam and plastic and wrapped in paper. Not being very comfortable, I propped my head up on my arm. With the wind going up my back and the odd pose, I felt like the worst beefcake model ever.

Then it got weirder.

To get a shot of my left leg without my right in the way, I had to prop my right up on a large solid foam pillow and bend both knees at about an 80 degree angle. So my left leg was parallel to my body until the knee, while my right was perpendicular to my body until my knee. I felt like they were getting a shot of me in a running pose.

My arm was starting to ache from the H1N1 injection, so I rested my head on the pillow. My glasses took issue and tilted so the right lens was giving magnified vision to my eyebrow and forehead, further ruining my beefcake model fantasies.

My suspicions about getting running poses seemed to be confirmed when the quality of the shot was apparently poor, so my legs were repositioned into a similar pose that was just different enough to give me the feeling they were getting stills in an animation sequence.

A tip for the fidgety: I found that holding my breath, even though not required for a non-chest x-ray, helped greatly in keeping my mental focus off my legs so they didn't twitch nervously as I tried to keep them still and kept overcompensating.

The final shot involved me lying on my stomach, both legs straight but again with my knees at flexed to about 80 degrees. A depressing beefcake skydiver, then. But soon it was over and I regained the right to wear clothing that doesn't draft in the back.

Bloodwork was very short and sweet. No urine sample. Yay!
So I'm now I've been injected and irradiated and variously abused. I don't know if I'm about to become a supervillain or star in an Arlo Guthrie song. The good news is that the pain of the H1N1 shot went away that evening, and my knee was generally fine. No gout or arthritis (arthritis, including early onset, runs in the family), just some exercises to tighten everything up and get the kneecap snugged into place. And I'm back to being healthy - how boring is that?:)

October 29 2010: Blissfully short, once again. There's precious little to say this time! My checkup took all of five minutes, the bloodwork was somewhat longer and provided the most weirdness.

Upon arrival at the lab, I handed over my paperwork and the woman looked it over. "Did you fast?"

My tests don't require it and my state of fullness has never been asked after before, but fasting seemed like a safe bet. In seven years I've done it many times without issue or complaint from sundry medical professionals in two provinces. It is, however, worth noting that I didn't fast so much as simply not bother eating; the difference is perhaps an academic one, but "fasting" implies conscious effort rather than just doing exactly what I did three of the last seven mornings. (Six if you don't count orange juice.) "Yes." I said.

I didn't expect the response, which was a look of intense disapproval that I would've saved for someone who just killed a baby. "Why did you fast?!" she said, in a voice that matched the face. I shrugged. (My job has cast me as repairman/advisor/complaints department/bad news delivery mechanism. I sometimes need to enforce policies I personally disagree with or act as a barrier to what a person sees as essential progress. Enough of that and you stop caring when people get mad at you.) "When did you last eat?"

"I don't know." (One of the consequences of stopping caring is that you see no reason to waste breath on someone who's mad enough that there's no way it'll help. Save effort for where it'll do good.)

"How could you NOT know?"

(Sigh.) "Nine o'clock PM." ("Do good" includes "ending the conversation, even if you have to lie or insult the person so grievously they storm off." Insulting her wasn't an option, so I didn't tell her that she could do well by following my example since no one keeps a high score for BMI numbers.)

She looked at me like I'd killed another baby, but finished filling out the form, all the while criticizing me for daring to not eat - in front of a waiting room of people, half of whom probably hadn't eaten. Eventually she dismissed me and I took a seat.

The phlebotomist was far more polite, though did oddly forget to get me to clench my fist so the poke came as a complete surprise. My blood didn't have any problems filling the vials, though.

Until we got to that special vile... er... vial... that has to be filled from a more natural opening.

One of the downsides of everything being blissfully short is that one's body doesn't have adequate time to generate more urine after the morning's bathroom rituals. So, not so blissfully, did I find myself standing in a bathroom, almost doubled over in an attempt to will my kidneys into doing something that would allow me to fill the tiny cup. Fortunately, my body came through and I completed my task. I put the sealed sample vial in the little cubbyhole for it and closed the cubbyhole door. Almost instantly I noticed a bright flash of light from around the edges of the door. I opened it again to find the sample gone. So either someone's damn fast at sample collecting or some weirdo on the Enterprise is screwing with the transporter.

Fortunately, I've heard no word back, and in this business no news is usually good news. One more year down, (undefined) years to go!

December 2, 2011 AD: It was a windy Friday morning. I would say "blustery" but I tend to associate that word with Winnie the Pooh, and by the time it's that windy I'm generally using words inappropriate for the Hundred Acre Wood. Not so much at the wind - I was brought up on the coast of Nova Scotia - as the construction standards out west. Everything is built to resist cold well but some things were clearly not built to resist wind. Dodging the occasional piece of fast-moving siding is not how one generally wants to spend their day off. However, my spirits are kept high by watching Edmontonians freak out over it just because they don't usually see gale force winds. (They are, however, disturbingly mellow about tornado warnings.)

As notable events go, there wasn't many. The waiting room had several people talking loudly to themselves, leaving you wondering if they have mental problems or if there's a Bluetooth cell phone headset in the ear you can't see.

The big surprise of this visit was the Dell Optiplex 300(?) nice and new in the corner. The receptionist used it to enter my info and later the doctor would use it to enter what I presume were the exam results. Next to it were the cleaning crew instructions for what needs to be done to the exam room once a day and once a week, which sadly did not include wiping down the keyboard because half a dozen people use it. (They locked it while no employee was sitting at it so I sadly could not mess with people's medical records. Awww.)

Near the cleaning chart was an ad on the door (attached to another, slightly different, cleaning chart) for Cefzil (Cefprozil) with the tagline "Hard to resist!" That tagline makes me think of something addictive, so their marketing department wasn't on the ball that day. I guess they figured that since it was an antibiotic rather than a narcotic, they could get away with implying it was habit-forming.

My appointment was delightfully short. Blood pressure, lungs, checking to make sure the organs just under my ribcage were still in the same place, lymph nodes, etc. Thorough but fast.

As I was leaving I realized my phone had fallen out of its holder during the examination, so I nipped back into the exam area to snatch it. So if you saw a cellphone thief in the northwestern corner of Edmonton that morning, it was probably just me.

I couldn't get my bloodwork the same day due to a pressing work-related engagement (and that testosterone one that needs to be done before 10 AM is kind of hard to do when it's 9:50 AM when you leave the doctor) so when on break at work I called for an appointment. It was a... notable... call, to say the least.

The operator said, "Can I have your name please?" I gave it. "I can't hear you." I gave it louder. "I still can't hear you." I yelled it into the phone. She got it.

I then proceeded to yell the spelling of my name, my phone number and what tests I needed into my telephone as she wasn't hearing them any other way. So if you were passing by a north Edmonton computer store and saw a guy outside screaming about blood and urine, that was probably me and you should have overcome your natural terror of madmen and said hi.

The bloodwork itself was so unexciting that I didn't even remember to write anything about it. Always good to not have anything notable to report from a situation where you're going to bleed.

October 26, 2012 AD: A lovely morning, marred by driving past the remains of a small shopping mall that burned down. Reminders of another twenty people out of work literally overnight are never a pleasant way to start your day off.

My GP was absent, so another was taking the load. I wasn't impressed with the sub. I explained my medical history and his entire response was "We'll have you get an ultrasound.... So, I hear you fix computers?" The rest of my 'medical examination' was me explaining how to reinstall Windows. Never even had to take off my jacket; I was more undressed for the nurse who did my flu shot. I made sure to get his card, but not for the good part of my Rolodex. (Doctors often hate it when you try to wheedle free advice out of them when they're off the clock, it's clear med schools don't have a mandatory course on self-awareness.)

I did at least coax some bloodwork papers out of the guy, the results of which my GP will see, so I went and got that done. What I initially thought was overflow parking due to the new Wal-Mart opening nearby was actually a combination of that and far too many people trying to get bloodwork done all at once. An hour of reading (Yahtzee Croshaw's "Jam", it certainly fills downtime well but I'm otherwise unimpressed) and I found myself being called to the bloodwork room, along with a Stephen Something-or-other. I walked up to the clerk calling names. No one else did.

"Stephen (Something-or-other)? Is there a Stephen (Something-or-other)?" It was a fairly unique last name, hard to miss.

Some people looked around, the odd situation breaking up the monotony. Suddenly, a second clerk ran up and whispered something in the first clerk's ear. The first clerk made her call one more time.

"Is there a Stephan (Something-or-other)?" A guy not three feet from me shot up like a coiled spring being loosed, then sauntered over as much as one can saunter when covering three feet, oozing "I knew it was me all along" smugness. I resisted the urge to take a swipe at him.

The phlebotomist I was led to was either new (quite possible, judging by her age) or has been given some new directives since last I was this way, as the conversation was far odder than before.

"Have you ever had this done before?", she asked.

"Many times," I replied, removing the right side of my jacket.

"We'll be taking some blood and need you to collect some mid-stream urine for us. Have you ever done that before?"

"Many times," I replied, shifting uncomfortably because my cell phone in my jacket pocket had decided my spine would be an interesting place to lodge.

She then went on to explain mid-stream urine collection in more detail than I cared for yet less detail than was necessary to do it right. I wasn't entirely sure if I was annoyed or embarrassed.

My blood was as eager to get this over with as I was because I noticed it shooting into the vials, getting a good two-thirds of the way up the vial being held not quite vertically. It took me longer to get it to stop afterwards than it took me to fill the vials. Fortunately without the needle for assistance it just kind of dribbled out a bit before giving up and deciding to stay inside.

Collecting the urine was the same as before, though I spent a moment trying to recall if the posted instructions were identical to last time. Because I don't remember the old instructions using the word "pee" at all, never mind as a parenthetical adjunct to every instance to the word "urinate".

That done, I was off to schedule my ultrasound.

December 7, 2012 AD: Ah, a lovely frigid day. Went to a new place - a new branch of an imaging company I've patronized before - for my ultrasound, as none of the places I've been have the equipment. The building is deceptively small, housing many different medical sorts of things (dentist, pharmacy, etc.) without looking like it should hold that much. As I walked in I was surprised by the layout, where the main floor is an east-west "tunnel" between two sets of main doors, lined with medical offices and an elevator bank. In the center of the tunnel is oddly incongruous (but quite pretty) faux-brick earth-tone squared spiral staircase that leads only to the basement level. (Not counting fire exits, the top two floors are elevator-only.) I checked the directory then experienced the staircase first hand, as it seems most of the basement is leased to the diagnostic imaging company.

I went downstairs and immediately got lost. In a fairly open basement.

I felt very smart.

I found the sign-in office, which was in the x-ray area. I got signed in, updated my address (odd, I was sure I had already moved when I got my last x-ray), then had to leave the x-ray room back to the open stair-elevator area and enter a completely different office that's nothing but waiting room with a hall of exam rooms sprouting off it. My confusion and careful sign reading meant that by the time I sat down they were calling me in.

The ultrasound technician was a young woman, a trainee. She explained that she would do the ultrasound and then the technician proper would check her work and redo anything that needed it. She asked if that was okay, and I couldn't help but smile. Only a person who knows nothing about my history could ask that. I gave my consent, and she asked about my medical history. I cleared up some confusion as she seemed to think I was short both testicles (what would I be getting checked, I wonder?). "Nope, I've got one. So only half the work for you." She asked why I was getting this done. "In general? Because I had testicular cancer about eight, ten years ago. In specific? I have no idea."

"Did you or the doctor find something?"

"I didn't, and I'd be amazed if he did. He didn't examine me."

Her response was as diplomatic as I'd expect from someone who's hearing someone bitch about a guy who sends them work. After that she gave me the rundown of what to wear (nothing from the waist down - though I didn't take her literally and left my socks on), and to use one towel to cover myself for when not being checked (rather nice of them, as I remember my last ultrasound not having the luxury of modesty while a random person popped in to see if I was "Robert") and another one folded to hold my penis against my stomach so it wouldn't be in the way. It seemed odd to use two towels just for that, but in retrospect this was clever since I'd need at least two towels to clean the gel off anyway.

She left the room and I got suited up (or desuited) and waited, craning my neck to take in more of the room from my spot lying on the exam table. While the room was of course completely different than the Nova Scotia one where I had my last (er, first) ultrasound, there was something that felt "wrong" and was bugging me. The feeling followed me no matter what I looked at, yet it wasn't obvious what was causing it. I didn't have time to pinpoint it before there was a timid knock on the door. "Come in." I said, I thought loud enough.

The door opened a crack and there was another knock. "Come in." I said again, perhaps louder than needed.

The crack widened. The girl's voice was as timid as the knock. "Are you ready?"

"Yes," I said. "Come in."

I guess my scrotum has that effect on women.

Once things started she was very businesslike, though. She asked me to cross my legs as high as I could, I guess to bring the testicle to a more convenient place for running the scanner gizmo over it. Not entirely comfortable, though had I remembered the next step I might've crossed them tighter. The lubricant! A warm gel, it's not really a problem until gravity works its magic and one finds the gel making a beachhead at the bottom of one's buttcrack, with intentions of heading north for a scouting mission on the ol' chrysanthemum gate.

I try to avoid awkward silences during testicular examinations - I figure one should at least try to be warm to anyone who's less than two arm movements away from crushing the family jewels - so I asked if she preferred silence or conversation. She said silence because she needed her concentration. "Otherwise I'd be talking all the time."

I almost said "Ah, you're the chatty sort?" but then I realized starting a conversation was exactly what she just asked me not to do. So I shut up and turned my thoughts gelward.

My first thought was a debate if I could subtly tighten my legs to stop the lube creep, but then the technician leaned her arm on my leg, leaving me to either put up with it or be a bit whiny. Fortunately the lubricant stalled at its beachhead, keeping its gel state enough that it went no further and I didn't get the feeling of being prepped for sodomy.

Yea, these are truly the blessings of a hairy ass.

Gel not otherwise being an interesting subject, my mind wandered. I couldn't help but think of an old joke I read somewhere, about a divine blessing on a young man to "never be without a warm bed" translating in practice to never wanting for a sex partner. Seems someone decided to confer upon me the blessing of having countless young single women fondle my genitals, figuring there was no way for fate to sneak out of that one.

I also wondered about the feeling that something was wrong. It hadn't passed. I concentrated with my eyes closed but I wasn't getting a clearer focus. Even though the ultrasound machine was certainly different than what I remember, it wasn't "wrong" because of that. Seemed pretty normal for a machine whose use I only roughly understand. The same basic design as the last one, though the lighted touchpad was gone, replaced with a few generic buttons. I noticed that the keyboard was standard except for the placement of the special and cursor keys: Cursor left and right sat next to each other where the right Windows and Context Menu keys are on a standard PC keyboard, a bit to the right of the spacebar and Alt. To the right of that, where the second Control key normally is, was the cursor-down key, with the cursor-up key above it taking real estate away from right Shift. A laptop-esque FN key stood in for left Windows, and seemingly only existed to make the cursor keys into home/end/page up/page down equivalents. I wondered if that was hard for a dedicated keyboard jockey to use. I'd likely be hopeless; moving the cursor keys is in my mind a cardinal sin, especially since there didn't appear to be a lack of space on the console for a normal set of cursor control buttons.

After the exam, the trainee excused herself and left to get the technician. Left to stare at the ceiling, I noticed something. That persistent strange feeling was still with me even as I looked at something so mundane as acoustic tile. And then it hit me.

I took off my glasses and looked around again, as best I could from my spot on the exam table. Everything was fine.

I only started wearing glasses about five years ago; I didn't have them during my last ultrasound. Something about them was just making things... wrong... even though I haven't "noticed" my glasses in years.

As I was still reeling from this profound realization about the mysteries of memory and perception, the door opened without a preamble and the technician came in, trainee close behind. The technician was a woman, probably twice the age of the trainee, and somehow exuded the aura of a plain-spoken person. I found my aura-sensing was on target when she asked the same questions the trainee did, but offered a very different response when I mentioned that I had no explanation for why I was being sent for the ultrasound: "Ah, some of them are like that. Look at the paper and send you for the first test that comes to mind. Easier and takes less time for them than doing it properly. But who has the time these days?"

I shrugged. "I'm going to get another appointment and try see my regular doctor again. Hopefully he won't be out sick this time."

"Good," she said.

Well, there's an assessment of a doctor you don't see every day.

She continued, "We don't have to take any more shots, they were fine, but I'd like to take a few minutes to explain some things. You have a few minutes?"

Who has the time, indeed, thought I. "Sure."

Her technique was rather different, making sure I kept my legs apart. I wasn't really relevant to the conversation despite being the topic of it. The technician angled the screen further away than it already was, changing my side view of the LCD to a rear view. Which was a shame, as one of the topics was the visual difference between testicle and epididymis, and I kind of wanted to see that. Not every day you see your own epididymis.

The last thing she did was put the scanner-whatsit on the empty right side of my scrotum, look at the screen, and give a rather dismissive "Yeah." I was slightly offended.

On their way out to leave me clean up and dress, the trainee thanked me. That caught me off guard, as my thought on social convention is that it would be the other way around, if anything. I managed to get out a "You're welcome?" before the door closed.

Cleaning up was once again an adventure, and with only two towels and gel that steadfastly refused to absorb into anything, I eventually just gave up and resigned myself to making the ten block trip home and last errand of the day with assorted creases slimy.

Though this did teach me one thing: If left for more than a few minutes in confined spaces, one stops noticing quite quickly. Because it turns out that this stuff becomes a weak glue. Which made my follicles very happy when I finally got a chance to change my underwear.

Truly the blessings.

Go back! Back I say!
Run along home.
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