There should be a billboard outside the doctor’s office the day you’re diagnosed that reads “You’ve just left ‘It’s probably nothing.’”
Certainly it should be in every fortune cookie you receive from hence forward.
Still, it doesn’t keep me from trying in the dark of night to flee back to that place, despite the knowledge that from now on, it’s always going to be something.
Which is what happened three months ago on Labor Day weekend when my right breast – the one that’s been emptied of all natural tissue, nuked dozens of times for good measure and then stuffed with a silicone implant – inexplicably swelled up.
“It’s probably nothing,” I said to myself. “Give it a few days.”
By Tuesday the swelling was accompanied by a fever, so I called my oncologist’s office hoping for an easy solution, antibiotics called into my local pharmacy.
“Go to the emergency room,” said the nurse at the other end of the phone. “Unless your surgeon can get you in right away.”
It couldn’t be that bad, could it? I’d just had a CT scan the day before the swelling commenced that said the cancer is sleeping, no new tumors, no progression.
I phoned my surgeon who fit me in immediately. She seemed perplexed but not concerned, gave me the antibiotics I wanted and sent me on my way.
When the fever didn’t subside after a few doses, I called back and she sent me to see an infectious disease doctor.
Had I listened a little closer I would’ve heard the “click, click, click” of the roller coaster pulling me uphill during those few days. But I was still awash in the world of “it’s probably nothing.”
The infectious disease guy diagnosed it as cellulitis, a baffling bacterial infection in the skin. He admitted that without being able to test the bacteria, he’d have to guess at a remedy. He gave me a shot of Dalbavacin which kills off gram positive bacteria, then sent me on my way.
Two days later I was in the emergency room. My breast had doubled in size.
There were lots of needles, attempts to find veins that would give up blood, bruising and yet another shot of an antibiotic with instructions to call my doctors for a new round of appointments. It doesn’t sound like much, but it took all day.
I was sentenced to two weeks of daily antibiotic shots with a “we’ll see” follow up that took most of the day when you factored in the two-hour drive to the doctor’s office. Between the drugs and the fevers, I was exhausted. When the infection still hadn’t cleared in two weeks, the infectious disease guy sentenced me to another two weeks, but added a steroid just for good measure.
That seemed to do the trick. The redness turned to pink and the fevers went away. We set up an appointment for a two-week follow-up, all of us hoping it wouldn’t be needed.
Within a week, the fevers returned. I demanded the infectious disease guy put me in the hospital so that I could receive a continuous drip of antibiotics. He didn’t agree, but also had no more answers for me, so he passed me off to my surgeon.
Gratefully, she was compassionate enough to admit me. A new infectious disease guy prescribed new antibiotics, but warned that the problem could be bacteria stuck to the implant which no amount of drugs could fix. Surgery might be the only answer, he said.
They sent me home with a PIC line (a hose they put in your veins) so I could administer my own IV antibiotics for another month. Once a week a nurse came to flush the line and draw blood so we could tell how much damage all this medication was doing to my body.
The fevers stopped. The fatigue and pain minimized. My skill is still red, which could mean infection or could mean new blood vessels are forming (read: healing).
Last week I finished the IVs. Now I stand on the corner of Wait and See to find out if the fevers will return, if the bacteria is actually stuck to the implant or just roaming around my dermis. I have a surgery date set just in case.
I won’t bore you with the details of what that will involve – cutting skin and muscle from my back to repair the damage caused by a few rogue microbes.
I’ll just say that this is life now, where things that were once nothing now turn out to be something. I live in a world full of threats I can’t see or defend against. And yet, somehow, despite the scars, my body and I miraculously bounce back.
I may have left the world of “It’s probably nothing,” only to have entered the world “Ain’t that something!”