The equation is simple. A certain number on a blood test + a family history of disease related to that test minus the presence of any symptoms of that disease = a biopsy. The blood test is known to be inaccurate on a biological and chemical level. It also lacks construct validity, which is to say that it doesn’t really measure what it is purported to measure, but it is the best that we have right now, and we have to be sure, and so the biopsy.
The biopsy is not simple, at least not for the patient, in this case me. It is embarrassing and uncomfortable and painful and frightening. It is frightening at the start, because I don’t really know what to expect, and at the end, because I know that I will get an answer. The medium is often the message, but this is not true with a biopsy.
Biopsy results are not given by telephone. Make the appointment, hand over the co-pay, and wait. Do the office staff know my results? They probably do, but don’t try to read their tone or expressions and no matter what, do not ask them. The staff know more than they learned in training, more than they are licensed to know, but asking for the biopsy results is asking them to play doctor without a license. The trouble that comes from doing that outweighs the benefit of sharing good results and as for sharing bad results? That’s the doctor’s problem and no one else wants any part of that.
It was the day before Christmas. Would you really want to go in for those results? Well, you do, if you can know in advance that you are clear, but you know that if the results are not good then your outcome is better if you take this thing head-on and quickly, so you want to hear good news and need to hear bad news. You’d show up.
If you read the title of this post, if you know me, if you read this blog, then you know the outcome. I probably would not write about something intimate and bad here. That is not the point, anyway.
I prayed for a healthy report, yes, but I chuckled every time. There’s nothing that makes me deserving of being spared this illness. A family member had it. Others who come to this office come out with bad news. Someday, I might go through the same sequence, blood test to biopsy to doctor visit, and hear news that changes the course of my life. It didn’t happen this time and it wasn’t for lack of praying, wasn’t for being special or somehow more deserving.
I spent part of New Year’s Eve at a party with a young mother and her two young children. The husband and father of this family became very sick very quickly and died a few weeks ago. That man had at least as much right to be alive as I do and certainly his wife has a right to her husband and those children absolutely have a right to their father. I am sure that they prayed for themselves and for others. The best answer that I have, such as it is, for times like this is a book called May I Hate God by Pierre Wolff, a Jesuit who was a disciple of Henri Nouwen.
At the moment, though, I’m not thinking so much about the problem of human suffering in the face of a powerful, good, and loving God. That’s a tough topic anyway. Instead, with no disrespect to anyone, I am feeling gratitude for the mercy of being spared this cup.
A few years ago, I struggled with a significant illness that greatly interfered with my life and my work. I was married at the time and my wife was a source of mercy, bore with me, took care of me, made some good things possible that would not have been possible had I been on my own. I made a full recovery. There is a gentleman in England who had the same illness and who was permanently and severely disabled by it. I know about him only because he allowed his life and case to be recorded on video, which was part of the curriculum in one of my courses last year, showing the impact of a certain type of neurological injury. I was spared abundantly, wantonly, that time.
I have been driving for 30 years and I can give you the details – month, year, location, circumstances – of every collision that I have had. I can probably tell you about a few close calls as well, but I cannot tell you about all of the tens of thousands of drivers who honored stop signs and waited their turns and spared me collisions, nor of the hundreds of thousands of drivers who gave me the same benefit by stopping at red lights. I can tell you the license plate of the car in the hit-and-run in August 1987, and the one in July 1993, but I can’t even tell you the color of any car that didn’t hit me on Route 30 today.
In other words, I know the trouble that I have seen, but I do not know the trouble that I haven’t seen. It’s a study in hypervigilance, if not outright paranoia, to look at every approaching vehicle and expect a collision, and that would be disabling. What horrible things haven’t happened in the time that I have spent writing this post, from building collapse to fire, etc? Spending life focusing on those awful but unlikely possibilities is a waste of life, isn’t life.
There are times, though, when a burst of light and life illuminates the contrast with the darkness, when how things are is so much better than how things could be, that I must feel grateful. Welcome to a new year, my friends.