Of CT Scans and Kings....

(Year Two)

February 24, 2003 AD - December 10, 2003 AD: Year one of my misadventures in oncology.
January 20, 2004 AD: A FAQ. Most recent update, Sept. 20, 2004: Questions 16 and 17.
February 17, 2004 AD: From walking in the driving rain to feeling like I'm driving a motorcycle with a washing machine on it. And how come I never met another Leonard most of my life and now they keep getting in front of me in waiting rooms?
February 17, 2004 AD (Continued): Your author faces year two with his pants down, like usual. At least one kidney doctor is made uncomfortable by this.
March 17, 2004 AD (Special Features 3 & 4): Lots of diagrams, first of a building (Lost in the Maze) then of a complex chemical (It Came From... The Chemistry Lab!).
April 14, 2004 AD: Stuck in an airlock, stuck with a needle, and stuck watching my blood being exposed to the light of day before returning to my circulatory system.
April 14, 2004 AD (Continued): You know you're in trouble when you're admitted 20 minutes early but still had to wait half an hour. There's also a small dilemma where the author realizes his backup forms are horrendously out of date. Plus, tons of (well, two) guest stars!
May 22, 2004 AD: On a chill December 17th, of 2002, I went under the knife. Time to relive my last moments with my dying right testicle, and (hopefully) my last moments with the carcinomas and teratoma that were killing it.
May 22, 2004 AD (Continued): And a few hours later, I woke up. The time I spent in the recovery ward.
May 22, 2004 AD (Continued): The time I spent in the recovery ward, from a different point of view.
May 22, 2004 AD (Continued): The recovery lounge. Yes, that's a different place. And you do only nominally more lounging in the lounge than you do warding in the ward. Plus, the next day's aftermath.
May 22, 2004 AD (Continued): Closing the circle. The biopsy report returns and I go slightly nuts.
June 9, 2004 AD: Doors where they shouldn't be, windows not where they were expected, a super-short wait for bloodwork, a super-long wait for an x-ray...
June 9, 2004 AD (Continued): ... and an oncologist who seemed frightened by naked people. Someone should have a talk with these interns.
July 7, 2004 AD: A shadow from the past - a recollection of my first and only ultrasound, the scan that diagnosed the cancerous tumor.
August 4, 2004 AD: Dullness, and not just my writing. A routine x-ray, extra blood tests, and a GP appointment where I did most of the examination and treatment work. Not in that order.
August 4, 2004 AD (Continued): Yet another intern gets to prod at the 'equipment', and your author utterly fails to get his freak on with a cute magazine shop cashier. Business as usual, then.
September 29, 2004 AD: Pranks on teacher, lack of bleeder, and... er... a bird feeder. No, not really. Another CT scan, bloodwork, GP visit, oncologist visit. And I have a herneehoonee. No, really.
November 4, 2004 AD: Paperwork surprise!
December 12, 2004 AD: My final trip of year 2 takes uneventful and depressing turns. At least I still have my health, huh?
March 9, 2005 AD - December 13, 2005 AD: Year Three of the zappy-zappy CT donut, pokey-pokey bloodwork needle, and juvenile metaphors disguised as humorous writing.

???, 2006 AD: Year Four. Things finally begin to wind down. I hope.

January 20, 2004 AD: Hello, and welcome to my first month without a story to tell. Now that my scans have been scaled back to once every two months, I'm going to fill the off months with other items. Now, it's just a short FAQ. Next off month (March) I'll write up something about my ultrasound that helped start all this, then maybe later (May) my surgery. Saving the, er, best for last.

But for now, a short FAQ, with maybe a rant or two attached. But first, the FAQ index.

Q: How'd you react when you found out you had cancer?
Q: So, what's a guy look like with only one testicle? Can you get a fake one implanted?
Q: Why don't you mention your oncologist's name?
Q: Why are you still going to this doctor? She seems pretty dumb.
Q: She also seems pretty tactless.
Q: So, all these women, you with your clothes off.... Your 'privates'.... You're never... you know... 'excited'?
Q: A more serious version of the previous question.... How do female doctors approach male patients? Especially ones who they are examining specifically because of their genitals?
Q: I'm getting a CT scan/chest x-ray. Any tips?
Q: What kind of cancer did you have?
Q: What's a Haligonian? Sounds like a funny cyst.
Q: Have you considered changing your diet to add more cancer-fighting foods?
Q: What did you do post-surgery to get going again?
Q: Any interesting bruising?
Q: Some men dislike the idea of losing a testicle, fearing sterility or lack of manliness. What would you say to them?
Q: Is it "orchidectomy" or "orchiectomy"? And how's it differ from castration?
Q: So, what reactions did you get from people?
Q: I've heard of something called an RPLND that some testicular cancer patients get. What is it?

Q: How'd you react when you found out you had cancer?

A: Well, I was kind of shaken up after getting the biopsy back and had a good cry. However, I was on break at my dead-end job at a call center when I got the biopsy back, so I think it was more that I hated my job and was already depressed over that, and this just pushed me over. A lot of my depression late December/early January had nothing at all to do with the cancer.

As proof of that, I offer my reaction when my doctor first phoned me and told me I needed to get some bloodwork done and get to a surgeon within a few days: Mild nervousness. Nothing more.

While I'll recount this story in detail later, I'll mention now that I managed to get out of an ultrasound technician (who was - due to the fact that he's not allowed to - understandably reluctant to say) that the lump on my testicle was solid, which he had previously said was likely a tumor. Even then, with this first piece of evidence that I had cancer, I was perfectly calm.

You see, there's nothing I could do about it. I had absolutely no control over the situation, and therefore didn't worry about it much. Something was happening, and all I could do was wait. So I did. Some people thought I was being downright stoic about things, but I wasn't. I was worried, I was even scared, but sitting around crying wouldn't make the tumor smaller, so I felt it was a waste of time. I don't like wasting my time, so I didn't cry.

It's situations where I have a bit of control (or at least think I do) and need to exercise it carefully that I get panicy.

Q: So, what's a guy look like with only one testicle? Can you get a fake one implanted?

With clothes on? Identical, obviously. Despite what those "male enhancement" commercials claim, alteration of one's genitals does not change your outward appearance.

Naked? A guy looks about the same with one as two. In fact, unless it's warm and everything's particularly, er, 'loose' down there, it requires fairly close inspection to notice. And if anyone's getting that close to you, I think they should know you well enough to have been informed of any oddities with your genitals. Other than a slight 'lopsidedness' to the scrotum, you can't tell easily.

My surgeon discussed implanting a saline fake 'for free' (without any additional surgery - I think I'd still need to pay for the actual fake) while he had me open for the orchidectomy if I wished, but I didn't want one. I could get one later, but frankly, unless I spontaneously become an acclaimed nude model or porn star, it's not worth the increased chance of infection. Who wants an infection in their scrotum?

Q: Why don't you mention your oncologist's name?

A: Partly to help make her life easier. I know that female cancer doctors are hard to come by in Halifax, but I still think that without her explicit permission - something I'm unwilling to ask her for - I shouldn't mention her name. Remember, one of my first mentions of her was when she was complaining about how they handle blood in Antigonish. She might conceivably have to deal with those people again and, while the odds of them seeing this page are low, it wouldn't be fair to my doctor to both publish seemingly-private discussions and staple her name onto it.

Former doctors, and the trainee doctors, I don't mind mentioning. They didn't/don't make any decisions about me, so they can't likely be seen as taking a controversial stance that might anger someone.

There's another reason as well....

Q: Why are you still going to this doctor? She seems pretty dumb.

A: Now, now. She does act a bit forgetful at times, but you have to remember one thing: Specialists in Halifax are notoriously overworked. When she got back from maternity leave, she walked right into a full workload, because she took all of Dr. Leonard Reyno's cases when he left for a pharmaceutical. She likely forgets things because she's just too damn busy to remember it all. It's not her fault, by any means. And, having seen a few Nova Scotia oncolgists in my life, I know that she's a pretty good one. I just have to watch her a bit at times to make sure nothing important is missed. You know, I have to do the crazy thing of taking responsibility for my own health. Which, judging by the reactions I get from people there when I go get my bloodwork done without being told to, is something people seem woefully incapable of doing!

I do play it up a bit for the sake of the narritive, and I do get a bit annoyed at times, but on the whole it's nothing more than one of her personality quirks. That's life. I understand that, and I'm grateful I'm being observed as closely as I am.

Q: She also seems pretty tactless.

Well, that may be. But remember, she looks at my bloodwork and x-ray (or CT scan) before going in to see me. She knows that (so far, at least) I'm okay. This is a person who spends part of almost every workday telling people that they might not live to see their next birthday. She not only walks on eggshells, she has to put down the eggshells herself. In comparision, she doesn't have to do that with me. So perhaps she lets her guard down a little too much and sometimes says stuff that mavens of the social graces would wince at. But there's times when she's made comments and quickly realized that they were the wrong thing to say. She's just too busy to focus on this stuff.

Again, it's no big deal. I'd rather a competent doctor who's a bit tactless than an incompetent one who's tactful.

Q: So, all these women, you with your clothes off.... Your 'privates'.... You're never... you know... 'excited'?

A: When you were a little kid - more little than you are now, anyway - did you get... you know... 'excited' when your mother washed you? No? Because that's exactly how erotic it is. Come back in a decade or two when you've seen a vagina in person, junior, then we'll talk about sexual arousal.

And if you already have, then try looking a bit deeper into the personality of the woman attached. Then we'll talk about sexual maturity. Cripes, some of you people sound like the idiots in my elementary school.

Q: A more serious version of the previous question.... How do female doctors approach male patients? Especially ones who they are examining specifically because of their genitals?

Well, I can't say. I'd presume a female urologist specializing in male fertility would see more of them than a female oncologist (who sees women and men with a myriad of different cancers) would, so the behavior might be different.

But how does a female oncologist approach a testicular cancer patient? From my observations of how they treated me, it looks like this: Imagine you have a job. It pays well, sure, but your job is to go into a forest and free bears from leg traps. Someone else finds them, you just free them.

Bears fall into three categories: The hostile ones, who snap at anything at all; the nonhostile ones, who seem to sense that you're helping and leave you be; and the backstabbers, who act docile until you're in a position where you have to turn your back - then they attack.

With the openly hostile ones you at least know what you're dealing with. The quiet ones might attack you at the worst possible instant, or they might not.

Sometimes a bear gets caught multiple times and you develop an idea of how he acts. But even then, you can never be sure. You're dealing with a bear in pain here. The situation is intrinsically volatile.

That is how I'm treated. Like a bear who's in a leg trap. As they've come to know me, they've let their guard down a bit, but there's always a tiny bit of "walking on eggshells" awkwardness. Not just because I have cancer, like all their patients, but because of my gender (as in, it's not their gender) and the specifics of the examination. The awkwardness never quite goes away. While they've stopped giving me the formal legal liability speech about how I can choose to not be examined if I want, they still often informally stress that I don't have to be examined if I'm uncomfortable with it. (June 17th, 2004 AD: Though now my regular oncologist seems perfectly comfortable with things. Though she often gets a bit of a stutter in her voice when she requests that I lower my pants.)

Dr. Petrie, one of the trainee doctors I've dealt with, said something like "It's about the difference between being formal and being professional. You don't want anyone cracking jokes while doing that examination."

Q: I'm getting a CT scan/chest x-ray. Any tips?

Well, the hardware you're getting it on makes a big difference. But I have a few ideas that should apply everywhere:

1) No perfume. Some people are sensitive to perfume. And sick people doubly so - and you never know what the person next to you in the waiting room is suffering from.

1b) And no running cell phones. If they cause deafening bursts of static in my walkman's headphones, they can and do screw up medical equipment. You want to go through a scan twice because you forgot to turn off your phone, do you? You can't take a call halfway through a CT scan anyway. Hospitals don't like these things, for good reason.

2) No jewelry, at least on or near the parts being scanned. It's expensive, it's tempting to steal if another anonymous patient is left alone with it, and you might have to remove it. While the hospital will likely let you carry it with you, you will have to put it down at some point and you risk forgetting to pick it up.

3) Don't wear your Sunday best, either. I wear my old and weatherbeaten leather jacket for a reason - it's not as tempting a target as the $300 leather jacket I was given a while back. Lockers in hospitals don't lock.

4) If you want to avoid items 2 and 3, bring someone you trust along to watch/hold your stuff. Just remember, they may not be allowed in some areas of the hospital, so give them your important stuff at the first opportunity.

5) Wear a lot of cotton and nothing with metal studs or rivets. They like cotton, though they may still make you change into hospital clothes, depending on policy and scan type.

6) If they tell you to fast, make sure you do. (Needed for CT scans of your gastrointestinal tract. I never mention it on my page because they say to not eat for at least four hours and I'm on the road for over four. I don't eat on the road, so it's a non-issue.) You don't want to go through whatever twice because you ate a prune danish.

7) If you have to go through multiple tests or scans, make sure that one won't interfere with the others and, if so, get it done last or at a different time.

Q: What kind of cancer did you have?

A: Testicular cancer. Specifically, a stage I mixed germ cell tumor, composed of all four different nonseminomas. Two of them composed the lion's share of the tumor:

1) Embryonal carcinoma: If a few reputable-looking Internet sites are to be believed, called that because its structure resembles cells of a developing embryo. This one likes to metastasize, and its mere presense apparently increases odds of recurrence by 20%.

2) Teratoma (mature): Teratomas look (mostly) like they're made of cells from other parts of the body - skin-like and tooth-like cells found inside an organ, etc. Mature teratomas resemble cells from a mature human; immature teratomas resemble cells from an embryo. Mature teratomas aren't likely to spread, which is a good thing - they're fairly resistant to chemotherapy.

And, in lower quantities:

3) Choriocarcinoma: Real nasty little bastard. It's rare, aggressive, and likely to metastasize.

4) Yolk sac carcinoma/yolk sac tumor: Again, looks like cells from an embryo's yolk sac. (Yes, even mammalian embryos have yolks!) Rare, though not likely to spread.

Q: What's a Haligonian? Sounds like a funny cyst.

A: Ahem. It's a term for a person born or living in Halifax. New York has New Yorkers, Chicago has Chicagoans, Toronto has Torontonians, Halifax has Haligonians. (Update, June 17, 2004 AD: Rez pointed out that Liverpool/Liverpudlians is perhaps a better comparison.)

Q: Have you considered changing your diet to add more cancer-fighting foods?

A: No. Because I think those studies saying "Do this/don't do that and you may decrease your chances of getting cancer" are all BS. I don't drink coffee and I eat spaghetti with homemade tomato sauce at least twice a week. No coffee and lots of tomatoes are both things that "may decrease your chances of getting cancer".

Q: What did you do post-surgery to get going again?

A: Nothing special. I sat around more than normal, since I walked hunched-over, but nothing amazing. Made sure I did walk around some, though.

One of the first things I did post-surgery for my mental health was read Lore Sjoberg's The Book of Ratings. I laughed a lot at that book. The pain caused by laughing was bad, but the relief that came from laughing far outweighed the stabs of pain in my abdomen. Got so that I kind of liked the pain because I knew there'd be a wave of painlessness following post-haste. But it didn't cause any lasting pain/pleasure association, put that whip away.:)

Q: Any interesting bruising?

A: The day after my surgery my genitals went black and blue. I wish someone had told me about that. Hell of a thing to wake up in the morning, go into the bathroom, and see that.

Q: Some men dislike the idea of losing a testicle, fearing sterility or lack of manliness. What would you say to them?

In three words or less: You stupid bastard.

In three words or more: Okay, first things first. One testicle's all you need. Unless your hormone production was particularly tepid to begin with, one is, for all intents and purposes, almost the same as two. And those purposes include baby-making.

Second, this is your life. If you don't get it removed, you will very likely die. Not of a great concern to me, as I'm not you. You might think different.

Third, some cancers produce hormones found in pregnant women. And they do things to men like they do to women. For instance, too much Beta HCG - one of the things that increases in some testicular cancers - and you grow boobs. I've heard (from reputable-looking websites) that in some cases, this also has a dampening effect on fertility. So, who's the bigger man now: Me, a man with one testicle and roughly normal chances of fathering a child, or some hypothetical guy with one testicle, one lump of killer mutated cells, a C-cup and a sperm count of zero?

Q: Is it "orchidectomy" or "orchiectomy"? And how's it differ from castration?

A: Both are acceptable. "Orchiectomy", no D, is the preferred one. I use "orchidectomy" because I find it rolls off the tongue easier. Without the D, the I becomes a long E sound (so it sounds like "ork-ee-ekt-o-me") that I find jarring. "Ork-id-ekt-o-me" sounds better to me.

Besides, it makes more obvious the connection to the orchid, a flower that someone named because its tuberlike roots reminded them of testicles, the word "orchid" coming from the Greek for "testicles". So the next time you want to buy someone a flower, think of deviant Greek gardeners and buy a testicle plant.

How's it differ from castration? Castration is a type of orchidectomy. However, not all orchidectomies are castration. Castration (of a male anyway, since "castration" is sometimes used to refer to removal of a woman's ovaries) is also called a bilateral orchidectomy. Bilateral meaning both, orchidectomy meaning removal of a testicle. My operation was a radical orchidectomy, meaning that one testicle and the supporting lymphatic and other structures inside my body were removed. (That's what makes it a radical orchidectomy. But you're forgiven for your confusion. Not one nurse at the hospital got it right either. I'm just glad the surgeon did.)

Q: So, what reactions did you get from people?

You know, I thought I'd answered this one already. Oh well.

Much of my social life (if you could call it that) involved coworkers, so most of the reactions I saw were in the workplace. That colors things.

In both genders, there was a pronounced lowering of voices and occasional drag-me-off-to-a-dark-corner events when people who knew mentioned it to me. More than once I almost said "It's not syphilis, you know!" because that's how a lot of people treated it. There's nothing to be ashamed of - I didn't bring this upon myself, it just happened. The closest I got was during one conversation when I told one guy (rather loudly) "Yes, but how many testicles do you have?"

Guys were generally supportive, with mixed results. I heard several ugly stories about drunk friends-of-friends who attempted to scale razorwire-topped fences or other groin-damaging objects, in an attempt to reassure me either that I'm not alone or that I can still father kids. One guy went into detail about his recent enema, but I suspect he liked hearing himself talk. Another was telling jokes of varying crassness levels in an effort to hide his obvious nervousness.

Women had more sisterly or motherly (depending on age) than brotherly reactions, but there were three events completely different from anything I'd otherwise seen and I feel I have to mention them.

Woman A was cute as hell, and I'll admit having a crush on her... right until I first spoke to her. Couldn't be denser if she was made of depleted uranium. I'm probably imagining it, but I think she developed a slightly too healthy interest in me, even before I had an odd number of testicles. While she had previously attempted to regale me with talk of her live-in boyfriend and son, one day she said something about "My boyfr- er, my son's father...." and never mentioned him again after that. No word of a breakup, just suddenly this odd turn of phrase separating her from him. And, apparently, to everyone else in the place he was still her boyfriend.

Still, real or not, when she found out about the surgery, she only had one question: "You kept one of them, right?"

Woman B was different. Outspoken and sometimes coarse, her first statement when she found out I had one testicle was, "You had better not have kept one just because you think it makes you a man!" I think if I had kept a cancerous testicle, I would've been risking more immediate health problems from her than from the cancer.

Women C-E were a small clatch who sat, worked, and talked together. Woman C was waiting for a biopsy to come back, and evidently my supervisor had told most of his equals, all his superiors, and whatever inferiors had medical claims currently submitted. She called me over to her desk and asked a few questions about my surgery, with D and E listening in.

D suddenly piped up with a comment on the surgery she needed when giving birth, and C started talking about giving birth to her kids. It quickly moved to a discussion about how much they were dilated and how soon. Woman E - who was so tiny that giving birth to a small grapefruit looked like it would cause severe medical problems, never mind something the size of a watermelon - had no kids, so E and I just sat there looking uncomfortable. Just as I thought I'd found a kindred spirit in discomfort, the conversation turned to general gynecological problems and E jumped in with her own nightmares.

I had just started attempting to make myself invisible when a guy walked by and heard the phrase "vaginal bleeding", at which point he looked at us in horror and said "What the hell are you talking about??!??" (The obvious answer, vaginal bleeding, obviously wasn't satisfying.)

I jumped up and said "I'll tell you all about it!" and followed him out.

Q: I've heard of something called an RPLND that some testicular cancer patients get. What is it?

Retroperitoneal Lymph Node Dissection. Lymph nodes are typically removed during any cancer surgery, since it's one of the first places the cancer spreads to. But it's not the only way it can spread. At some point testicular cancer can make a jump from one area of the scrotum to another (something like from the testicles themselves to the area around it, I can't quite remember what). Catch is, the other area is served by a different part of the lymphatic system and therefore a completely different set of lymph nodes. The ones for the testicles are in the front, the ones for everything else are in the back. So, if doctors think it's spread, they need to get those nodes too. And they can't get them from the back, so they have to take them from the front.

SQUEAMISH ALERT: This paragraph is ugly. Scroll past this to the next paragraph if you want. Basically, they cut you open, starting just below your breastbone and stopping somewhere around your navel. Then, they haul your guts out, put them in a sterile bag, and stick the bag on your chest. Then they work around the unremovable parts, cut out the nodes, put your guts back in, and sew you up. END SQUEAMISH ALERT.

I'm intensely grateful that I didn't need this.

A bitterly cold winter's morning - cold enough to make my teeth chatter, but strangely not cold enough for any precipitation worse than driving rain, though it kindly lets up for at least part of my walk from the far end of the parking lot to the side entrance of the Victoria building - and I arrive for my first examination of 2004, the second year post-cancer operation.

Blood collection is busy, so I decide to skip that for the time being. I register for my x-ray at 8:10 but find out it's only open at 8:30*. Oh, so that's why they wrote 8:30 on the appointment form. I thought I had to get it done by then. I wait around for 20 minutes, but since only one person registered ahead of me I'm done fairly soon after they start. And since about five people came in after me, perhaps it was all for the best.

(*Registration for the diagnostic imaging department is centralized, and thus opens when the earliest section does, I think it's around 7:00.)

The technician is a young woman. Instead of having me do the fashion model pose, she has me put my hands on handles on the sides of the machine. With my arm and torso position, it was kind of like riding a motorcycle, except the motorcycle has a handlebar basket that contains a small washing machine. A washing machine that's running.

Apparently the woman is expecting a busy day. She didn't even wait for the image to render, she came right back out and got me to hold on to the top bar in the trapeze-launch style position used for the side shot. Then she went back, waited a second, and then (judging by her reaction) the first image popped up. She then told me to do the whole deep breath thing and took the second shot right away. Then I got to watch her endure the whole render wait. Believe me, if you've used a dialup modem on your Internet connection, you know the look she had.

But it turned out okay and I left. On my way back around, I peeked through the hall access to her lead-glass niche. I saw she was already doing the same for a woman - the woman was holding on to the overhead bar, but the image that popped up as I passed by was a front view. I'm no doctor, but it looked very normal-looking. But I am a computer person and what looked less normal was that the rendering program has a font and GUI design disturbingly close to a DOS EDIT window.

Back waiting for bloodwork, and boy did I wait. Several people who arrived after me were called in before I was. Perhaps they were scheduled, but the small labor crisis that ensued after 10 minutes wasn't. (No idea about the details, but it mostly involved people phoning other people and saying things in imposing yet hushed tones.)

After all that passed, finally the woman comes out, looks directly at me, and says "Leonard..." I shift my weight forward.

"... Arsenault." I shift my weight backwards as a young man, seemingly college age, leaped out of the far corner. I hadn't even noticed him there before, and I don't think the woman taking blood did either. And it's not like it's a large waiting room.

Someone else comes in and sits down. A register-desk person comes in about two minutes later and gets him - he's not for the clinic blood collection, he came up here after registering instead of going back to the normal waiting room to wait for his name to be called. Well, now I don't feel as silly for missing the "place requisition form face-down into tray" sign, since he missed that and several "Clinic patients only." signs as well.

Another few minutes and it's my turn, finally. There's the standard ritual where she asks me my birthdate (presumably to remove chances of accidental record mixup - it's obviously nothing complex or for security since she finished the year for me). Unlike other technicians, though, she followed the ritual with "I have a son your age!"

I said "Oh, that's nice!" and was then lost for words. I remember my mom told me about one time when she was talking to a bloodwork technician about his son, but that was because his son was my age. Doesn't seem right when you're not both talking about your kids. (Oh, and years later my mom got blood taken by the same guy, and recognized him. She asked how his son was. He was at first shocked, then - when he learned how she knew he had a son - amazed that my mom remembered, since the boy had gone from elementary school to college in the intervening years.)

On to 11 Victoria and my examination. I notice that these last few visits, they've had someone standing around in the Victoria elevator area who can give directions. Cool.

I skip the first elevator, which is packed. The second, on the other hand, is empty. And the people who get in when I do are, conveniently (or depressingly) headed to the 11th floor (cancer department) as well, so it's a quick trip up.

I register. The woman (who is somewhat familiar) tells me I'll need to get a chest x-ray and bloodwork. I say "Already done." She seems a bit shocked but pleasantly surprised. (Sounds familiar to the regular readers, no?) I go to the waiting room.

As I (and other random people) wait, a group of people come in: Two women, one of whom is carrying a little girl. The girl is old enough to walk a few steps, but only when holding onto something for support. Real charmer, smiling at everyone, watching with rapt attention anyone who waves or make faces at her. After a while, though, everyone tires of this and goes back to their respective magazine articles. The little girl takes an interest in the tray one of her caretakers is holding. Containing several fresh-from-the-percolator cups of very hot coffee from the Tim Horton's stand in the Dickson building lobby.

Now, if I was one of the adults here, I'd have (if I was the one holding the coffee) moved out of the child's reach and used the word "No." sternly, though not harshly. Or (if I was the one not holding the coffee), I'd have grabbed hold of the child and put her on my knee. I don't think that risk of disfiguring injury is something you should expose children to. But what do I know, I've never taken care of kids. Maybe some people figure they're expendable. I mean, you can always make more.

Instead, these two who have been (temporarily, judging by their conversation) entrusted with the child's welfare just say baby-talk sing-songy things like "You're going to burn your little hand!" that the kid has no hope of understanding. And they do nothing to get the cups out of the kid's reach. If she put her hand in the wrong place, she was going to scald herself, and probably jump back and knock the whole tray down onto her.

I was considering getting involved when they decided to go somewhere else, evidently they weren't in the right waiting room or something, they were just looking for someone. (So why'd they sit down and wait...?)

My condolences to the kid. Life's already dealt you one hell of a hand if you deal with these two prizes on a regular basis.

Finally my oncologist's nurse comes by and gets me. I'm weighed (up a pound) and taken to an exam room. We talk about how the past two months have been going. I mention my problems with finding work (and how someone at EDS took it upon themselves to verbally abuse me over the phone, ahem, telling me that my current situation made me unemployable for anyone but EDS), and other such things. They really like keeping tabs on one's mental outlook. I'm just afraid that one day they're gonna tell me to see a shrink.:)

She asks if I've had any physical problems with my bones - pain, etc. I say "Well, my knees... no, wait, that must be ligaments or something. Lately when I sit in the same position for too long, when I stand up the backs of my knees really hurt for a minute. But it passes. Now I just move around more so it doesn't happen often."

She said "Oh, that's okay. You're just getting old." She laughed - she obviously didn't mean it seriously, and says as much - got up to leave and told me "someone" would be in to see me. Ah, a surprise.

The top of the magazine stack in this exam room was an issue of "Rosie". I didn't get a chance to hide it, though, since my oncologist arrived almost immediately. With her was an older woman, already graying. Looked a little too old to be a trainee.

But trainee she was. My oncologist began "This is Doctor " (The name she said escapes me right now. All I remember is that it wasn't Nixon.) "She's a nephrologist. Er.... A kidney doctor. Due to the low number of oncologists here " - she then paused for a second and her voice took on an edge - "the very low number of oncologists here, she's changing practices and will be with us from now on."

Ouch. That depresses me. Man, being an oncologist in this province sucks. It's worse at the IWK children's hospital. Nine pediatric oncologists dwindled down to two, and one of them was leaving soon as well. It's madness.

Anyway, the examination.... My oncologist checked my lungs (fortunately, the stethoscope on my back wasn't frigid), then asked me if I'd noticed any growth in my breast tissue. I said no, but I wasn't looking for it. She said "Oh, believe me, you'd notice it." She turned to the other doctor and said "This is about the only time we regularly see healthy patients." I gather from the tone that she meant testicular cancer patients in general, not me personally or men with no boobs.

Then she checked my groin lymph nodes and my testicle. Despite appearing more relaxed than previously, she was still stammered a bit when she said "Okay, now just scootch down your... uh... your...." She waved in the direction of my pants. Maybe she just forgot the word, but I don't know. I don't understand why, it's not like you could make the phrase "scootch down your pants" sexy or anything, even if you tried.

As I scootched, I said "I know what you mean. I've been through it many times before."

My doctor said "Oh, don't I know it."

Dr. not-Nixon closed the window blinds. I thanked her for closing the blinds and she tried to acknowledge what I said without actually looking at me. Watching her gaze, I think she looked at my arm, the wall, the floor, my legs, the window, and my chest before eventually just nodding and moving so my oncologist was in the way of the view of my naughty bits. This surprised me at first, but then I realized that someone who deals with urine samples and such for a living doesn't necessarily deal with what the urine comes out of.

My oncologist said "Okay, you can get dressed, everything's fine." That was all there was to the examination. (Though she did leave for a moment a bit later to check the x-ray.) She said "Oh, that reminds me. Your testosterone test from last time is back in."

"How is it?" I asked.

"Perfectly normal. Ten point some." She seemed surprised that I jumped from 7.2 to 10.x in just one month. (Incidentally, the maximum average level is 27 or so. Lowest is about 8.9. So I've gone from being 1.7ish too low to being about the same amount above the minumum.) Next time the testosterone test from this time will be in, so we'll see if I'm all over the map.

She turned to the other doctor. "Hypogonadism** sometimes occurs post-orchiectomy, but it's usually after chemotherapy, so I hold off a year before I test in patients who didn't get chemo."

(**I didn't know if she said "hypo-" or "hyper-" but "hypo-" is the only one that fits the context. It means lower hormone production from the gonads. "Hyper-" means higher production.)

She turned back to me. "But I did it for you a bit early. Eight months?"


"Eleven? Not nine?"



"Yes." (Though I realize, in retrospect, she probably forgot that I used to be Dr. Reyno's patient. Eight months for her, not eight for me.)

"Anyway," turning back to the other doctor, "we check because of possible long-term effects like osteoporosis."

Osteoporosis? Oooh, there's one I hadn't heard of. I just thought my beard would thin and I wouldn't want to boink anymore, and here I could be looking at a host of symptoms that post-menopausal women get. But since I seem to be floating in the right range, I'm not worried. Much. Though the nurse asking about bone pain and problems suddenly makes more sense.

On my way out, I looked at the scheduling form for my next appointment. I noticed that someone had hand-written in the corner devoted to today's appointment, "X-ray/bloodwork completed before arrival." and underlined it.

I scheduled my next appointment (was supposed to be late March, but it's going to be mid-April due to my oncologist being out of town). The receptionist (the same one I saw on the way in) mentioned that I'd need to get bloodwork done on the day of my appointment and I'd need a form. I didn't bother explaining that I could do it the day before when I'm in for the CT scan (not really relevant), but I said that I already had the form. (My oncologist's nurse gave me one, knowing that I do these things myself. Then my oncologist was about to give me another one before I stopped her. I've already got one backup here plus a backup x-ray form. I could irradiate myself whenever the hell I please. That's power for you.)

Again, she was amazed and congratulated me on my ability to take care of my own affairs. She even said "I wish more of our patients were like that!" I was rather proud of my achievement (if you could call it that) but slightly depressed at the vast stupidity humanity displays on a regular basis. I'm never gonna make it in customer service.

Oh, and incidentally, I'd like to remind you that most of the floors on the Victoria have an admissions desk straight ahead as you leave the elevator. Above the desk is a sign noting what floor this is and what the floor is dedicated to. Remember that.

The elevator down had six people on it and each one seemed to have a different stop. Amongst the interesting ones were:

Floor 11. I know that's where I was, but there were two people (one in nursing gear) on the elevator already, and it was going down. 12 and 13 are levels you see employees going to, no one else. (More on this later. Now that I've examined the buildings from outside - in a picture I found, since I forgot while I was there - I understand why there's a 12 and 13.)

Floor 8. The sign above the desk here was empty except for the number "8". One of the mysterious 12th floor people got off here. I later checked the directory next to the elevator on the main floor and found the floor 8 listing similarly blank.

Floor 6. A blast of cool air hit me as the door opened here. The air was scented as well, I couldn't place it beyond a chocolate kind of smell. A faintly rancid chocolate. The directory mentioned it was for "family services" and, if I remember correctly, "renal transplants". "Renal" refers to the kidneys. As in, oddly enough, what a nephrologist treats!

Floor 1. I didn't go there, since the main floor is floor 2, but I noticed a panel pointing out that it's ground level for the Centennial building only. I finally realized when I'd been in the Centennial building - the day of my surgery. On the way out (I was in a wheelchair and still coming down off the anesthetic, so my perception was a bit fuzzed.) I passed through the Centennial exit area, despite using the Victoria elevators to get there. (Must be a connection, then.) No wonder I was so confused about what building was what.

Next month.... Either I finally punch up my surgery thoughts, or I finally get a decent map of the Dickson building up so you can understand what I mean when I say I'm going here or there.

March 17, 2004 AD - and on this fine St. Patrick's Day, two special features.

First up: Special Feature 3, Lost in the Maze, featuring maps and photos and other visual aids showing off the Dickson, Victoria, and Centennial buildings.

Second up: Special Feature 4, It Came From... The Chemistry Lab!, featuring diagrams and structural formulas and other visual aids showing off something far smaller - a molecule of a chemical used in the treatment of some kinds of cancer.


It's now the evening of April 12th. I've swilled my gastrografin and shaved the inside half of my left arm, from wrist to elbow. I am ready for my next CT scan. My arm is odd to look at. Reminds me of when I was a little kid. (I suppose it could remind me of last time I shaved my arm, but that's hardly an interesting flashback....) Hairless, smooth, really pale. I'd forgotten my skin was that pale, actually. My dark hair serves to make it look darker.

It's now April 14, 2004 AD. Yesterday afternoon I walked into the Dickson and headed right for the bloodwork. The main room was packed, but I was greatly relieved to find only one person waiting in the clinic blood collection, a man who walked in just before I did.

I wasn't relieved when I realized that no one was on duty here, though.

A few technican types passed by, one coming back from a late lunch or some such - this was around 2:30 - and nothing much else happened. By about 2:50 there was four of us waiting and someone finally came along and got things going.


Nope, not falling for that again. If I get up, it'll turn out that the guy who came in before me is named Leonard. After a delay, some idiot's last name is uttered.

Wait, that's my last name. That's a bit of a surprise. I get up and sit down in the blood collection chair. She gets things ready for my left arm, but I ask her to use my right arm, saying that the left is destined for an IV.

She moves over and, after jabbing me, asks me my birthday. I tell her. Since it's coming up on April 17th, she mentions that car insurance rates tend to drop off a bit sometimes when you have a birthday (up to a certain point) on the grounds that a person is more responsible. She suggested I look into it. I don't drive, but I decided it wasn't worth getting into, so I just thanked her. Perhaps my tepid response was a trigger, but she kept it up, talking about age and driving responsibility for a while before she finally paused and said, "Do you drive?"

Caught, I said "no" and then wound up spending the rest of my time there explaining my lack of a license. (Long story, and one I'm rarely in the mood to retell.)

On to the CT scan. I don't know if they did some work or something, but the hall seemed wrong. So much so that I was staring at a blank door, trying to figure out if this door with the sign "CT Scan" hanging over it was where I usually went. Eventually I walked a bit further down the hall and found that I hadn't gone far enough. I had to go through a set of doors (that I don't remember being there before) and found myself in something that looked familar. It was the CT registration (to my right) and waiting area (to my left), same as always.

The doors behind me, combined with the similar set ahead of me where the Centennial building starts, gave me the feeling of being in an airlock.

A woman at the registration desk takes all my information. Not the one who's usually there in the colorful outfits, but another one in a somber green (somewhere between military olive green and forest green) shirt and a lab coat. After asking if I've done this before (Unsurprisingly, I answer yes.) she hands me a paper, saying I've probably already seen it, but it seems everyone needs to read it. I've never seen it before, so I sit back and look it over. Turns out it's something for people getting contrast IVs.

The paper, while nothing quite so epic as a good novel, is still of interest. It's basically a longer, more detailed version of the speech I accidentally made a technician recite. To summarize, it was basically "You need to get an IV for this test. Sometimes it has a detrimental effect on kidney function, but this is rare, and almost always mild and temporary. However, in less than one in a hundred thousand people, it can cause kidney failure. We have a test to determine if this might happen to you, so if you have any of the following diseases or symptoms, please tell a technician as soon as possible. He/she will answer any questions you may have and perform the test if necessary. If you are still worried, remember that you can refuse the IV. You will be asked for verbal consent to receive the IV by a technician." (Turns out no one asked me for consent, but since I don't have any of the symptoms and I've had this done before, I saw no need to bring it up.)

All this, and I get fantastic hospital duds to change in to.

While changing, I put the johnny shirt on and then put the robe on. I noticed I was trying to stuff my arm into the robe the wrong way, the arm was hanging out instead of in. No problem, I'm putting it on inside-out. I flipped it around and tried to stuff my arm in. Still wouldn't go, as this arm was also hanging the wrong way. Some careful examination revealed that one arm was out and one was in, so flipping it around would always show me one 'wrong' arm. I fixed it, put it on, and sat in the waiting room. Looking outside the window of the waiting room reveals that the window is close to the edge of the Centennial building. Since the window is in the middle of the room, it means that at least some of this room is within the confines of the Centennial's structure.

After some waiting, the colorfully-dressed woman comes in with a cup of that new taste sensation, flavored contrast medium. She looks at me. She looks three chairs to my right, at one of the other robed people sitting in the room (female, middle-aged). Nonverbal communication is still not my forte, but I assume that since it's not my appointment time yet, it's this other person she wants. Turns out the other person isn't good at nonverbal either, but eventually the female patient gets the hint and asks if the drink is for her. It is. She's led away.

Time passes and it's finally my turn. Rather than one of the registration women (colorful-outfit-lady or green-shirt-and-lab-coat-lady), it's one of the technicians who comes and gets me. A female technician, possibly one I've seen before, but I'm not sure. I realize, with a start, that the image of that technician who gave me the IV from Hell has slipped from my mind. I also realize that, despite slipping, I was only reminded of her now. This does not bode well.

I'm led into the back room, and the IV is set up. The woman starts to go for my right arm, but I point out my bloodwork needlehole and direct her to my left arm. (Should've just shaved my right.)

After the jab, the technician said "Okay, stay here and don't move your arm." She left.

I ventured a look at my arm, as I was feeling mild discomfort. The needle was sticking out of it. Still capped, so I wasn't bleeding, but the needle was just there, sticking out of my arm like a candle from a cannibal's birthday cake. I decided to not move and began to pass the time by imagining interesting ways for the technician to perish. I only got so far as "Thrown into a pit filled with needles that were dipped in tetrodotoxin." before another technician (female, younger than the first) walked in and finished rigging everything up. Soon after this, the first technician game back with the last dose of Gastrografin. I thanked the second one for finishing setting up the IV. I didn't thank the first. Both left.

The Gastrografin was fairly tolerable, until I hit a lump of lemon flavor crystals on the last swig and proceeded to pucker myself into semiconciousness.

I quickly recovered. Some time after this, the second technician came back and led me out into the hall and into the scanner room.

I was loaded into the scanner. Catch is, the machine moves so smoothly that movement is hard to discern* and when you can tell you're moving you can't quite tell the direction. So I close my eyes, move, move again, open my eyes and get clipped in the eye by the laser and realize that the second move was moving me out of the machine, not further in. I didn't get hit by the laser straight-on, though. Thankfully.

(*It's not motion that you feel; the Earth is moving and you never feel that. It's acceleration and the jostles of travel - vibration, wind passing by, etc. - that you feel.)

Either during this moving or during the first scan, the second technician disappears and a third pops in (female, older, gray hair). She has me rest my hand (left arm) on the machine, so I start off looking like I'm pushing a large button on a desk I'm standing behind. But my arm is pushed further up as I go further into the machine, so I shift from a button-push move into a Heil-Hitler.

I'm told all about what to expect as the IV is rigged. She explains all the possible feelings an iodine IV recipient gets, and then asks me if I've done this before and if so, which feelings I get. (The way she says it, some people actually feel like they've wet themselves, not just like they need to urinate.) Not willing to explain that I feel like my bowel is about to explode, since every other technician seemed to express surprise that I don't feel like my bladder's going nuts, I just say "A warm feeling."

When I answer the question I make the mistake of turning my head to face her. As I do, I notice that she's hooked me to the iodine thing, but hasn't started it, so my blood is making a mad rush up the spiral tube between me and the iodine. I look away. I'm not afraid of blood, really, just of my own rapidly leaving my body in ways I didn't expect. I venture a glimpse to make sure she started it up. She has, and the pressure of the iodine solution pushes the blood all back down. The idea of my blood taking a detour outside my body temporarily and then going back in is also unappetizing.

She rubs my arm repeatedly and says "I can't feel the contrast going in. The vein must be deep." Well, um, that's good to know, I guess.

The second scan takes two tries. I'm often amazed by the finality on the recorded voice when it says "Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in... and hold." Like if you don't hold your breath you're going to be shot. There's also a blinking light on the far side of the machine (you can only see it when loaded in it) and it blinks when the recording starts. Hey, deaf people need CT scans too.

After the scan is done, the third technician returns (they always leave during the scan, I presume to keep their radiation exposure level down - same deal with x-rays of all sorts, including dental - fancy places have leaded glass windows, nonfancy ones have walls, really nonfancy ones have the person go around a corner with a long-corded remote control) and unloads me from the machine. She asks, as she removes the tape - blissfully painlessly I might add - if the red marks on my arm are from the IV. (Since she was the only one of the three not present for the starting of the IV, she didn't know they were there before.) I say "No, that's because I shaved my arm." I wave my other, more hirsute, arm around a bit.

"Oh! Were you here about six months ago?"

My attempts to quickly figure out when I moved to an every-four-months schedule fail, so I run with my hunch. "Yeah, I think."

"I tell all my patients about you." Funny, I can't place her at all. "They complain about the pain when I take the tape off, and I tell them that there's this one person who comes in who shaves his arm."

I'm simultaneously flattered and amazed that no one else (unless she's mistaking me for someone else) has thought of it. Believe me, if you're hairy and getting regular IVs you make the hair + tape = pain connection very fast. The one-scan-only people I can see not knowing, but surely I'm not the only male patient getting regular scans.

I leave, change, and head out of the building. I notice a few things on the way out. On my way through the hall from the Victoria to the Dickson, I notice a few odd doors. First, there's a psychosocial oncologist there. No idea what that is. Also, I looked into the door of the ophthalmology area and saw a brick wall similar to the one at the end of the Long Hall I see when I get my x-rays. So - assuming it's all one brick wall, which is possible though not absolute - the hall upstairs isn't quite the length of this one. There's about 10-20 feet that are part of the Victoria. One of these days I'll have to nip upstairs and see.

Also, the place has become completely nonsmoking, due to federal regulations. It use to have a small outside shelter for smokers, now that's gone. Though, judging from the number of butts around, some people have no respect for the signs.

And, there's a part of the Dickson (far right of the structure if you're standing outside the entrance, facing the building) that has a warning on it, near the roof. It has the classic trefoil radiation warning symbol and a note saying that no one is allowed on the roof without the okay of some department (couldn't quite make out the department name - radiology I'd presume). There's also a roadway going behind the Dickson that's blocked by a gate. Pedestrians seem to stream up from this in the mornings when I'm here. No idea if they're supposed to go there.

And the next morning is no exception, as three people of apparently wildly varying backgrounds (guy in business suit, guy on bike in exercise clothes, someone who looks like a late high school/early college student) pass me by. I've arrived early for my appointment. (Personally I figure if my ass is in the waiting room by 8:55 I'm golden, but I'm travelling with people.)

I spend some time roaming the first floor of the Dickson while my fellow travellers get sorted out, since if I go up myself they probably won't be able to find me on 11 Victoria. I look over the map in the Dickson main entrance and realize it's identical to the one on their webpage, the one I horrendously bastardized on my Lost in the Maze special feature. So that's where they got it from. That explains the "You are here." indicator. I amuse myself by imagining a little Wonderboy roaming around it.

Then, eventually, I'm at the Victoria elevators. I skip the first ones (first is packed, the second is empty but soon packed with the people waiting). While waiting for another, the colorfully-dressed woman from the CT scan registration walks by and says to me "Hello, Leonard!" Only thing is, she's wearing something over her presumably-colorful outfit and a baseball cap over her hair, so I don't recognize her until she speaks, by which point she's past me and into the crowd around the elevators.

Fate intervenes and two elevators arrive almost simultaneously. The crowd splits and the elevator isn't that badly crowded.

After a good half hour or so of waiting in the clinic waiting room, it's 9:00 and I expect another 20 minutes of waiting.

Much to my surprise, my oncologist appears personally and ushers me into the exam room directly across from the waiting room. "We're nurseless for the time being," she explains, "because they have a meeting every Wednesday morning before nine and sometimes it runs long. So I decided to start with the easiest patient."

Assuming that she was being entirely honest, I was kind of flattered, even if it was essentially selfish on her part and meant I bumped one of the two guys sitting in the room with me out of his appointment space (which makes me equally selfish). But I don't feel that bad - one of them kept staring at me like I was going to try to steal his presumed-wife sitting next to him. (No offense meant, but he needn't have bothered.)

Because of this, the entire weighing ritual was not done, we skipped right to the examination.

It was a short examination anyway. Because I got my CT scan done late in the day, the official report wasn't in, but she looked over the scan and said it looked fine. (A radiologist has to sign off on an official diagnosis, even if the oncologist is qualified to make a diagnosis. This miffs some oncologists. Me, I'm all for as many people as possible looking the thing over. But I'm biased, it being my survival and all.)

Two of the the bloodwork tests weren't back, but she said the third was fine and she would call me if anything was out of sorts. I'm not waiting by the phone for that one. Then she checked my lungs, my neck lymph nodes, etc., and asked me where I had spent the night. I mentioned the name of a motel outside of town.

I notice that she's washed her hands in the sink (there's one in each exam room) and is putting on latex gloves. Since I'm already lying down, I take the hint and lower my pants. Perhaps because she didn't have to request that, she doesn't even break conversational stride while checking my testicle. "The diner across from there is great. What do you think?"

Unlike the car conversation from yesterday, I decide to be upfront and say "I didn't eat there last night."

Really, to hear the conversation, it would seem like something that would take place anywhere. Well, anywhere not involving nudity and latex.

She continues, "Well, it is. The clam chower is excellent. Great place to go with kids." Of course, one wrong move right now and I won't be taking any of my own kids there, ever. "You can get in and out quickly."

The concept of that phrase as a double entendre didn't hit me until I was out in the parking lot.

After the impromptu restaurant review, I got dressed again. My doctor sat down and looked over some papers. "The current American standard, which Nova Scotia also follows, is to do a CT scan every four months in the second year. However, European studies are stating that it's only needed every six, and I think Nova Scotia will be moving to that standard. So I was wondering what you thought of this."

Uhhh.... "Whatever you think is good." Far be it from me to dictate use of government-owned health equipment.

"Okay, I think we'll move it to six, then. You'll still see me every two months, though."

"So my next appointment will be bloodwork and an x-ray..."


"And my next one after that will just be bloodwork...?"

"No, you'll get an x-ray."

"So if I'm not getting a CT scan, I'm getting an x-ray."


"Oh, okay."

"You can get the requisition forms when you get here." I was about to protest, but then I remembered I had a spare x-ray and bloodwork form sitting on the dresser at home. I don't really see the logic behind getting me to walk to the Victoria elevators, go up in an elevator that's likely going to stop at at least two more floors, go to the registration desk, wait for them to dig up my file, track down or create the needed forms, and then go down the elevator, down a hall, up a floor of the Dickson elevator, then down the same hall that I just walked up one floor below, when I could do half of the stuff here now when there's no time pressure on getting the x-ray done X minutes before the exam. But I'm not privy to how this place works, and sometimes they forget that I'm about the only independently-brained patient that they have.

I was suddenly grateful for my backups, though. They're a bit old, but by now I know what tests I'm getting well enough that I could probably bluff my way through filling out the forms. (Though I do notice that there's a note to compare it to the "Sept 4/03 Nov 12" scan - so perhaps I might get caught going upstairs anyway. Unless, of course, I change it to "Feb 4/04".)

The woman at the desk doesn't make a big deal out of it either. But then, she didn't seem to realize I'd got my tests done earlier anyway, so perhaps that's not surprising. Oh, well.

I must also remember to run my backups through my scanner. I don't like the idea of being without any backup at all, and I have no guarantee that I'll get two new ones next time. Hmmmm.

A few blocks away I made a quick stop at my GP's office. The person in front of me was a heck of a comedian. The previous patient came out of the doctor's office and the comedian and patient recognized each other. The patient asks "How are you doing?"

The comedian replies, without missing a beat, "I'm in a doctor's office. How do you think I'm doing?"

Later on, when he's seated in a side room (presumably normally used to treat children, as it has floral pillows and two stuffed animals), he needs to come out of the room to speak to the secretary. He's carrying one of the stuffed animals as he does. He didn't draw attention to it or anything, he just carried it knowing it would draw attention.

The secretary comes back with him and she's carrying something, an insulated container that looks like something you'd put coffee in. The steam coming from the top only reinforces the concept. (But on reflection I realized it could have been carrying something very hot or something very cold. I didn't get a long enough look to tell if it was steam or the vapor off something like dry ice.) He asked, plainly facetously, if she would stay and hold his hand.

Then, upon leaving, he announced, "I feel great!" and then proceeded to stumble as he walked across the waiting room.

(Rereads.) Disclaimer: You had to be there.

In a day of meeting people at odd times, on my way from the doctor's office to the elevators, I ran into my surgeon, who has an office on the same floor as my GP. He seemed to recognize me, but didn't stop to chat.

Since he immediately turned to the left and entered the men's room, it's understandable why he didn't stop, then.

Next month: Ehhhh. Unless divine inspiration strikes, I'll finally punch up my tales of surgery.

May 22, 2004 AD: Ah, surgery recollections. Before I get started, I'd like to warn you of something: My memory isn't photographic. And it's been over a year. This story is built off of my memory, heavily augmented with various e-mails and other thoughts I put to paper/silicon soon after the surgery. Quotes are assumed to be true to the spirit of what was said, not a precise quote.

Of course, it probably also conflicts with what I've previously said, either because I've forgotten something since then or because I re-remembered something I'd forgotten. You've been warned.

December 17, 2002 AD.... I showed up, as requested, on the 10th floor of the Victoria building (Day Surgery) over an hour before scheduled to go under the proverbial knife. I was sent to a tiny waiting room: Two chairs in the hallway between two offices, no one else around except an elevator door standing rather incongruously in the far corner of the hallway. (I later realized was probably the back door of one of the Victoria elevators.) About ten minutes later someone came along and I was tended to. Basically, all this was for was to get me a hospital card. Various bits of information (next of kin, etc.) were asked for, and in exchange I was given a plastic green card with my name and some cryptic letters on it. This card now rests with my hospital card for St. Martha's in my wallet. (Speaking of my wallet, my parents were with me to hold my wallet and pick me up after it was over.)

I was shown to a locker room and changed into the fashionable johnny shirt and robe, spending extra time to tie the johnny shirt ties as tightly as I could. I was even given slippers with little happy faces on them. Rather cute, even if they felt like they were made out of stretchy Styrofoam.

I walked across the hall to another waiting room I was told to go to. It was roughly split in two by a low partition, one side was for patients and their families and the other was evidently for boxes and their families. A man was in the far corner of the box-side of the room, near a second door out into the hall, on a stretcher. His chest was moving, so he was alive - I watched him until I saw movement. No idea why he was there, alone. Very sad, really. I hoped that wasn't in store for me.

The lights on the box-side were off. I didn't think it was for the napping patient. I mean, if the conversation and the TV* didn't wake him, light wouldn't.

(*Running some 'pro-Canada' - note use of 'ironic' quotes - episode of The View, flags and such all over the place. Looked like a flag store exploded. Evidently they finally decided to do 'something' about that bloated whore Joy Behar and her anti-Canadian screed - it got so bad she seemed to, after running out of stereotypes to make fun of, try inventing and propagating new stereotypes. Most of us were ignoring the television.)

There was also a desk on the box-side of the partition, just deep enough in shadow to make working there annoying. A desk light was on to augment the minor spillover from the illuminated patient section. Seated at the desk was a nurse. After some waiting, my name was called. I sat down at the empty chair near the desk. The nurse asked me many questions about my health, allergies, when I last went to the bathroom, etc. I was also weighed.

Before long, she had a stack of sheets on me 6 deep and was just finishing filling out a new one relating my allergies and prostheses. (None and none, that was quick.) She then asked if I was, due to religious or personal beliefs, unwilling to accept blood transfusions. I said no. But then I thought of something. I don't know my own blood type. I know I'm O something. That's it.

I asked "In all that paper, do you have my blood type listed? I'd like to know it." I figured that if anyone should have it, it's the person asking me about transfusions. She looked around and couldn't find it. (So I asked the surgeon about 5 minutes later. He looked through HIS papers, couldn't find it. So he said "We'll check." They did take some blood when I was knocked out, so I presume they did.)

During the questioning, a nurse in surgical scrubs came in and spoke to the desk nurse. Mid 30s, I think. Redhead. This will be important later.

I took my waiting area seat again. Before long I'm called in to meet with my surgeon, John Grantmyre, who looked impressive in his surgical scrubs. Though I wondered at the sterility of everything if he was roaming around the hospital dressed like that.

I'd looked up his credentials after I met him the week before - yes, I met him a scant seven days before this, cancer is rather a hot button topic around here - he has a long and impressive career in the male fertility and urology fields. He's the guy who revamped Halifax's fertility clinic so the male and female clinics were in the same office. Before that they were in different buildings - different parts of town, even - and it was apparently a nightmare for couples. He's also done some amazingly intricate surgeries, involving (if I'm remembering it right) grabbing individual spermatozoa out of the seminiferous tubules of sterile men. This guy does detail work. I even heard a rumor that he was one of the main investigators in the clinical trials of sildenafil, better known as Viagra. (That's got your attention, don't it?) And he looks too young to have done all that. My first guess at his age was early 30s, but he's been doing stuff so long that I'm around 10 years off.

Anyway, he goes over the details of my surgery, an orchi(d)ectomy. While he was far more erudite about it, it went something like this description of mine. Don't look if you're squeamish.

Except for one thing. "We'll make the incision on your left side..." he started. I was confused, since my right was the possibly-cancerous one. After some gory details, he finished, "... and remove your left testicle."

I blinked. "My right testicle." I didn't want to just say "right", that would sound like agreement!

He looked at me. "Oh, sorry! Yes, your right testicle. Left one is fine."

Later on, he said something like "You'll feel some discomfort on your left side."

I blinked again. "Right side. You're removing my right testicle."

"Oh! Yes, right. I've been doing this for years, you'd think I'd know my left from my right by now."

"Uhhh... just make a quick check before you start working, okay?"

He also gave me a note excusing me from work for three weeks. So I got to take the Christmas rush off. Small consolation for getting cancer, let me tell you, but you take what benefits you can get.

He left and a male nurse (also in surgical scrubs, but with a really colorful head-covering-thingy) led me to the operating room. He left after completing this task, and I never saw him again.

In the operating room, which was cooler and larger than I was expecting - the amount of free floor space was unexpected. But I suppose they need room to move stuff around. Standing around the operating table were two women and one man. Introductions were short. The women were nurses, the man was the anesthesiologist. One of the nurses was the redhead I'd seen before. I could tell it was her, despite the mask she was wearing, because of her build and the curls of unruly red hair sticking out the back of the surgical hat-thing. The other nurse had black hair. She was also younger than the redhead. Young enough that I suspect she didn't have many years under her belt as a nurse. A few, but not a lot. She was competent, so it wasn't that she looked inexperienced, she just looked... I don't know, really young.

At their request, I removed the robe, leaving me slightly embarrassed in the johnny shirt with the back-end ventilation. The redhead asked me to come around to the far side of the table, so I could climb onto it. Before I could get onto it, though, she asked me to turn around, away from her. I did, not thinking much of it, then I realized that she was undoing the knots that I so carefully tied on the johnny shirt. Okay, so I'm slightly more embarassed now.

(In retrospect, I find it amusing the first time I ever got undressed by a redhead - I have, ahem, ahem, a rather pronounced fondness for redheads - was when I was being prepped for surgery.)

I lied down on the table, and I learned exactly how something really cold impacting one's ass, back, and legs in quick succession feels. The other nurse helped with the undressing (amend that previous paragraph to read "undressed by two women") by lowering the top half of my johnny shirt so she could attach electrodes to my chest and stomach. So, basically, the only part of me left covered was the part they were gonna be working on. Ah, suspense.

Now, I'd never been operated on before. I'm also a person who uses clothes as a defense against the world. It's my armor. And now, in the presence of strangers, I am not only without much of my armor but before long I'm going to lose my remaining defenses - my wit and my alertness - when I'm knocked out. It's a kind of trust I don't often place in people. That I almost never place in people. I put more faith in a double-locked door and a convenient weapon than I put in a person when I go to sleep. So, for many reasons, I'm rather nervous.

My nervousness showed the minute the electrodes hit my chest and the heart monitor kicked in. My heartbeat was accelerated. And with that being broadcast, my cool exterior was, in my mind, revealed as a façade. My nervousness was being broadcast by an unassuming little machine over 90 times a minute. There goes one more defense.

But my mind was still focused and I was still - again, in my own mind, perhaps other people would think differently - fairly charismatic. I'm also a tenacious flirt, so I did the one thing left that I felt comfortable doing - I flirted with the nurses.

One of them was reminding me of a woman I knew. (The dark-haired one. Her voice, specifically.) The utterly irrational fear that this woman I know with no medical experience at all would be assisting my surgery grabbed at me. And with that, my mind came up with what's probably the single worst pickup line in the history of humanity. I'll remember it until my dying day.

I said, "You know, if you weren't wearing that mask, I'd tell you that you remind me of someone I know."

She actually got a kick out of that, which either speaks well of my charisma or speaks ill of her sense of humor, and pulled down the mask and asked, "Do I still remind you of someone you know?"

We spoke for a bit while she finished wiring me for sound. (No, she didn't look like the woman I was thinking of. But she was cute....:)

I waved - nonchalantly, as I always do - at the redhead and smiled. She smiled (I could tell by the movement around her eyes) and waved back.

After I'd been completely wired up. The anesthesiologist stepped forward and shook my hand. My memory is fuzzy on this, but I remember that he had something colorful on. Perhaps his head-cover thingy or maybe an armband. He introduced himself and told me he'd be setting up an IV. I'd never had it done, but he did it very painlessly the first try. With a year and change of IVs under my belt now, I realize that he's good at what he does.

After setting it up, he said to me, "Okay, this may burn a bit." (It didn't.) "You're also going to taste something. I'd like you to tell me what it tastes like."

In my inexperience, I didn't realize what was happening. So I started a complex answer, savoring the odd taste that was appearing unbeckoned at the back of my mouth. "That's a good question. Hmmm. It tastes sort of like the b-"

And all goes dark.

I next feel a dull mental 'fuzz', like when I've just just just woken up. Except worse.

I realize that I'm lying down in some sort of bed and that I'm sleepier than I've ever felt before. Sleep seems like a good idea. But some part of me manages to focus long enough to say, "No! No! I have to wake up! WAKE UP!" I have no understanding of why I think waking up is important, I just have some deep and intense feeling that I have to remain awake, even if I have to fight every step of the way. (I don't know if I managed. But I don't remember blacking out.)

I try opening my eyes. They refuse to open. Okay, just concentrate on staying awake. I try to piece together where I am. Without visual cues (and with no obvious audio ones) I'm lost. I work with what I have. I'm lying down, and I have a dull ache about 2 inches up and to the right of the base of my penis.

Okay, that seems important. I try my eyes again and with some effort they oblige. I look around, and I'm in a room I've never seen before. I see a window that looks out on a late afternoon sky. Some realization seeps in. I see a number of men of varying ages in varying states of wakefulness.

A woman comes up to me and asks, "Are you awake?" I look at her. She's a nurse. I know that much from her uniform. But I've never seen her before.

My social and vocal skills are still out to lunch. All I manage to mumble is "I think my situational awareness is coming back." Hell of a set of first words, isn't it?

The nurse offers some generic words of encouragement and leaves. I continue to look around and wish I could roll over and go to sleep. A clock on the wall reads as after 2:30. (I was still very glazed, so the specific time is lost to me.) I was knocked out before 1:00. My surgery wasn't supposed to last that long. I was supposed to be out half an hour, forty-five minutes. Up before two. My brain isn't yet willing to think on what this means.

Fifteen minutes later and I have enough of my brains back - though still very groggy - to realize that I never finished answering the anesthesiologist. I think back on what happened. The only complex thought I can formulate is "It tastes sort of like the back of an envelope, but with a bit of banana creeping in." I'm at least thinking enough that I don't recite this now in the plainly inappropriate context.

Another 15 minutes and I realize I should've known that was going to happen. Anesthesiologist injects you with something, don't have long to go.

ANOTHER 15 minutes and a nurse comes by and checks my IV (it stopped twice, I restarted it myself - customer service skills in Halifax suck in every field). She tells me that the anesthetic threw me "for a bit of a loop" and I was out longer than anticipated.

I put my eavesdropping skills to good use: The nurse walks away and speaks to another nurse, about what sounded like me. Memorable comments:
"The anesthetic threw him for a bit of a loop." (That nurse must've liked the phrase.)
"He's so young!"
"You can tell he doesn't drink!" (I don't. I hate the taste of alcohol. I also keep a tight lock on my personality, as pointed out above. The idea of something happening to me that I don't remember frightens me greatly.)

My trip back to the land of the living keeps on its slow path. I notice the nurse walking around with a small bottle, injecting a few of the IVs with the contents. I hear the word "morphine" but I can't quite make the connection yet.

Eventually the nurse comes back and asks how I feel. My social skills are still weak, so I mutter a terse reply of "Sore." Hey, I was cut open two hours ago. How else am I supposed to feel?

She asks if I needed something for the pain and starts going for a bottle at the same time. Something in me makes the bottle-morphine connection and my brain kicks itself into overdrive. (I prefer being the one to alter my brain chemistry.) I wake up fast and say "Oh, no! Fine, good, okay, feel great, don't need anything, thanks!"

The nurse seems a bit put off and says "Well, since the anesthetic threw you for a loop, I wasn't going to give you much. You might be sensitive." Well, I appreciate the thought, but you went for that little bottle of opiates a bit quick....

(As it was, my surgeon later told me he had them put some long-acting painkillers the IV I woke up with anyway. He said I probably wouldn't need much more.)

I look across the room. A man is being wheeled in, he's out like a light. I think to myself, That was me around two o'clock.

After some time, they ask me if I'm ready to stand. I think that I am, and say so. The nurse closes the curtain around my bed and helps me up. It takes a bit of careful and painstaking effort to swing my legs over - my right leg is unwilling to cooperate due to pain in my abdomen when I move it too much - but standing isn't that bad. Some pain, nothing I can't handle.

While standing, the nurse says she's going to check my incision. She lifts up the johnny shirt (different one from the one I remember putting on, as are the slippers) and I oblige by holding it.

Now, I have a large pile of gauze on my abdomen. The area is covered in a brown stain (some kind of antibacterial compound, I later puzzled out) and I'm shaved there and for a good distance around. The area is differentiated from the rest of me in several different ways. Yet the nurse looks at me kind of funny and then kind of leans over a bit to try get a look at something around my genitals, away from the gauze. Finally she gives up on pretense and uses her latex-gloved hand to half-nudge my penis out of the way, looking at my scrotum.

Yeah, there's only one testicle in there now, what's the big deal? The entire scene confuses me. I'm left wondering if my scrotum is so strange that it requires a closer viewing. No one else ever complained. Eventually the nurse looks at the gauze on my front, taps at it suspiciously, and then she starts arguing with me over the number of incisions I have. She maintains I must have two while I maintain that I feel one, and I only have one gauze-pile stuck to me. Therefore, I have ONE.

She shrugs and helps me sit down. She leaves. She talks to another nurse, and I hear them talking about a back-up in the recovery lounge. The other nurse comes in and asks me what locker my clothes are in. I had committed the number to memory, so I recite it.

About ten minutes later she gets back with all my clothes. T-shirt, shirt, jeans, jacket, shoes. Socks and underwear in the little baggies in which I was told to put them.

I get dressed, with the nurse standing there and kibitzing. "Put your right leg in first, since you can bend your left easier." Occasionally she offers an arm to lean on.

I was sitting down tying my shoes before she left. She came back with a wheelchair. I got in, slowly. And so we finally leave this area behind and go to the recovery lounge. On my way there I see my parents walking down a hall. I suspect that my mom will still be a bit nervous until I acknowledge her, showing I'm back in right mind.

So I waved. Nonchalantly, as always.

I'd like to pause to tell you what my family went through while I was under. My parents had left. They'd been told they could wait in an area here, or they could go elsewhere and phone a number they were given. They were told it would be the same either way, since there was nothing they couldn't find out over the phone. My father elected to visit his cousin and my mother went along. They gave the cousin's number to a person there who would phone as soon as I'm in recovery.

Three hours later, my mom was worried. She phoned the number and found that it closes at 4:00. It was 4:05. The recording gave a few press 1/2/3/#/* options. She tried one. It was closed as well. This recording gave a second phone number to call, then disconnected without giving the chance to have it repeated. Unwilling to phone back three times to try scribble out the number, my parents went back to the hospital. Once there, they spoke to a few people but no one knew anything of importance. Then they saw me in the hallway.

While the fact that I was in a wheelchair and being shuffled about was a good sign, my mom was probably still nervous. She had been through so many hospitals and surgeries and seen so many other hospital patients pre- and post-op that (as far as I know) she had decided that nothing short of a sign of clarity of mind was proof that a person was recovering.

That instant, I wave. Nonchalantly, as always.

My mom follows me and my wheelchair driver to the lounge. There, I wait for a short while before being guided to a recliner-type chair. I transfer myself to it and wait some more. Nearby is a desk with another nurse (I think - all these nurses are dressed in normal clothes) who is taking calls and wearing a headset that bears the same logo as the headset waiting for me at my job with EDS Canada. I reflect on how much I've grown to hate those things and how glad I am I'll miss the Christmas rush.

A nurse - she identifies herself as such - comes by and sits down next to me on a stool. She asks how I'm feeling, and if I'd like some water or juice. I just want to leave, so I politely decline.

The nurse gives me two brochures and goes over them with me, one on recovering from surgery and one on recovering specifically from an orchidectomy. I notice that the orchidectomy one seems patently wrong, and since she is basically reading them to me, her advice is therefore wrong. The part about not wearing normal underwear (have to wear mesh underwear) was particularly amusing.

"So you have to wear the mesh underwear your doctor gave you."

"He didn't give me any."

"What? Uh.... Oh."

Then came the prescription for painkillers. Ketrolac, 10 mg. She tells me to take a pill every eight hours.

(When I get them, I look over the bottle and find a statement to take them as needed, a MAXIMUM of once every eight hours. I follow that advice. The pain only got bad enough for me to consider taking a pill once, the next morning. By the time I'd eaten - you take them with food - the pain had subsided so I didn't bother. Since one of the side effects is nausea I figured it was safer to just leave the food in me and take my chances with the pain.)

I take the prescription and get ready to leave. But she stops me and says to a coworker, "They're coming down dressed so I forget to check them!" She tells me that she needs to check the incision and closes the curtain around the chair. I obligingly lower my pants and hike my shirt up. She does a similar double-take to what the other nurse did (What's wrong with my genitals?) and checks the gauze, rather suspiciously as well. I get dressed and get back into the wheelchair. I'm pushed by a male orderly out to the car. We move from the Victoria to the Centennial building around this point, setting up a mistake I'll repeat for the first year of my oncology appointment stories.

I carefully get into my father's car and we all leave and head to a motel for the night, since I'm not allowed to skip town until I've spent a night here in case something goes wrong.

I, due to my slow recovery and some back up in the recovery lounge, was gone by about 4:30.

We stop for takeout before heading to the motel room. Not being very hungry, I just get some french fries, but they forget to provide ketchup for them. I eat a few anyway. Later that night, around midnight and only a few hours after I manage to fall into an unpleasant sleep, some drunks a neighboring room return from - given what they shout at each other - a party that seemingly devolved into a brawl. This wakes me up. Thoughts of murder dance through my mind and it takes another hour to fall back to sleep.

I call my surgeon the next day once I get home. I have the pills and the brochures handy, just in case. I mention the painkillers.

He tells me about the painkillers he gave me and then asks, "When did she tell you to take those?"

"When we were talking about the orchidectomy. But she didn't seem too familiar with the operation and the brochure I think she was getting most of her information from is for a bilateral orchidectomy...."

"Talk a lot about your prostate, too?"


"Because we do that for prostate cancer**." (He sighs.) "I don't know why they gave you that one. Not only is it a bit old, but it's the wrong operation. Did you also get one about general after-surgery procedures?"


"Follow that one's advice. No heavy lifting, don't get the tape over the incision very wet, try to walk around regularly but don't exert yourself, simple things like that. But the other one's completely wrong. You obviously know your incision's not on your scrotum."

(**Prostate cancers sometimes feed on testosterone, so the doctor removes the suppliers. Bilateral (non-radical) orchidectomy is your straightforward castration and is done via the scrotum.)

And suddenly it all falls into place. I had all the information by the time I left the recovery lounge, but I needed to hear Dr. Grantmyre say "your incision's not on your scrotum" before it formed a coherent whole.

But once he said it, it was like an incantation opening up the door to enlightenment: The nurses thought I'd been castrated. That's why they were looking for the incision in the wrong place. That's why one said "He's so young!" - your twenties is not a great time to get castrated.

He also mentions that the tumor looked like a nonseminoma, but he warns that he isn't allowed to officially or legally make that distinction - he'll have to wait for the pathology report, as will I. This is the first statement I hear that admits it's cancer. Other than my surgeon telling me it had to come out, and a general hurriedness, it was barely even hinted at. It's not 'legally' cancer until the path lab says so.

Lawyers get cancer too. I wondered how they feel when they hear that.

It took weeks for the Christmas vacations of everyone involved to finish and the biopsy to get back. In fact, I was back at work. I phoned home to see if the surgeon had called with the biopsy results. He had. It was cancer.

Up to this point I'd been having an intensely bad day. I had well and truly decided that I hated working at EDS, and the calls I was taking weren't doing me any good either. It's hard to listen to someone bitch about a busted printer ruining their life when you're waiting for a biopsy. While I appreciate how important a printer is to a business, I can't put my health on a floppy and take it to Kinko's to get a four-color glossy copy made. Nor can I purchase a new one for sixty bucks.

I had expected the result. Had it not been cancer, I'd have been floored. I don't think what happened next was so much from the diagnosis as it was from the fact that I finally had an excuse to put on the sign-in/out form that I knew no one would dare question.

What happened next was that, as my fifteen-minute break ended and I should have been returning to my desk, I calmly walked to the washroom, entered a stall, and had a good long cry.

Then I roamed around aimlessly, looking around the building and sizing up the bleak field of employment opportunities I'd seen in the past six months. I ran into and spoke to one of the few decent people there for a good long time, and by then the day was over.

I was right. This was the one time they didn't later question my absence from the phones. However, I was smart enough to submit the sign-out form to the nicest supervisor in the place, not my own. A petty manipulation, perhaps. But it was all I was in the mood for.

As I leave for the day, I realize that the true battle remains ahead. My health is on the line, and my first oncologist visit is coming soon.

And this brings us to the end of this particular cycle. If you'd like to hear more about people who are employed with EDS and have cancer,
that story has already been told.

My first oncologist visit has been touched on occasionally. It had its moments, but not enough to support a narrative, besides the epic relief that I didn't need chemo or radiation. After that came my first CT scan and all that you see today.

Next month: Another chest x-ray, and another oncologist visit.

June 9, 2004 AD: Yesterday I walked into the Dickson, having been dropped off for my various tests. But something needed to be done first. My curiosity about what was on other side of the wall at the end of the Long Hall (the corridor that I travel down to get to the chest x-ray area) was bugging me. Since was going up to 11 Victoria to get a form anyway, I decided to nip up to the third floor and see what was going on.

I hung a left as I walked into the elevator area and walked halfway down the hall, away from the Centennial building access. I tried the door to the stairs experimentally (some places, like the Professional Centre in Halifax, force you to use elevators and keep the ground floor door unopenable from the outside and the other floors unopenable from the inside - I think it's nuts, but that's just me). It opened.

I climbed up a claustrophobic set of stairs that seemed to have been built for a small child. Wide enough for me to hold both rails without much stretching, barely deep enough to plant my foot, with no landings - the stairs curved in a sharp semi-spiral. For lack of a better description, as a spiral staircase is to a circle, these stairs were to an ellipse - a tight curve at the ends, almost straight on the sides.

I got out at the next exit (third floor) and revised my plans to leg it up to the 11th, even if the exercise would do me good. I was genuinely worried I'd slip and fall all the way down.

I walked down the hall towards the elevators, intent on examining the wall blocking the third arm of the Victoria to see how it looked. Instead, I got a rather big shock.

There was no wall. Where I expected one, it was open onto the hall beyond. Plexiglass windows along the top and sides forming the support for an invitingly open set of standard-sized double doors. I walked through, half believing I'd hit a wall as I did. I didn't. I found myself standing in the chest x-ray area. I turned around and looked back at the way I came. It didn't look right. I know a wall used to be there. A brick wall with a closed windowless door on the right side. I wondered if they did some work on it the same time they added that second set of doors to the CT scan area. Shrugging, I went back through and waited for the elevator.

As I waited for the elevator, I noticed that the floor tiles where the door was were different from the ones on either side of the door - meaning they were likely put in later. I felt a bit better about myself.

Recently arrived in the elevator area were two women, speaking quietly. After a long wait in front of the pair of elevator doors to the left of the new hole in the wall, one woman started to walk away, towards the right pair of doors. Then the left door she had been standing in front of opened, forcing her to hurry back. I was tempted to say "That's what you get for walking away from it." but instead opted to hold my tongue.

The two women got in to the empty elevator before I did. The one who had been walking away, hence called Longhair in honor of her most notable differentiating trait, hit the button for 11. I said, "How convenient, I'm going to 11 as well." before she could ask me what floor I was going to.

Longhair's friend (Shorthair, natch) had, despite getting in before me and standing in back of the elevator, nudged around me to get to the very front. I thought nothing of it at the time. Had I paid closer attention, I'd have noticed that Shorthair was leaning against the door, face close to it and hands flat against it.

Longhair started reading the numbers as they passed. I thought that a bit odd, but didn't say anything. "4... 5... 6... 7... 8..." - the elevator started to decellerate - "and we're slowing.... 9." Shorthair backed away from the elevator door just before it opened. No one got on. I noticed that the desk on floor 9 is as empty and unlabeled as the one on the enigmatic floor 8 that has a blank directory listing.

No one got in on floor 9. In fact, the only evidence of life in the corridor was the sound of two people conversing down one of the three halls that radiate away from the elevator area. Longhair said "Oh, that's not nice!" rather loudly. Assuming the comment was addressed to me, I hummed/grunted in agreement. Shorthair resumed her post at the very edge of the elevator car, like she was attempting to get her nose clipped by the closing doors. I peered around her to see if one of the voices I heard down the corridor was running for the elevator. It wasn't. The doors closed and Shorthair leaned, palms against the door, just like before. This time I noticed and thought on how that didn't seem like a good idea should the doors be the slightest bit weak.

Longhair resumed her counting. "10... and here we are. 11." I realized that she was counting the floors for the benefit of Shorthair. For a moment I wondered if Shorthair had poor vision and was simply holding on to the doors as something concrete and visible to cope with. But no - she walked for the main desk and spoke to the receptionist with no problem. She was likely scared of being on elevators.

Well, there's always the stairs.

Shorthair registered for an appointment with an oncologist, one with an unfamiliar name. She'd had all her tests done earlier in the day, leading to some gushing from the secretary, as I was used to. Okay, there's another person with some self-awareness in this place.

As they headed for the waiting room, I spoke to the secretary. I explained who I was and that I was there for some forms. The secretary got them for me and was similarly giddy about my taking charge of my health. Giddy even though she had to get up and roam all across the first few rooms of Victoria 11 North digging up the papers.

When she got back, I said "I'm really making you run today."

"Oh, don't worry about it. We don't mind, we'd rather you have the tests done as soon as possible."

I thought back on my doctor telling me not to get the bloodwork over a week before the appointment, and a question came to mind. "Can I get the x-ray done this soon? I'm always told to get it done an hour before the examination. I know that's the minimum length of time, but is it the maximum...?"

She says, "No, not at all. We'd rather you have it done today. All the results will be in and ready to go tomorrow." (Sense a theme?)

My oncologist's nurse walked up with a sheaf of papers. Despite not seeing me in four months, she recognized me instantly. "Hello Leonard! What are you doing here?" She's either good with people or my face is just one of those you can't forget no matter how hard you try. Most likely both.

"Picking up some forms."

"You have an appointment tomorrow?"


We spent a minute chatting idly before the conversation wound down and I excused myself. The secretary pointed out that I could get my blood taken up there if I wished - no waiting. Deciding that couldn't be a bad thing, I asked where to go. She pointed down the hall dubbed what I believe is 11 South (the hall opposite where the exam rooms are) and said, "See the little gray signs over some of the doors? First door on the left with one of those."

I looked. I didn't see it, but figured I couldn't go far wrong. "Okay, thanks very much!" I walked down the hall. 15 feet down and I saw that one of the doors on the left had "Blood collection." written over it on a little gray sign. Jackpot.

Beyond the gray sign was a rather nondescript room, like the 11 North exam rooms, only with an old recliner instead of an examination bed and a table with a PC on it instead of a table with old copies of Rosie on it. Some lockers were built right into the walls, which made me flash back to Deus Ex briefly* and wish for either a lockpick or a LAM** and a gun*** so I could get the lockers open.

(* Not a great game, as I dislike inventory management and all this creeping about, though the writing and cinematics weren't bad.)

(** Lightweight Attack Munition or something - a grenade/proximity mine.)

(*** Quick hint - need a precision explosion in that game? Place a LAM on the target wall, stand back, equip a firearm - preferrably one with a scope - and shoot the LAM. I don't know why people who write walkthroughs and reviews can't think of this stuff. I make stuff blow up from halfway across the map.)

However, I found myself lacking lockpicks and weapons, so I just walked into the room without excessive violence. An older woman was using the PC. As I entered the room, she turned, got up and greeted me. I waved my pair of bloodwork papers (today's and the ancient one I'd kept as a backup) and asked if they were identical. (I hadn't had time to check myself.) They were, so I kept the old one.

It was surprisingly quick. A minute of waiting for the technician to type in the information, and then a label printer (not unlike the ones I remember at Antigonish, made by - or named - "Z0N" or some such) spit out a pair of labels. I recited my name and birthday for the technician, my blood was taken, and I was done.

As I left I looked around. Blocking the hall to my left was a set of double doors, with an imposing sign reading "Surgery - no route through. Do not enter." bolted onto one of them. Presumably people were trying to get to the Centennial building via the surgery area. (And even if there is a way, do you want people roaming around the surgery wards?)

Ahead of me was another set of stairs. Since the tiny set was in the north wing and I was now in the south, I decided to try it. (You now have enough information to determine if the third wing attached to the Dickson is East or West. Answer later.) I pushed the door open. Wide spacious stairs. Landings every half-story. This, I thought, is more like it.

I had jogged down to floor seven when I noticed something through the little window on the door. A sign reading "Thoracic Surgery" and, on the next line, "Thoracic Fellow". Sounds prestigious, but I figure that there's got to be some teasing that goes with being called the "Thoracic Fellow".

I got the idea to hike back up to floor nine to see what could be seen out that window (completely forgetting that floor eight was the really enigmatic one). And what did I see? Nothing. No window in floor nine's door. Feeling stupid, I jogged the rest of the way down to the third floor.

(Most embarrassing thing I ever did on a flight of stairs in a public place - I was in a rush and running full-tilt down the Dickson's stairs. I was three stairs up from a landing when I saw a woman rounding the corner coming up the stairs and right in my way. Having little time to react, I planted one foot hard and threw myself sideways. My forward momentum carried me past her and slammed me into the wall of the landing. I had turned myself so my arm took the brunt of the blow, but it's hard to recover from that kind of embarassment. Arm throbbing painfully, I just smiled, appologized, and kept on running down the stairs.)

I got out on the third floor and went through the new door. I would have asked the woman at the desk about the door, but she wasn't there. (She wasn't there my first trip through the door, either.) I walked down the Long Hall toward the Dickson elevators and took a number at registration. While sitting down waiting for my number to be called, I looked over my old and new x-ray forms and wrote down the differences, hopefully confusing the hell out of anyone overly curious. I used the new one, because it was dated with today's date. The only other thing I noticed was differing signatures and how atrocious someone's (my oncologist's, I think) handwriting was. There was a "720" (I think) on the form and the "2" was a squiggle joining the cross-bar of the seven (I never put crossbars on my sevens) to the base of the zero. My handwriting is bad, but I don't think it's quite this zany.

After registering, the woman at the desk gave me the instructions to get to the chest x-ray desk. While I'd heard them before, I listened closely. I noticed that she didn't tell me to go to the end of the hall, which I'm sure I've heard before. I walked down the hall and handed my paper over to the woman who had magically appeared in the past ten minutes. Without waiting for me to explain what I was there for, the woman at the desk simply told me to remove my jacket and shirt and sit in the waiting room. She seemed in a rush, so I didn't bother her with the door question. I stashed my jacket and shirt in a locker and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

I read several women's magazines and even part of a Watchtower featuring obnoxiously pastoral artist's conceptions of the Earth, post-Second-Coming. I found that this one magazine called Elm Street contained a disturbing number of ads featuring naked women, more than a non-adult men's magazine. Here I am, interested in an article on Andrea Bocelli and I had to fold the page funny to try make the ad featuring the lower halves of women's breasts - including the lower half of the nipple - seem less like an ad featuring the lower halves of women's breasts. I felt like a dirty old man every time someone passed by.

There was also an amusing(?) item on the letters page in which a reader revealed she had become a reader after taking home a copy found in a doctor's office. Might as well write "steal this magazine" across the page.

A man in a wheelchair was sitting across from me. With him was a woman. The technician came out and called a male name. The woman stood up and said "Over here!" and started to disengage the chair's brake. The technician came over and said, to the woman, "Can he stand up on his own?"

"Yes," the woman replied, "but he can't walk long stretches."

"Oh, okay. Does he have any prosthetics?" (Or some similar basic medical question.) I leaned forward and took a good look at the man. Despite a dispassionate look on his face - something I'd have a hard time managing in the same situation - he seemed intelligent enough to speak. No obvious disabilities. I wondered for a moment why the technician didn't address questions to him. After all, who knows better than he does how long he can stand?

The technician got behind the wheelchair and pushed it towards the x-ray room door. Only then did she start speaking to the man in the chair. His answers indicated at least an average intelligence and no disabilities to prevent easy conversation.

I sat back and scowled for a bit over how easily people - even ones who work in the industry - exclude sick people from conversations and discussions about their health, particularly ones who aren't standing (in hospital beds, wheelchairs, just sitting down...).

The room was almost full when I got there and going was slow. Several people were called in multiple times - they were telling people not to get dressed. I was worried this was in store for me.

It wasn't, though. When my name ("Leonard Petra") was called, I went through the standard affair of holding on to the machine and being told to hold my breath. Though this technician was the first to adjust its height for the side scan differently from the front scan (she set it higher for the side shot, so I felt less like a trapeze artist and more like someone hanging from chains in a dungeon).

On my way out, I considered asking someone about the door, but it was lunch time and the only person around was a nurse tending to a man, asleep or unconcious in a hospital bed. Feeling that my concerns were rather incidental compared to a comatose patient, I didn't bother her. I headed for the Dickson elevators and, as is my wont, decided it was faster to take the stairs down, letting me out a few feet from the Dickson entrance.

The next morning, June 9, I went back for my 11:20 appointment. Arriving around 10:40 - I'd killed time at a shopping mall but made the mistake of going to a high-class one where there's three shoe stores, everything's got "boutique" in the name, and it costs $20-$60 more to buy anything, even basic electronics and video games, mostly for the priviledge of getting it at a boutique. I did ride the shopping mall's escalators for a bit, though. That was fun. Not often I get to ride those things.

The fun of the escalators exhausted, I decided a waiting room was less depressing, so for once I arrived far too early entirely of my own volition.

The secretary recognized me. She checked my name off the list, and directed me to the waiting room, ending the instructions by calling me "Honey". They really like people who get stuff done early.

Passing the stairs that, on the ground floor, are tiny and uncomfortable, I was overcome with a temptation to push the door open and see if it's as bad up here. I pushed. It isn't. Wide spacious stairs. So what happened with the first few floors, then?

Oh, and the answer to my question. Statements I made:

"I hung a left as I walked into the elevator area and walked halfway down the hall, away from the Centennial building access."

"She pointed down the hall dubbed what I believe is 11 South..." to get bloodwork done. Leaving the bloodwork area, I note that "Presumably people were trying to get to the Centennial building via the surgery area." at the end of 11 South's hall.

I also say... "like the 11 North exam rooms" and "Since the tiny set was in the north wing and I was now in the south, I decided to try it."

Ergo, the Centennial is attached to Victoria South. Note that I walked away from the Centennial access to take the first flight of stairs. If the access is in the south wing, I must have been walking north.

The main branch of the Victoria is thus made up of wings named North and South. If I turned left from the wing leading to the Dickson to head into the north wing, the Dickson-terminated wing is obviously Victoria West, not East. Victoria West ends at the Dickson, Victoria South ends at the Centennial, Victoria North ends at nothing in particular (ground floor exit, then a roadway, with the Bethune (or MacKenzie?) building across the road), and there's no east wing.

So, if you figured all that out, have a cookie.

I walked into the 11 North examination waiting room. And walked back out. It's small, I'll admit, with about ten chairs to seven exam rooms, but someone got the bright idea to remove four of the chairs. So it was now either stand in the corner or find alternate seating without sneaking over to the chemo waiting room (in a connector between 11 South and 11 West) and stealing their chairs.

Just then, I saw some chairs resting at the end of the hall. Different in shape and design from the waiting room ones, so I knew they weren't the missing ones. Unwilling to move them, I walked down the hall and sat down there. Unfortunately, this gave you perfect view of two exam rooms, rather impolite if they're filled and the doors are left open by careless doctors. Fortunately, both were empty. I just hoped this wasn't someone else's waiting room. The view out of the window at the end of 11 North's hall was rather nice, though. Got a good look at the road below and part of the Dickson's parking lot.

Around 11:00, my oncologist's nurse appeared and waved at me. I waved back. She waved at me again. I pointed at myself. She pointed at the scale they use to weigh patients. I got up and walked forward, muttering about how this place really needs a good standardized sign language.

I asked why I was being taken so early. The response: "The doctor is busy with another patient, so you still have a long wait ahead. But you'll be meeting with an intern while you wait." On my way to the exam room, I wondered if this woman (it's always a woman) was going to be antsy around a naked man or not....

She didn't take long to show up. Much to my shock, it was a young woman in a colorful headscarf, clothing typically associated with a Middle Easterner from one of the more relaxed theocracies. Her skin tone and accent (and name - which, in the manner of all names I likely won't hear again, left my mind almost instantly) were from the same region. (Of course, I'm not an expert on anything between the Czech Republic and China, so I could be very very wrong.) I'm not (very) racist, but I was surprised that someone apparently brought up in that part of the world would go into a career that involved examination of disrobed men. I did my best to hide the surprise.

But then, some Western-born-and-bred oncologist interns seem downright uncomfortable about the idea of examining me. A brief rant.... I really think that every professor of medical oncology should be ordered to take their students (of both sexes) aside one-by-one on their first day and say, "Okay, I know that you've learned about medicine and have seen many naked bodies of both sexes, from illustrations to surgery patients to cadavers, but I want you to understand something. Maybe you've realized that you will be examining lumps in women's breasts and are okay with that, but there's also cervical cancer and testicular cancer. You are going to be looking at - and feeling - parts of people's bodies that you may have never touched on your significant other. Because cancer strikes anything, you are going to have the combined examination experience of a urologist, a gynecologist, a proctologist, a podiatrist, and any other specialization you can think of. You will have your hands in odd places. I just want you to understand that so you aren't surprised the first time you're told to perform an examination of something you haven't seen live and in living color before." I really think that speech would save patients like me time. There, rant over.

The doctor/intern asked me the standard list of questions about my health. Eventually she got to discussing my bowel: "Have you been constipated lately?"

"Well, yes, but only the past few days."

"Can you think of a reason why?"

"Yes, I've been working on a job application for a completely new field for me**** and I've been nervous about it. Stress like that messes up my regularity."

(**** Science writer for the local paper. Regular readers hopefully think I could do that.)



"Okay. So, how long have you been married?"

That complete disconnect in the questioning took me completely by surprise. By now I'd noticed that English was clearly her second language, but I didn't quite think it would lead this far off course. I blinked. I stared. I couldn't think of an answer or even a reason for the question. All I could provide was a rather pleading "Pardon?"

"How long have you been married?"

Sounded as weird the second time. "Errr. I'm not married."

Now it was her turn to stare at me. "You're not?"


"I must have misunderstood."

"I was just talking about stress from looking for a job."

This elicited more confusion. But I saw a light of realization come on. "Oh, no, not now. Something your doctor said."

"Now I'm really curious. What did my doctor say to make you think I'm married?"

"She said it was your anniversary." The incredibly confused doctor looked through her papers and found something to help enlighten herself and her incredibly confused patient. "Oh! Maybe she was speaking of the anniversary of your diagnosis."

"Well, not my diagnosis, that came in the winter. I found the lump about two years ago, yeah. But I don't think of getting cancer as much of an anniversary. Maybe the surgery since... er..." - my thought processes audibly ground to a halt - "uh... that involved a lot of pain."

Now, I admit, that language mishap was my regular doctor's fault, since she clearly has a wild idea of what an anniversary is. (Since she has kids, she presumably has a husband. Wonder what he'd think if she said "When I think of anniversaries, I think of people getting cancer.") But then came a real doozy.

After I rolled my t-shirt up and she had me breathe in and out while her stethoscope was on my back, she said, "Okay, you could lose your pants."

Images of a gang of pirates roaming the halls and knocking out people and taking their pants floated through my mind. "Pardon?"

She waved in the general direction of my waist, plainly uncomfortable with the whole affair. "Lose your pants."

Well, okay. Surprisingly, her weakness in the language made the request more brutal-sounding than it was. Usually you think of people making more formal, over-stilted comments before you think of them stumbling on a slang phrase like "Lose your pants."

She opened a handy cupboard and got a sheet out, presumably intent on covering me. However, she made a mistake - if she wanted to cover me with the sheet, she should've got it before telling me to remove my pants. As it was, when she turned back to me she wound up getting a good look at my personal property that I don't think she wanted, evidenced by her half-lunge to cover me with the sheet, affixing it to something so it was snug.

The sheet was tightly pressed against me. I found it a bit uncomfortable. While my testicle was safe between my legs, away from the sheet, my penis was rather tightly pressed in between myself and the fabric. Normally it's not that badly pressured unless I have one of those infernal change-in-the-wind erections***** and my underwear is a bit snug to begin with. But I knew I was flaccid and I didn't like the mixed messages my body was giving me.

(*****Which I've noticed seem to happen if I don't get much sleep the night before - I'll have to dig up an article I found one of these days linking the parts of the male brain that handle yawning and erections. The author makes a joke of it, saying that yawning - i.e. boredom, tiredness - and erections never go together, but I say the author's an idiot. I yawn when I'm tired, and I can't control my damn genitals when I'm really tired.)

All in all, I felt that you couldn't normally get this kind of take-it-off/put-it-on-quick action I was being subjected to unless you found a severely bipolar stripper. I understand it must be difficult for some people, but I find a doctor of any stripe being embarrassed about nudity to the point of unprofessionalism far more discomforting than any of the other floor shows I've been made into. (I wonder how bad it would've been if that nephrologist didn't have my oncologist to hide behind and pawn the examination off to.) Seems like if anyone should be capable of handling nudity and discussions thereof with candor and maturity, or at least stoic resignation, it's a doctor.

Then she, in having to do the examination, reached blindly under the sheet and briefly groped her way to my testicle. I presume the indentation of my penis on the sheet served as a guide, but still, I think doing this blind is a bad idea. Just given volume, the odds are a good sight better that she'll grab exactly the wrong bit.

Still, she managed to find the testicle without giving anything else a squeeze and did a remarkably quick check. She then said she wanted to check my groin lymph nodes, which she did through the sheet. She also asked about how often I checked my testicle. She seemed flustered - she asked the same questions repeatedly without any indication that it was due to not understanding me. Then she hastily told me to get dressed and that she'd get my doctor.

I didn't put my dress shirt back on, just in case my oncologist wanted to check anything, but I did put my pants on and roll my t-shirt back down.

I found myself left alone with a stack of "Elle"s. I grabbed the top one and saw some article about women not being interested in sex. The twin promise of "sex" and perhaps insight into what freaks some women out about a naked man was tempting. But to find the article I had to brave the stack of perfume samples so large that I was getting ill from them. And this is good waiting room material for someone on chemo? The article was useless in determining what goes through a woman's mind, not that I had my hopes that high, but still very good, pointing out that the media has classified everything short of nymphomania as "sexually frigid". When 50% of women are being classed as "sexually dysfunctional", you know the classing mechanism is badly busted.

But within the space of that one article, my perfume tolerance was depleted. Giving up on the "Elle"s, I started staring at anything in the room I could read. Charts, calendars, etc. I was down to the sharps container - looking to see if Tyco made this one - when the intern and my oncologist arrived. Was rather difficult explaining why I was standing behind the door looking at a sharps container. I still don't think my oncologist believed me.

I sat down on one of the four chairs in this room (now I know where the waiting room chairs went off to). My oncologist went to sit down but stopped to shake my hand. I don't shake hands with someone when I'm sitting down, I stood back up and then shook her hand. She then went to sit down. I tried sitting opposite her as was usual, but she picked the one chair that was opposite where the intern had placed herself. So I sat next to my oncologist and for once I could read her paperwork.

"Your x-ray looked good, and your bloodwork was fine. Your AFP level is...." She turned to a page with only about three lines of text, the last of which featured the number "2". "Your AFP level is 2."

Next page: a "<2" on the last line. "And your HCG was less than 2."

Next page: a "139" (I think) on the last line. "And your LDH was... fine!" (I think anything from 100-300 IU/L is acceptable for this enzyme.)

I asked for the papers for my next trip. Given the communications problems about my pants, you'd be excused if you thought this next exchange was with the intern, not the oncologist. But don't be fooled. This is two native English speakers talking. And providing a sorry example for the other person in the room.

"Could I have the forms for my next visit?"

My doctor looked at me like I'd lapsed into Japanese. "Forms...?"

"For tests. The papers for getting the bloodwork."

I was rewarded with a blank look.

No verbal response forthcoming, I pressed on. "And the x-ray. Uh... requisitions?"

The "x-ray" gave it to her, because she pulled blank forms out and started filling them out. She commented that I could probably fill them myself now. I just laughed, but was thinking about all the trouble I went through to find out how to alter the old one I have to make it look convincingly current.

She gave me the forms and the appointment scheduling paper, said good day and left, the intern following close behind. I finished getting dressed, scheduled my next appointment at the main desk, and left.

We're finally running low on fodder for in-between examination updates. I have to dig deep into the memory banks for this one.

Let's see.... November, 2002. I went to see my GP about a lump on my testicle. He told me, just before the actual examination, that it could be a knot of veins, nothing to worry about, but he'd check to make sure. Not long after, I first did the clambering onto an examination table and lowering of my jeans that I've since become very used to.

He checked. Within seconds of putting his hand on my right testicle, he said, "Well, that's not veins...." Okay....

Dressed and seated in front of his desk again, I was told that I needed to get an ultrasound. I asked what it could be, if it could be something serious. My doctor said, "I could name a thousand things to scare you, but there's also thousands of things that are harmless. That's what the ultrasound is for."

Now, I could've probably scheduled one for the next day in Halifax, but having too much faith in the local medical people, I decided to schedule in Antigonish instead.

There was a month long wait.

The month dragged past, and I spent most of it working in my dreaded call center job. A few days before the ultrasound, I had a day or two where I suffered discomfort from my right testicle. Not pain, but I couldn't sit right. You know those stupid Preparation H commercials, where a hemorrhoid sufferer squirms and contorts in their chair? I looked kind of like that.

Since the ultrasound was so close, there was little I could do but wait it out. I have something of a fatalistic attitude for these things - once the wheels are set in motion, I shrug and ride it out. (When it's happening to someone I care for, then I do the wailing and worrying and second-guessing.) But if there'd been another month before my ultrasound, I think I'd have bolted for Halifax like a streak of light.

December the 5th, I believe, I took a day off work and headed for my ultrasound at St. Martha's. I arrived early and had a hospital card made up. I then got to sit in the radiology section I'd later sit in while waiting for my first CT scan and while waiting for a dose of Gastrografin for my first Halifax CT scan.

There was a call to Mass at one point. I suppose it's to be expected at a place called St. Martha's, particularly when the parking lot has a side exit that goes straight to the motherhouse on the hill.

A bit of background: Outside the main entrance are two statues, one of a nurse in 60ish style nursing garb and one of a nun in the pure white habit/outfit that the nursing orders used to wear.

There's also a cryptic sign that says "PARKING VIOLATIONS ARE ENFORCED", telling me that the old days of the Church being the most educated group are long gone. The same odd sentence appears regularly on exit doors and in the other parking lots - even the parking lot outside the emergency room entrance, which I could see clearly from the windows in the radiology waiting area.

After some long wait, I was called by a male technician, not that old at all. I followed him down a hall to the left of the appontment desk (the CT room is actually in the hall outside the rad area, so to get there you need to backtrack out towards the exit) and into a dark room with a curtain hiding the back half of the room.

Behind the curtain, I was prepped. I lied (lay?) down on an examination table and lowered my pants to my knees. The technician warned me that, so the ultrasound device would slide across the area easier, I was going to have to have some gel put on the area. Yay, an ultrasound AND a lube job all in one day! I felt truly blessed.

Apparently, they had recently started warming the gel before application, so at least it wasn't going to be cold. It didn't feel cold, I'll admit, but it did feel weird as hell.

In this dark room, with the only illumination coming from the ultrasound machine's monitor and lighted keyboard (touchpad style keys, not keyboard style keys), it was hard to see. Bright colors showed up more than dark ones. The technician's white latex gloves showed up more than his arms, so there was this effect of a ghostly hand grasping something that looked like a transparent version of ketchup or mustard bottle, and spraying my scrotum with the similarly-transparent contents. The contents moved a lot like molasses, slowly crawling down my scrotum and making a run for my perineum. Fortunately, the technician was posessed with much forethought and had given me towels to shore the area up with, so I was saved the feeling of this stuff creeping down my perineum and then along my buttcrack.

(Whatever that room was used for originally, it clearly had some changes - the exam table was wedged against a door whose knob had been removed and filled in. The entire door was painted over last time the room was redone, as well.)

Now began the examination. A device, shaped a bit too much like a computer's mouse, with a metal rectangle on the side (the point of contact) was held against my scrotum, to get a series of shots of my right testicle. After each shot, the technician moved it slightly.

We proceeded in silence. Due to the placement of the exam table, I could turn my head and watch the keyboard. Where the numeric keypad would be on a real keyboard was a nine-key touchpad. Each key had a little green light in its corner. The technician took nine shots. Before each shot he'd press a pad button and its light would blink. Then, after taking the shot, the light would go solid. He progressed from upper-left to upper-right, then middle-left to -right, then bottom-left to -right. I noticed that twice he was disappointed with the shot: he didn't move the mouse-thing much, and re-pressed the last keypad button. The solid green started blinking again, and he took another shot.

After finishing up, he said, "Okay, now that we have the right one, we're going to do the left one, so we'll have something to compare with." I figured they might also be checking it for anything not yet findable via touch.

With this series done, he got up to leave. He said he had to visit the radiologist to make sure the shots were okay. If not, he'd do some more. So he didn't give me anything to clean up with yet.

He removed his gloves and retrieved an envelope, presumably to put the shots in. As he did, we exchanged idle chatter. I did something somewhat unpleasant here, deliberately guiding the conversation towards how an ultrasound works. While I don't remember the exact wording, I managed to get him on the subject of tumors vs. cysts, and then he said something like this....

"Well, I'm not allowed to make diagnoses, but we know what to look for. Because liquid reflects less ultrasound than solids, a liquid-filled cyst shows up dark. A solid tumor shows up light."

Just what I needed. "Really? Interesting. What was mine then?"

This was horrendously unfair of me, because it put this well-meaning technician in a bad position. In a way, he's already made a diagnosis by saying that to me. He's broken it down to a simple choice of light or dark on a monitor. Of course, he could have withheld the information. Either my relaxed nature and my catching him on the spot worked on him, or he realized he'd already said too much and was damned either way.

"Uh.... It was.... Umm.... It was light." He quickly followed this with "But it could be something else. Please remember that-"

I cut him off. I put my arms behind my head in that pose that reflects feelings of self-superiority. "You're a technician, not a doctor capable of making a diagnosis. You don't know everything about the human body, or even my complete medical history, so it could be something that you haven't studied in school, as a GP would have. Don't worry. I have a lot of faith in my doctor. I have no intentions of panicking unless he does. I'm entirely at peace right now, willing to wait for my doctor to call me in to talk about what he saw on the ultrasound. Thank you very much for telling me what you have. I appreciate it."

Taking the statement as a dismissal, he said, "Uh.... I'll be right back." and left.

My emotions weren't in any particular turmoil at this point. Some part of me felt lousy over putting the poor guy on the spot like that, but most of me was wallowing in that warm feeling I get when I successfully manipulate someone into handing over information they might not have been willing to. I'm not great at it, but when it works it's like playing an instrument, and it scares me how much I enjoy it.

All in all, though, I felt peace. Really. I felt like the wheels were still turning, and I, left with nothing to do, could just sit back and wait. Worry was useless, crying was futile, so I didn't.

The guilt over what I'd done was nagging, though.

Turning to more practical concerns, I contemplated how this goop that a rather private part of me had been covered with turned out to be an excellent conductor of heat away from the body, so my testicles were starting to cool off rapidly. No wonder they started heating this stuff.

In the hall outside, I hear a woman calling a man's name, perhaps "Robert".


"Robert? Are you there?"


This last one was closer and louder than the others. I realized she must have come into the room through the partially open door. Great. My pants at my ankles and the entire Foreign Legion is going to come marching through.

I start to say something to the effect that Robert's not behind the curtain, but was too late; she stepped behind the curtain, looked at me - she was an older woman, wearing an ID tag denoting she worked here, though perhaps as a floor cleaner - and frowned. "You're not Robert."

I almost said "What part of me did you use to figure it out?", but bit it back. She left without another word.

About ten minutes more and the technician came back. The shots were fine. He handed me a large stack of towels to get rid of the goop, then left for the other side of the curtain.

Through the curtain, I mentioned the older woman who stopped by. The technician didn't seem surprised. Perhaps she comes by every time a guy's getting an ultrasound, I don't know.

And the large stack of towels was needed. I hadn't shaved anything - I was told it wasn't needed - so this marvellous lubricant goop was now caught in my hair. A lot of it. And the towels, despite being absorbent, didn't absorb this stuff at all. Each towel rapidly became so 'goopified' that I was wiping as much onto my hands as I was wiping off my scrotum. Funny, it didn't seem like this much going on....

Down to my last towel, I decided to use it on my now-icky hands and leave the remaining bits of goop for home, where I had access to soap and water and a bathtub. (I walked a bit funny out of there, as one bit I had missed oozed merrily along the crease where my leg meets my torso.)

I left the pile of towels on the exam table and asked if that was okay. It was. I tucked my shirt back into my pants and put my jacket on.

I paused for a moment to make sure I was collected. Walking back around the curtain, I thanked the technician warmly, smiling as I did. (I don't remember clearly if I shook his hand, but given the whole lubricant fiasco, I think that I probably didn't.) He seemed to react well. I wasn't quite willing to bring myself to apologize. Perhaps I should've.

With a final wave, I left.

What a surprisingly mundane series of examinations it was this time around.

First order of business was a visit to my GP about a very strange illness that I had, simultaneously flu- and cold-like, with the symptoms shifting every few days, ending in a series of a half-dozen cankers (making chewing and swallowing painful) and as many cold sores. This illness was followed by the onset of what seemed like allergies - something I've never had before.

When my name was called, I wasn't the only person to get up. An older man, sitting with his daughter (daughter-in-law?) and adorable young granddaughter, also started to get up. While I have no direct proof, I presume that means his name is Leonard as well.

My doctor was of great help. While he couldn't nail the condition down to something specific, he did say it was likely viral, and that the wildly varied symptoms might be he misfortune of the disease and the allergy arriving at the same time. He also gave me some advice for pinpointing the allergy, and said it sounded airborne, giving me a good starting point from which to work.

He asked if I had bloodwork done yet. I said no, that was my next stop. He was happy to hear that, and gave me a bloodwork form. He said they could do both at once, just hand both in. Thinking ahead, I asked if he figured they'd be able to do both even on the 11th floor cancer clinic blood collection. He said yes.

Then came the amusing part. He knows I'm good with computers, and asked for some advice on his.

I walked into the Dickson and looked towards the entrance to the blood collection area. I had already pretty much decided against going to the clinic blood collection, because you need to drop your forms in a tray, and I didn't trust the paperwork people to catch the second form until after the blood for the first form was withdrawn. Unwilling to get jabbed twice in the same day unless necessary, I decided the more one-on-one environment of the 11th floor would be a safer bet. (Hey, if all cancer gets you is a shorter line for bloodwork on your tumor markers, I'll take it.)

Up on the 11th floor. Again, I didn't need to trigger the 11 button, as one woman - looked like a secretary rather than a patient or doctor, given her non-medical clothing and large stack of paperwork - who got on with me was also going to that floor. Never fails.

Someone was getting bloodwork taken, so the technician told me to put my form in something affixed to the door that's best described as a metallic version of a partly-open manilla envelope.

I mentioned that there was two forms, and asked if that's okay. She said it was fine, just to fold them so they were together. (The main floor Dickson clinic blood collection asks that you place them flat - unfolded - in a tray. You understand why I didn't want to go there.) This done, she told me to go to the waiting room across the hall - the chemo waiting room.

The room - far larger than the clinic waiting room down the hall - was fairly full, ages of the occupants varying from young to old. I was one of the youngest ones, as pediatric oncology goes through the IWK children's hospital.

Chemotherapy is none too pleasant, and some of the people waiting showed it (not as many as I expected, though, for reasons that become obvious later). One ill-looking older man had rested his head on a table and fallen into an uncomfortable sleep. I felt sorry for him.

The TV was on, playing CNN Headline News at a volume too high for the number of people listening (zero). Two fans were blowing at full speed, and both windows were open, evidently to help balance out the hot day they Halifax was having. (This waiting room, for those of you who read Lost in the Maze, is in the 'bulge' at the center of the Victoria building.)

Soon after sitting down, I was called in for the blood work. The technician was very personable, and tolerant of my many questions about how this two-form deal would work. (When I said, "May I ask a dumb question?" she replied with "There are no dumb questions.")

I took particular interest in when she punched the information in. She listed both of forms on one screen of info, with the results to be sent to my oncologist and CCed to my GP. I asked why. Apparently, the system isn't exacting enough that you can extract one set of blood samples and divvy up the results so three of my results go to one doctor and six go to another. So, to save me the multiple needle bites, it's all treated as one and both doctors will get all nine tests. It's apparently common enough that the oncologists here (and my GP, obviously) won't be surprised by it.

After the blood was taken (Very little needle pain going in, and none after the insertion, which is good because it took longer to get it all!), I thanked the technician and left for the third floor.

I hit the "down" button on the elevator panel. Nothing. I hit it again. Went over to try the down button on the opposite panel. It worked, and both down buttons lit up. I said (to my travelling companion), "The other button must be dead."

My travelling companion for the month said, "Could you not use that word while we're up here? Just say 'out of order'."

"Er.... Okay."

After getting off on the third floor, I passed through that door that still has no right being there. And again, no one was at the chest x-ray desk to explain how long the new door had been there. At the rate this is going, it's going to be "the old door" before I can ask someone about it.

I walked up the Long Hall, registered at the main desk (there was just a handful of people ahead of me, so it only took about five minutes) and walked back down. Once I got to the chest x-ray desk I found that the people who weren't there before still weren't there. No one to accept my form.

Sitting in one of the area's perpetually dark corners, near an odd pattern on the wall (that I just realized this visit is the back doors of the Victoria elevators), was a guy. Summer clothes, cap, looked like a plain old patient or other generic visitor. He said someone would be by soon.

Evidently five minutes isn't 'soon', since no one appeared within that time frame.

Not long after I checked my watch and noted the elapsed five minutes, the dark-corner guy got up and, to my escalating amazement and shock, walked behind the desk, grabbed a page from a laser printer, and said "Are you Leonard?"

I took a better look at him. Around his neck was a band with a hospital ID on it. The unflattering photo matched his face. I felt a bit better about answering his question affirmatively and handing my x-ray form over. I started to walk towards the back waiting area, but didn't get there before a nurse seemingly materialized behind me to check to see if my clothes (cotton t-shirt) were okay for the scan. Wait and nothing happens. Do something and you're inundated with attention!

I was going to ask about that door, but she was gone as fast as she appeared. Huh.

Two women were ahead of me, and were in and out quick. The technician was a pleasant female who I hadn't seen before. The actual x-ray was fairly mundane. Absolutely nothing happened that hasn't happened before. No flaming squirrels, nothing.

After the nothing, I put my outer layers back on and left for the day.

The next day, I was in for my examination. Before I went, though, I stopped at a nearby magazine store. The cashier is notable for possessing three traits that I find important in a dating partner: very polite, very cute, and blind as a bat. (She had to put the price tags right up to her face to read them, and had to lean forward to read the total off the register - someone forgot their glasses, it seems.) And I never even got her number.

But anyway.... I arrived early for my appointment and was almost sent for another x-ray and bloodwork. This secretary didn't seem impressed or even mildly happy that I'd got the bloodwork and x-ray done previously. Indeed, she seemed rather nonplussed. I took the forms for use the next time. I was directed to the chemo waiting room - the exam waiting room was closed for two days due to maintenance. This explained the large number of people in the chemo waiting room the day before, few of whom looked like chemo patients.

Soon after sitting down, I heard the call of nature. Since I had 20 minutes before my appointment time - I was the first appointment as well - I figured I was safe. I was less than 10 minutes. Want to guess who was called while I was gone?

I found my oncologist's nurse and we went through the weighing (181 pounds, I forget what I was before, though my mom tells me my clothes don't look as snug lately) and medical rundown. I explained the whole illness/allergy thing again. I mentioned that the illness settled in soon after returning from my last trip here. The nurse said, "The city's not a good place to be when it comes to disease."

This comment caught me a bit off guard - a trend that would continue for the rest of the day. I replied "Neither is a hospital."

As to my apparent allergy, the nurse said something to the effect of, "You know, we have a lot of people whose allergies are worse than normal. And even a few like you who haven't had allergies before who are showing signs."

Since their patients are all over the province, I wonder what that means.

She also asked if I wanted her to fax the blood test results to my GP. I said that he'd been CCed the results. She mentioned that it would take him a week to get the results via normal channels. I told her not to worry, since I'll at best be going back to him in two months.

After she left, I started reading a fascinating National Geographic article on sunspots. Of course, with something good to read, an intern showed up almost immediately. Young (of course), slightly below average height, and named Allison.

She said my name, or something approximating it.


"Did I say your name right?"

"Close enough."

"How do you say it?"

I said it, exactly as it's spelled.

She looked at the paper she was holding and gave it a look that said, "I should've known...."

I continued, "Don't worry about it. That's how everyone where I live says it, unless they say 'Peters'. But show the older ones a picture of my great-grandfather and they say 'Grandpere Pitter!'".


"And that's not the right pronunciation, either."


I never did tell her the proper French pronunciation, mostly because I can't say it myself. (The end is a sort-of-aspirated 'truh' sound that also requires a tongue-flick - a short rolled 'r' - I just can't do.)

Allison was the first intern in a long time who had be go through the whole johnny shirt ritual, a mild annoyance since I need to take my sneakers off to get my jeans and underwear off, and hopping around in one's socks while trying to avoid the open window which is blowing cold wind up the back of your johnny shirt is never fun.

While I did all this, Allison was on the other side of a curtain. She noticed the name of my GP and mentioned that she was a classmate and friend of his daughter. His youngest daughter is the only one of his children to carry on the family profession - I think my GP's father was a well-known Halifax pediatrician - and he's happy to advertise the fact that there's another doctor in the family. Somewhat to his chagrin, any hopes he had of a family member practicing in Halifax were dashed when his daughter fell in love (figuratively) with the people she was working with in Ontario, and also fell in love (literally) with a "very nice young fellow" whom she recently married.

Allison spoke for a good while about the daughter and how she was doing. (Her depth of knowledge on the young woman made it plain that they were friendly enough to keep in contact since she moved.) In fact, the conversation wound down just as I finished the putting-my-shoes-on-with-a-draft-up-my-ass happy dance.

If it hadn't, it would have stopped rather abruptly a minute later, when I had to go into heavy-breathing mode while Allison checked my lungs. She also checked my neck lymph nodes, and did something I don't remember others doing - put the stethoscope on my stomach (right side) and listened for something.

All further discussion was about how often I checked my testicle, etc. We got on the subject of odd changes to the body and how one's reaction to them suddenly takes on a bit of panic once one has had cancer. I was having a hard time articulating my thoughts for reasons I can't fathom. I blame lack of sleep.

One thing, perhaps worth pointing out, is that during the testicle examination, they're very careful not to hurt me. As in, they use an incredibly light touch, far lighter than I do. Of course, I know what hurts and what doesn't. And even so, sometimes I think I feel a lump, lose track of it, and then go on a mad grope trying to find it again and wind up hurting myself in the process. Ah, paranoia.

After all that, she told me to get dressed while she left to fetch my oncologist.

I got dressed - though I didn't do up my dress shirt, since my oncologist might conceivably want to check something and I'd feel silly re-unbuttoning - and used the extra waiting time to look around the room. Two mysterious doors in the room which were normally closed were open a bit, so I peeked inside. One leads to a storeroom, packed right to the door with boxes, and the other leads to a small but comprehensive bathroom (Shower stall and everything!) that I never knew existed.

Some time after my curiosity was sated, my oncologist arrived, looking entirely confusing in a sweater and shorts. Evidently the shorts were due to how hot the place got in the afternoon, but her top looked as warm as what I was wearing. It also had a cursive "L" on it, in a similar position to but thankfully smaller than the one Laverne (of Laverne & Shirley) used to wear.

I will, however, take a moment to ruminate on the fact that a woman with long legs can get away with wearing longish shorts while still appearing to be showing a lot of leg.


Okay, moment over.

We did some variation on that whole stand-up-sit-down-shake-hands dance where one of us tries to do shake hands with the other, but the other is doing something else at the time (like sitting down) and has to stop and reverse whatever they were doing.

My oncologist had heard of my multi-week illness, and spoke to me about it; after all, despite her specialization in tumors, she's still an MD. She admitted that she was stumped as to any cause. When I mentioned the suggestion it might be viral, she said, "Yeah, that's what we say when we don't know."

Good vote of confidence, there.

She also mentioned all the extra blood tests and said that the only one that was outside normal range was my hemoglobin, and "the minimum is 140 and you had 139, so I wouldn't worry." Of course, she doesn't know precisely why my GP ordered the tests, so he might see something odd based on my previous bloodwork on his file.

She also took the x-ray paper back, but not the bloodwork form. As she was walking out, she turned and said, "How's the job hunt going?"

"Not well."

She frowned. "Awww, don't tell me that."

I shrugged. "I wouldn't, but I'm not a liar." My brain snagged when I heard this, trying to reparse it to make sure it was right.

"Do you speak French?"

"Nope, I'm a monoglot." (Were I thinking straighter I'd have said "Pas un mot." It means "Not a word." I also used to know how to say "Sorry, I don't speak any German." in German, but I've lost it. I have it written down somewhere.)

"Shame. If you spoke French you might be able to find work at one of those Acadian events going on."

This issue raises plenty of ire in me, but it's not her fault so I kept my voice light. "I'll let you in on a little secret. Most of the people where I live who crow about their 'Acadian heritage' can't speak French either."

She left Allison to finish filling out the CT scan form. I, discreetly as possible (which is to say, not very), tucked my dress shirt into my jeans while I waited.

After she finished, she went to hand the form to me, but paused. "Do I give this to you...?"

I had to dredge that one up from the back burner myself. "No. They take it and call me with the scheduled time."

"I'd forgotten about that."

By this time we were walking out of the room. I made a dismissive gesture. "Don't worry about it. I only have one set of procedures to remember. You have far more."

We wished each other well and parted ways.

Next month: No idea. FAQ updating, probably. I need to add a link to my ultrasound story in the item about my reaction to the cancer diagnosis, and never did add a question on how others react to a cancer diagnosis.

The month after that: CT scan time again! Yay! Let's see if I remember to shave....

September 29, 2004 AD: Well, I did remember to shave, the night before last. And my arm broke out into angry red welts in response to the unfamiliar feel of a razor. (October 18: One still hasn't healed. Just ripped an ingrown hair out last night. It's looking better.)

I had phoned my oncologist's nurse and asked if the IV I was getting would interfere with my bloodwork. Normally I get the bloodwork first, but a scheduling screwup meant I couldn't. (The scheduling paperwork seemingly got lost and I played phone tag for a week until I found someone who could help me. By then there was only an early morning appointment which I'd have to get up at 4:00 AM to make. I'm not moving that back to 3:30 just so I can get bloodwork done!)

Bright and early yesterday - well, somewhat bright and too damn early - I found myself in registration. I had recently choked down my second Gastrografin dose and it had done something it hadn't done before: It made me queasy. Still, I kept the bile down and tried my best to look alive, for fear of being taken to the morgue.

The woman who took my information down was the same one who had done it in April, rather than the colorful-dressed one. She (not surprisingly) didn't recognize me. At least, until she saw my street address, and the unholy-to-pronounce French name of the place I'm living in. She looked back and forth between the PC screen and me a few times, then said "Oohhhh, I remember you!"

While I was changing into hospital duds, I heard colorful-dress lady walk into the waiting room and call my name. Someone there informed her of my location, and she left my third Gastrografin dose, with orders that various waiting-room people interpreted as "Don't drink." and "Do drink.", leaving me in something of a quandary. I decided "don't" was the safer option.

A few minutes later colorful-dress lady came back, dressed in somber gray sweater and black slacks. I'm gonna have to stop calling her "colorful-dress lady" if this keeps up. She led me to where the IV was to be set up and asked all the standard questions while I slugged down the lemon drink from Hell. The last question was "Have you had any reactions to IVs in the past?"

I said "Not so far." she tapped at a corner of the paper she was holding, laughed and nodded. Evidently they keep a track record.

I was attended to by interns during the actual examination. A young woman set up the IV. She was horrified by the red marks on my arm, I had to explain to her that it was from shaving, not anything infectious. Twice. I even showed her my hairy arm for contrast.

She later helped me into position on the machine's moving table. As I was being moved in, I closed my eyes due to that laser which was zipping between my legs and up my chest, rather like a nonviolent version of that James Bond scene.

While my eyes were closed, a male voice came out of nowhere and startled me. Startled me more when I open my eyes and there's this guy standing there, just a few feet away. He apologized for scaring me. He was another intern, he did the IV-line-to-machine connection part.

After he retreated to the control room, he had need to tell me something, which he did over the intercom. The contrast between the clear "Breathe in... and hold." of the machine and the barely-understandable staticy intercom makes me think the actual scanner is the only new thing here.

Post-scan, after he removed the needle, a voice came from the control room asking about something I didn't catch. The male intern said "No, we didn't." and a really angry response began to issue from the control room - loud enough that I didn't need the intercom to hear it - before the guy broke into a wicked grin and said "Just kidding! I did it!" The female intern seemed slightly less amused, but still appreciative. Ah, teacher torment.

On my way out towards the blood collection, colorful-dress lady stopped in the hall to say goodbye to me. I thought that was nice.

Bloodwork, in the clinic blood collection. One person in the room when I arrived. No one taking blood. This is a problem.

The waiting room was packed to capacity (beyond, actually, since one wheelchair-bound person wasn't taking up a chair) before the guy in front of me got up and complained that he'd seen (before I got there) the bloodwork guy leave and not come back. Wish I'd known that before. The guy in front of me, the guy after me, and me, uh, I got sneaked down the back corridor into the regular blood collection area. I left by the front way, crossing through the regular waiting room. I wonder if anyone there wondered where I came from - or the two guys who must have followed me, for that matter.

I also visited my GP. Nothing new there, but he told me his printer was beyond help and is in the shop. Funny, last time he was asking about a firewall, not a printer. Damn, is he seeing a geek behind my back?

(Flu shot in two months time. Given the IVs and that, this is trivial. I scoff before the pokiness.)

The examination this morning featured no intern, so I was done quick. I talked to the nurse, mentioned some joint pain in my fingers that I had on and off for a week or so before it vanished. When the oncologist came in, almost the first thing she said was "What did you tell Pam? I can't read her writing. It looks like you told her you had a herneehoonee for a week."

She showed me the paper the nurse had filled out. And to be honest, that's exactly what it looked like she wrote down. I had a herneehoonee for a week.

There was a cruise ship in Halifax harbor, probably beached on the sheer volume of condoms and other nonbiodegradeable sewage in the harbor. During the examination, my oncologist started chatting about the bad weather (remnant of a hurricane) a cruise ship hit in the Atlantic. Knocked out the stabilizers and the fun-loving cruise got turned into one giant bruise, with a few broken arms and ribs mixed in for good measure.

Note to self: If I ever go on a boat, make sure everything in my room is lashed down, particularly if it's over my bed. Gravity is not the only massive force on the high seas, stabilizers be damned.

November's my last 2-month checkup, then it's on to 3 months. The odds are steadily dropping off. (My oncologist said today that over 80% of recurrences happen in the past two years, but since she said previously that 80% happen in the first year, if one guy gets it in the second year, that's over 80% in the first two years. I don't think math is her strong suit.)

In celebration, I might take next month off. If there is an update, it'll be FAQ and maintenance stuff. Have fun in my abscence, and don't mess up the place.

November 4, 2004 AD: I said I wouldn't add a new item. I lied.

A short one though. I recently got a paper from MSI, checking (rather weakly, IMHO, but this isn't the place for a rant) to make sure I had really received medical services that had been billed in my name. It's a random screening thing - if a person has anything chronic or requiring followup, they'll likely get one of these. It's the simplest form I've ever filled out, just checked a "no" box (asking if I'd had to pay out-of-pocket for anything) and signed my name.

The second-simplest form was a ten(ish) page survey about the cancer care I received. A funny thing - due to confidentiality of medical records, the hospital's own survey-takers had access to my name and address, but not my medical history. (For which I'm very grateful.) Thus, the first question was basically "Are you really receiving cancer treatment, or is it just follow-up? Or have you just never had cancer and this is all a mistake?"

Sitting down for a long haul, I readied myself to do the ten pages. I answered 'follow-up only' to the first question, then looked at the next instruction block. "If you have answered 'follow-up only', please put survey in envelope and mail. Do not answer the other questions. Any comments may be written in the designated area on the bottom of page 10."

Wow, that was easy.

Ah, the final spin 'round the exam room for year 2, on a frigid December 7th and 8th of 2004. Despite the threatening weather, I didn't cancel.

Stop one... well, stop zero because it's not medical. Outside my preferred magazine shop, a guy passed me by singing something incomprehensible and leering at me. Ah, dinky towns like Port Hawkesbury have coyotes roaming the streets and eating housecats, dinky cities like Halifax just have crazies roaming the streets. Probably eating housecats, too.

I went into the magazine shop and was almost immediately confronted by a female employee who was tall, had red hair, and was very happy to see someone. "How are you doing?!"

I didn't say anything, sure that I wasn't the one being spoken to. Doubt lingered enough that I turned around. No one was behind me. Oh. So I hesitantly said, "Fine, how are you?"

She responded, "Great!" and kept on working.

First a cute myopic Asian, now a tall happy redhead. That's it, I'm buying a magazine store.

Stop one, flu shot with my GP. (On his last bottle of vaccine - I cut it close this time.) I'm still amused by how little these things hurt. I could get three of these a day and not worry. I can't believe I used to be scared of these things when I was a little kid!

My GP is growing a goatee. His prerogative, but I've seen him all my life without one. He's got progressively older (and greyer) over the years, but the goatee he didn't have 2.5 months ago was a shock. Reminds me of that episode of the original Star Trek where evil parallel universe Spock had a goatee. (First rule of SF TV: Moustache good, beard good. Goatee evil.)

(Note: For some reason, my arm didn't get cranky the next day, like it usually does after flu shots. Since I've come to expect discomfort from the needle of dead viruses, I'm left to wonder if the shot was, er, deader than normal. Either that or this year's likely flu strains are just sissies.)

Stop two, bloodwork. I put my form in the tray of the clinic blood collection area, ground floor of the Dickson, and waited. Someone called me immediately. Hey! But it was only to get my phone number, which had been left off the form. Five minutes later and I was called for real. (Again, I lucked out time-wise. The room was almost empty when I arrived and close to capacity when I was called.)

I asked the technician if it mattered any that I'd got a flu shot in the same arm about 10 minutes ago. She said, in a rather condescending tone I thought, "No, that's in your muscle and I'm looking for a vein."

"Well," I said defensively, "I just don't want to get this arm jabbed only to find out that that was a mistake and I have to get it done again."

She said, rather cryptically, "Oh, no mistake. You're in the chair, aren't you?" Er, yeah...?

Only mild pain from the needle, though. She did that well.

Stop three, up a flight of stairs and to diagnostic imaging registration. Which was empty. I've never seen it empty before, so this was a treat. I took a number, walked into the waiting area (into which the registration desks have a perfect line of sight) and waved at the two registration people. They both waved and turned back to their work. I shrugged and sat down.

Just as my backside was about to hit the cushion, both registration people said "Don't sit down, it's your turn!"

Standing at one of the desks, I handed over my health card and x-ray requisition. The woman typing it in was plainly new to the job. It took her a good five minutes to get my basic stats typed into the PC. After this she pulled a purple-pink Post-It-style note off her monitor (tape had been added to it to reinforce its own adhesive) and leaned over towards the other registration person. "Lemme see your purple thing."

"What?" the other registration person asked.

"That thing," pointing at her deskmate's pinkish Post-It, also taped to a PC monitor. "Mine doesn't have the number for the cancer department on it."

The other one, still in shock over the "purple thing" line I guess, sputtered on about "What thing?" for a good 20 seconds before the first one reached over and yanked it off the monitor. She copied one line off of it and reattached it. She also reattached her own. The need for tape was even more obvious.

More typing, then a battle with the mouse to make the cursor move where it needed to. The registration woman said, "This mouse isn't working well."

I offered to try fix it, but she didn't seem to notice. She also was using it fairly regularly, so I couldn't just snap it up and clean gunk off the roller wheels. (Been a while since I've done that. I've been spoiled by my optical mouse.)

During the typing, she said to me, "You're from Cape Breton?"


"Drive down yesterday?"

"This morning."

"How was it on Mount Kelly?"

My brain shorted out at this point, thinking this was somewhere around Mount Thom, about halfway between where I live and Halifax. It's also a notorious stretch of pavement, since the mountain is situated in such a way that sunlight doesn't even get to the road (and thus, can't melt the ice, snow, or slush) until fairly late in the morning. "Er, good."

"Oh, good. My son's driving a truck up that way. I don't like it when he's on icy roads."

My brain kicked back in and I realized this might be somewhere else. Some digging brought back memory of a "Kelly's Mountain", on the other side of Cape Breton Island. I'd been nowhere near there. (It's part of the Cabot Trail, a very treacherous stretch of road. Note to tourists: If they call it a 'trail', it means you probably wouldn't go on it if it weren't on the tourist map.)

However, I'd already committed and didn't want to go back on my word at this point, even if it turned out to be false. Though weather reports I had checked were optimistic about the whole province's road conditions until the evening, so I didn't feel like I was outright lying. "Oh, okay."

Soon after this, she handed all my paperwork back to me and gave instructions to get to X-ray, following it with "But you look like you've been there before."

When I got there, no one was around. I noticed that a lone piece of paper sat in the laser printer. "That paper always beats me here," I said as I nonchalantly lifted the edge and tried to read it. I caught movement out of the corner of my eye before I read anything, though. I quickly stepped back and tried/failed to look innocent.

The movement was (as I expected) a person who picked up the paper, took my x-ray requisition, and told me to remove my jacket and outer shirt.

After a short waiting room rest, I was called in. This technician was sort of sing-songy, but not quite. Halfway between musical and just extending random vowels.

After my first photo, where the machine was wedged uncomfortably tight against my chin, the technician said "Oooooookay, we just need to waaaait for the image to apppeeeeear. Oooops, looks like weee missed a bit of the bottooooom of your lungs." The machine was lowered enough that it must've caught my bladder along with the rest of my lungs.

The side view went off without a hitch, though.

So, with 50% more radiation than normal (same great taste), I left.

Stop, er, uh, (Let's see... GP, bloodwork, x-ray....) four! The next morning, a day that was perfectly nice if you don't mind near-freezing temperatures and skin-soaking torrents of frigid wind-blown rain for hours on end. Sitting in the Dickson's lobby (it was still a bit too early to go up to 11 North for my taste) I noticed my oncologist's nurse going into the cancer center on that floor. She noticed me as well, and waved. "Did you have your tests done yesterday?"

"Yes." I called back. (This is from across the lobby.)

"Good, you don't really have the time to get a..." She sort of trailed off as she realized she was getting a little too personal for an area with several complete strangers in between us. I nodded in response.

Being early did me little good. Despite a 9 AM appointment, I wasn't called in until after 9:20. But before we get to that, a digression. Though the waiting room was empty when I arrived, it quickly filled. The most notable arrivals (other than a lady I knew during my school days, who's sadly got terminal cancer now) were two groups of people. One member of each group was due for a checkup, then chemo. The groups knew each other, and they got into a stomach-turning dick measuring contest over how sick they were since they last met.

Actual quotes: "I had to be hospitalized for eight days!" and "Well, I got pneumonia!"

Then other members of the groups jumped in with various surgeries and prescriptions. THEN they started harping on the potencies of the chemo drugs. It was like it was a game or something. And they really seemed to savor describing each new affliction and drug side effect they rolled out, like they were lovingly describing the specs of newly-purchased sports cars! I wanted to throttle them.

A bunch of loudmouth jerks downright giddy, boasting about their likely-curable illnesses while sitting next to a terminal patient who quietly tolerates the waves of words. It was one of those moments when it's more fear of legal reprisal than personal ethics that kept me from doing anything.

I held my tongue - and fists - until 9:20some rolled around and I was called in.

My weight? Well, I'm now approaching the high end of normal for my body size: The time to do something about it fast approaches. My health is generally good; no more herneehoonee. Bloodwork, x-ray, last CT scan all fine.

The nurse left and before long the oncologist showed up, sporting glasses. (Something I don't remember seeing before. What's with the makeovers? Goatees, glasses, is there some medical/fashion journal I'm missing?)

It was a quick examination, the standard stethoscope-on-the-back followed by latex-on-the-testicle. This month's subject of discussion while I was getting felt up? Christmas shopping. From the way she was talking and asking about disposable income, she seems to think I'm more middle class than I really am (which is to say, not at all). Perhaps it's because I'm a snappy dresser. Not that I was dressed at this point in the conversation....

As I was getting my pants back in order, she walked towards the door and told me to follow her and we'd schedule my next appointment. I pointed out that I wasn't quite in condition to go roaming the halls, being half naked and very recently three-quarters naked. She told me to follow whenever I was ready and (thankfully) slipped out without opening the door too far. This exam room was across from the waiting room and I wasn't giving those slack-jawed losers a show.

Before long I was dressed and heading up the halls. After some confusion (switching from a CT scan every 2 visits to every 3 visits threw off the timing of my scans for Year 3), my next visit was set up for mid-March, with a CT scan thrown in for good measure.

Stop four and a half - prelude to a CT scan. I went downstairs to the CT scan registration area and got a bottle of Gastrografin. The woman of the rarely-somber clothing was there, talking on the phone. I waited until she was finished, since I have to reach over her desk and open a cupboard to get the stuff. I know I don't like people rummaging over my head when I'm not prepared for it.

When she hung up and turned her attention to me, the first thing she said to me was "Hello Leonard!" This floored me and choked off my default greeting before it left my throat. The last time she saw me was over two months ago and I wasn't scheduled to come in this day, so my name wasn't on any list she would've seen. Her face/name recall is simply amazing.

I eventually managed a simple "Hello" in response, partly because I've never caught her name. (Why do you think I use such a bulky phrase as "colorful-dress lady" to refer to her?) I started to point towards the cupboard and colorful-dress lady, being the master of the nonverbal that she is, nodded and said, "Take as many as you need. Be happy." I took one and, obedient fellow that I am, immediately set about being happy.

She asked if I had instructions. I said yes - well, I've got them memorized by now - thanked her, and left.

And with that, I end my unbroken series of monthly updates. It's been fun, but I've got to admit, this is getting repetitive! Only four visits next year, and therefore only four updates to this page. If something random happens before then, I'll post. Barring random somethings, however, my next update is March or perhaps April if the weather conspires against me. See you then.

Best wishes to you and yours. Stay healthy, and take care of yourself.

The Archon
December 12, 2004 AD.
(Two years less five days since my surgery....)

Go back! Back I say!
Run along home.
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