Saturday, November 30, 2013

One year

The path ahead. Taken in New Foundland by me last month.
When I read the leukemia literature, it talks about the probability of events (you know, "events") at one year, two years, etc. It was not always clear if it was one year post diagnosis or post treatment so I asked Dr Bengtson and she said it was usually measured post treatment end. Since then, I've been waiting patiently to be one year post treatment and now, it can be said. It's a little anti-climatic, but there you go: I am now one year post-treatment. Remember all that fun: the fevers, the missing hair, the platelets (ok, the missing platelets), the fragility, weakness and confusion? All of it, over a year gone.

In other more interesting news, Terry has his open studio today and tomorrow so if you have a hankering to go to Kittery, visit him too.

May we have long, beautiful paths ahead.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The unintended lesson

Saturday I awoke feeling extremely anxious. I was on call and I had a number of patients who were active and as soon as I relaxed my brain enough about one of them to get to sleep, I'd get a call from someone about another of them, then I'd have to think, rethink and second guess myself about each patient each time before I could fall asleep. Ultimately, I got four calls and had a couple of patients I was worried about that I didn't get called on so as the list of thinking and rethinking was getting quite lengthy I was happy when the sun finally rose. Usually I can take myself by the hand, go over my thinking once, decide what I did was right and be done perseverating, but I just could not Fri/Sat night. Fortunately, I recognized this as a symptom of needing a yoga class or a run and opted for the next yoga class in my local studio which encourages dropins--"all levels."

A branch grows into the gap on a marsh boardwalk in New Foundland.

Class was great; I felt so much better afterwards that it was remarkable to me that I still looked like the same person. I did have one question, however. I noticed that the teacher wanted us to breathe more quickly than my body seemed to want to breathe. He seemed like a person who had thought a lot about yoga and why he was doing what he was doing so I asked him for his thoughts. He explained it to me and I didn't understand most of it so haven't retained it, but then he said, "if you breathe more quickly, you'll feel more invigorated." At that point, feeling more invigorated was the last thing I wanted so I asked, "what if I don't want to feel more invigorated?" He looked confused and maybe a bit angry and I feel badly that I asked because it clearly hurt his feelings. He had no idea of how to answer and said a lot of words, but eventually came to if I breathe with everyone else it will be good for the whole class because we'll be modulating our energy together. I thanked him and left. (People who know me well know that this is an answer that will always make sense to me. "If you do it this way, it will be good for everyone." "OK. I will, then.")

I've thought a lot about this interaction especially in light of my own interactions with people where I am the one who "has thought a lot about these things" (i.e., the doctor-patient relationship where I'm the doctor) and realize that he could have said "I am having a hard time here imagining anyone who wouldn't want to be more invigorated. Maybe I don't understand what you mean by invigorated. Please tell me what invigorated means to you." It would have been helpful for both of us. When I think about saying that to patients, it seems stilted and silly because of course we know what "less pain" or "invigorated" means, but now I wonder, really? I have tried from time to time to get people to explain what they mean by a particular word and usually am met by annoyance on the part of the patient. "you know, dizzy?!" and I think that's because I didn't stress enough that *I* was not understanding. I think people have thought I was either being deliberately obtuse or pointing out that they were not using the right word. I wonder if this is an example where bringing myself into the conversation explicitly as *I* do not understand would be a useful twist. It also feels weird to me to say that many words together when someone is trying to tell me something, like it interrupts the flow *a lot,* but maybe that's the point that the flow is not going someplace useful if it goes without me (in some cases).

This situation also makes me think about what I have said to people 100 times since getting leukemia, "I thought I was empathetic before and pretty good at understanding what it might be like for patients, but it turns out that there was a lot I didn't get." Now, I am wondering what in daily life I'm not "getting." Like, I think I'm pretty empathetic and good at imagining what the world is like for those I interact with, but maybe not. It seems the rift around each of us might be bigger than I previously thought, but also may be more easily breachable than I imagined. Hmm, by using myself as a bridge for those of you who do not mind topologically impossible metaphors.

May the gap be minded, noted and crossed.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

My real hematologist, redux

I got to visit John on Friday for a routine follow up. It was everything I could have hoped for. I was happy to see him and to catch him up on what I had been up to while he was out of clinic. He told me about running the NYC marathon with med school friends. I was flattered that he remembered that I liked to run.

My labs were normal. OK, normal for me. I may never make a lot of platelets again, alright? They're overrated. Who needs 'em, anyway? I never liked platelets very much and don't see why people get all excited about them in the first place. And, anyway, who's to say that the 120's aren't the optimum range? I mean, who put those people who set up the normal ranges for lab tests in charge anyway? I didn't rant to John--actually he told me he thought I was appropriately not excited about my mild thrombocytopenia. 

I then explained to him why I think I have an IgA deficiency which is actually a nice piece of general medicine. It's really important to me that he knows I'm a pretty good internist so I was pleased that he seemed to be able to see this fact when I laid out the story. I've never felt before like he particularly understood that. After we were done with the leukemia follow up part, he very kindly chatted with me for a while about hospice and I offered to have his fellows or students come down and spend time with me in the clinic or at the hospice house. He asked practical questions about scheduling, etc so maybe it will really happen.

It was so great to see him again.
Me, after the Great Island 5K a few weeks ago.

May there be many more happy reunions for us all.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Thoughts about last year

I was intending to write a little post about running and rehab and cancer survivorship, but I think that will wait for another day because when I came here, I decided to go and see what I was doing this time last year. It turns out that I had been consolidated for the third time and was just sitting around waiting to get my second neutropenic fever. I have since learned that usually only one in six rounds of severe neutropenia results in neutropenic fever. I'm just an overachiever with two out of three providing me the experience.

It was interesting to read the blog for last year because there were a lot of things in it that I thought had happened at a different time, for instance, remember the french toast that Ellie announced we were bringing in Friday as she was going to bed Thursday night? That was early November. I would have guessed much later in the school year. I talk about a blood transfusion that got stopped because I had a fever. I really don't remember that at all. I was also surprised to read my detailed descriptions of the physical sensation of neutropenic fever, doing my Dartmouth benefits last year, turning the TV on at Dartmouth in my room to find out the election results, etc.. Gosh! I don't remember any of that.

I guess it makes sense because I was pretty sick and my brain probably had a hard time laying down memories when it was 102 degrees for days on end, to say nothing of being super stressed and having had a ton of toxins washed over and through it. I worry about what the longer term effects are to my cognition of what my brain went through with leukemia and, in particular, the chemo to get rid of it. People tell me they can't tell that I'm not as smart as before leukemia/chemo, but I can.

New baby bamboo growing in my office. May my brain be sprouting new neuronal connections too.

There is also a certain sense I have of being astonished that I went through all that. I know when I have said that I didn't really suffer very much during my leukemia treatment that observers often disagree. As I read my old blog entries, I don't feel that they are the writing of some one who was suffering, but I am surprised to read about all the stuff that went on. I had forgotten about the gram positive blood culture, how long it took my fever to go away, how long I felt cruddy for before the second neutropenic fever, etc.

May all of our brains improve with time. May our memories of the past improve as time passes.