My body, AKA The Dirty Traitor, has made it its mission in life to find new and interesting reasons to send me to the doctor. And the novelty is wearing off.
This is going to be a long post. You may want to grab a coffee or something.
So there I was at my weekly Dungeons and Dragons session, slaughtering various fantasy creatures and otherwise minding my own business, when I went to write something down on my character sheet and registered a sudden sharp pain in my wrist where it grazed the table. I didn’t think much of it at first, since I’m a pro at collecting bruises whose origins I don’t recall. I figured I had likely just whacked my wrist against a table corner sometime earlier in the week without noticing. But when I instinctively rubbed the area with my other hand, that’s when I felt the lump.
A hard, pea-sized, ovoid lump that moved around when pressed.
Here’s a little story about the last time I had a run-in with random lumps. When I was sixteen, the lymph nodes in my neck decided to swell up to an alarming size for no apparent reason. Unfortunately, my regular GP was on vacation, so I was seen by the doctor who was taking her patients while she was away. He simpered patronizingly when I told him what I was there for, and laughed, “So, did you immediately think it was cancer?”
I stared back at him. “Uh, no?” At least, not until you mentioned it, jackass.
“Ahem.” Dr. Chuckles shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “Let’s just take a look at that neck, shall we?”
And things just went downhill from there. After a brief examination, he had paled considerably, and before I knew it he was on the phone getting me an appointment with a specialist for a needle biopsy in two days’ time. Around here, getting a specialist referral that quickly is basically code for, “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit…” so even though the word “biopsy” was being thrown around, I felt mildly smug that Dr. Chuckles’ cancer joke might have come back to bite him in the ass.
48 hours and four painful needle wounds in my neck later, and I was sitting in the specialist’s office being told – immediately following the biopsy, mind you, before the samples had even left the office – that he was pretty sure I had Hodgkin’s disease and would need surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. I thought I saw a small glint in his eye when he mentioned the surgery part. He handed me a pamphlet about how to prepare for a general anaesthetic and informed me cheerfully they would book me in for a full surgical biopsy as soon as the needle biopsy results came back positive. Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence, Doc.
In the elevator on the way down to the parkade, my father grabbed my hand and squeezed it, something he hadn’t done since I was a little kid who still needed help crossing the street. I looked up at him, and his face was grey and terrified. For some reason, until that point I hadn’t even considered that my stoic, businesslike dad might be scared fucking shitless by the news we’d just received. I remember squeezing his hand back and saying, “It’s okay.” I could tell from his expression that he didn’t believe me.
I don’t think my parents slept one wink while we were waiting for the call with the results. When my mother wasn’t nervously pacing around the kitchen phone waiting for it to ring, she was on the internet reading Hodgkin’s horror stories. I must not have been worried enough over my potential diagnosis for her liking, because she would keep bringing up all those nightmare cases she’d found as if she was hoping I would break down and throw myself into her arms, sobbing at the injustice of my plight.
Me? I did what any sixteen-year-old girl would do when confronted with the prospect of chemotherapy: I made a beeline for the mirror and tried to imagine what I’d look like with no hair.
By the third day of waiting, I couldn’t take being cooped up in the house anymore. It felt like my parents were already planning my funeral in there, and while I understood they were scared, by Day 3 the doom and gloom attitude was really getting on my nerves. Personally, I refused to get that bent out of shape over a disease that a) we didn’t even know whether or not I had yet, and b) has one of the best survival rates as far as cancers go. So I hopped on the next bus downtown and went shopping.
I spent a few hours wandering around the mall and Robson Street, and had just bought myself my customary hazelnut latte from Starbucks when my phone started blasting salsa music. It was my mother.
“Where are you? Are you ever coming home?” She sounded pissed off, which was a good sign.
Sure enough, it turned out that Dr. Scalpel-Happy had called with the rather disappointing revelation that he would not be cutting me open after all, as the biopsy results came back staggeringly negative. He concluded that my lymph nodes had probably become swollen in response to a cold or flu virus, advised me to go back to the doctor if they didn’t eventually shrink back down or if any new ones swelled up, and then hung up to go on the hunt for another likely candidate to slice and dice.
My mother would later tell me that if I had needed chemotherapy, she was going to offer to shave her head so I wouldn’t have to be bald alone. “Thanks, Mom,” I said, “but I would never have let you do that.” “OH THANK GOD,” she replied, and I knew that things were back to normal.
But it kind of felt like whole the lymph node episode broke my healthy streak and opened the door for all sorts of other crap to target me. The last year of high school, I started getting terrible sinus infections that would last for ages. In university I would get laryngitis like clockwork every October, conveniently just in time for my musical theatre club’s annual auditions1. I caught the swine flu while writing my master’s dissertation, because of course I did. And I’ve already mentioned my lazy asshole of a thyroid on several previous occasions, which has sentenced me to be on a steady diet of hormone replacers for the rest of my life.
Oh, and then there was the time that my body forgot how to store iron. Just…forgot.
So now I’m sitting here with this goddamn wrist lump going, “WHAT, Body, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO YOURSELF NOW? HAVEN’T WE BEEN THROUGH ENOUGH IN THE PAST DECADE AND A HALF?”
The Dirty Traitor remained silent.
Me? I did what any thirty-one-year-old would do when they’re confronted with an unknown health issue: I made a beeline for the computer and Googled that shit.
Immediately the words “ganglion cyst” began popping up in the results. Huh. What’s that? I clicked the first link that looked vaguely scientific (sorry, About and Yahoo Answers, but it wasn’t one of you) and scanned the symptom list. Hm, this did sound familiar. I readied an emergency dose of eye bleach and cautiously switched to Google’s Image search.
The first thing I noticed about ganglions, besides the fact that they look like the human equivalent of Gremlins reproducing, is that they seemed to almost exclusively occur on the top or bottom of the wrist, not smack dab on the side, where mine was. I scanned down to the very bottom of the images available, but the pattern refused to be broken. Okay, I thought, we’ll keep it in mind as a possibility, but let’s see if we can do better.
Problem was, “ganglion” was far and away the most prevalent response to my searches. Nothing else seemed to accurately describe what lurked beside my carpals. But I decided to give it the weekend before going to the doctor, just in case I had just wanged it against something and the lump was going to go down and we would all laugh and go out for tea.
By the time Monday came, the thing was so bloody irritating that I was starting to understand why Dr. Scalpel-Happy wanted to cut me open so badly.
And like the last time, as luck would have it, my current doctor also happened to be on vacation. Well, kids, I guess we’re going on a field trip to the walk-in clinic!
The walk-in doctor was friendly and blissfully made no attempts to be a comedian. She conducted a thorough examination of my wrist, and then sat back in her rolling chair. “Well,” she began, “it could be a ganglion.”
Google: 1, Nut: 0.
“Although this is an odd place for one. They’re usually found more on the top or the bottom of the wrist.” AHA. “Yeah, I thought the placement was a bit strange for that too,” I confided. She shot me a wary look, which I interpreted as, “Oh lord, we’ve got a self-diagnoser…” I mentally kicked myself. I did not want to be “that guy” in the eyes of a medical professional.
“It could also be a calcium deposit,” she continued, but she sounded less sure of that one. “I’m going to send you for an ultrasound to see if that gives us a better idea.” She printed me out a lab requisition and sent me on my way with a list of locations where I could book an appointment for the ultrasound.
As I was heading out the door, I glanced at her notes on the requisition form. They read, “Ganglion vs. other?” I texted this to Nutty Hubby and he responded with, “SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY. Watch the Evil Ganglion take on the Mysterious Other. Only $56 a head. SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY.” This is why we’re married.
I called the lab to make the appointment. They were booked solid for the next week and half. “Well,” I said to the alien bulge in my wrist, “I guess we’re just going to have to try to get along for a little while. Try not to be too much of a dick, okay?” It pretended not to hear me.
11 days of childish bickering later, my unwanted wrist accessory and I got to the lab, which I discovered was located in a sketchy-looking basement that was under renovation. I disregarded the voice in my head that was screaming “IT’S A TRAP” and picked my way over to their front desk. The receptionist was about as welcoming as her surroundings.
Seconds after I had taken a seat on one of the dusty waiting room chairs, a small, stooped woman emerged from a hallway, shuffling along slowly while squinting at a piece of paper that I recognized to be my lab requisition. She called my name and then immediately turned around and shuffled back into the hall, croaking behind her in broken English for me to follow. Oh god, please let this just be some kind of lab bellhop whose only job it is to take me to my exam room, and not the actual tech, I pleaded silently.
No such luck.
The Shuffler led me into a small room loaded with equipment and closed the door. After studying the form, which clearly stated the ultrasound was to be performed on the left side of my left wrist, she looked up and inquired, “Right side?” Oh yeah, this was going to go GREAT.
“No, left side,” I replied, and I held out the correct hand and showed her exactly where the lump was. “Oh, okay.” She returned to the form for a moment, then looked back at me. “Show me again?” Sigh.
Finally she was satisfied with my paperwork, and I got up onto the exam table while she prepped the heavy machinery. She had me lie on the table several different ways. I ended up in a position that required all my core strength to maintain, and I was suddenly intensely grateful for all those pilates classes I used to take at the gym.
“Show me again?” OH. MY. GOD.
“It’s right here. You can feel where it’s sitting just under the skin.” The Shuffler placed a gloved finger on the spot I indicated and pushed the lump one way, then another. A look of understanding passed over her face. “Ohhhh, here.”
I had a fleeting hope that, having actually touched the damn thing, she might remember where it was this time. That hope was dashed when, her preparations complete, The Shuffler picked up my hand, pointed to the top of my wrist, and said, “This, here?”
After yet more explaining and pointing, she finally gooped me up with gel and started charting the terrain with a convex ultrasound probe. I kept my mouth shut and let her do her thing, but I could sense a shift when she began actively looking for the lump, and I could tell she was focusing on the wrong area. She can’t remember where it is, I thought. Again.
I was just starting to think we should mark the area with a pen when, one step ahead of me, she abruptly pulled away and began digging in a drawer, returning with the biggest Sharpie I’d ever seen. “Show me again,” she ordered, and I pointed at the lump while she drew a large dotted circle around it. Then she mimicked the circle on the opposite wrist for comparison, lubed it up too, slapped what looked like a giant breast implant on it to boost the signal, and started going back and forth between both wrists comparing the images.
By now I was starting to truly wonder just what the hell I was harboring under my skin. Had I managed to attract something so strange, so alien that it wasn’t even detectable to sophisticated medical scanners?
I could sense the lump getting angry. Hide and seek is no fun unless someone eventually finds you. With each pass of the ultrasound probe, I felt the tissues surrounding the lump puff up a bit more in irritation. I think that’s what actually rescued me from being stuck in that Purgatory of an exam room forever. The lump site just got so damn big that even The Shuffler couldn’t miss it.
I felt her stop on one of her passes, right on top of the lump. She nodded to herself and tapped a few keys on her console, and I finally felt like we were getting somewhere.
“This, here,” she said, and this time it was not a question.
Music to my ears.
But we weren’t done yet. Now that she had located the damn thing, she was determined to get the best quality image of it she could. I sat as still as I could trying not to grimace as she pressed harder and harder on and around the lump, making it angrier and angrier, until another ten minutes had gone by and she was finally satisfied.
“Good,” she declared, and handed me some paper towel to de-goop myself. “We send results to doctor maybeeee…Wednesday. We make emergency, finish transcription tomorrow for you.” Emergency? Does she actually mean emergency or does she just mean they’re good at doing this shit really quickly? What the hell did she see on that screen?! And then she was suddenly all smiles, ushering me out the door with a friendly, “Okay-bye-enjoy-the-nice-sunshine!”
So basically I left the lab more confused than when I went in, with a wrist all marked up with Sharpie that ached more than ever, and because my doctor’s office requires you to come in to discuss test results instead of just telling you over the phone, I will remain in the dark until I go see them tomorrow.
I’m sure it’s probably just a stupid ganglion, but there’s still the possibility that it’s an alien, in which case I hope you all have bomb shelters because this thing is getting the living hell nuked out of it from orbit.
It’s the only way to be sure.
Update: It’s not an alien. You can all relax now. But that bomb shelter is still a good idea. You never know what I might pick up next time.
1 True story: I once went to a singing audition and told the directors I couldn’t actually sing for them that day because I had laryngitis, but I didn’t want to just not show up for the audition either. I got a callback for a lead role anyway. I’m just that awesome.