fostering the humanistic practice of medicine publishing personal accounts of illness and healing encouraging health care advocacy

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fostering the humanistic practice of medicine publishing personal accounts of illness and healing encouraging health care advocacy

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A good imagination can be an asset but also a liability. I first discovered that fact in 1974, when I found a lump on my left breast. Three more lumps—another on my left breast and two on my right—reinforced my belief that my creative mind could be my most formidable foe.

The biopsies themselves were fine. Once the IV was inserted—I have a childlike fear of IVs—I could relax in a twilight sleep. Then, however, came the waiting period for the results of each biopsy. Every day crawled by like a month, every minute crept by like an hour, and every night lying in the darkness of my bedroom made me doubt that the sun would ever rise. I imagined the worst possible scenario: malignancy, chemo and radiation, loss of hair, breast reconstruction, and, most devastating, either death or a lifelong fear of relapse.

I was lucky: all four biopsies were negative. Yet, I am never unaware of what could have been: when I have my annual mammogram, the technician must put strips on my four scars in order to get a clear image; when I shower, I can see the thin lines on my breasts—and, with water pouring on me, I say a silent prayer of gratitude.

Several of my friends have not been so blessed. Their biopsies, done on lumps or tumors, have come back with positive results. They have endured my worst nightmare—treatments that have affected them mentally, emotionally, and physically.  Yet, these individuals agree that getting the results and undergoing the treatments, as bad as they were, were not as heinous as the waiting period between the biopsy and the physician’s call. Waiting leaves us impotent, vulnerable to our darkest thoughts; knowledge, even unwelcome knowledge, lets us take action and feel some degree of control over our lives.

Today, March 1, I had an emergency colonoscopy after a stool test came back with an abnormal reading. Fortunately, no biopsy was needed because everything looked good.  Again, however, the wait of just a few minutes for the gastroenterologist to smile and tell me I was fine was brutal.

My biopsies have frightened me, opening my mind to all kinds of dire possibilities. But the waiting periods between each biopsy and the delivery of the results have left me quivering, convinced that a monster does lurk under my bed.

Ronna L. Edelstein
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania


4 thoughts on “Waiting”

  1. I too, have recently undergone weeks of waiting for a biopsy, after waiting for a surgery date, after waiting to have a PET scan, after waiting to get an appointment with the surgeon, Looked at that in this way, waiting for “the biopsy” means months of uncertainty, which never feels fully recognized by the “system” of lackluster communications between the staff of differing doctors offices and practices.
    Dr. Padilla, while well meaning, asks her/his patients to let the doctors do the worrying, but “Facing the bull in the ring is nothing like talking about it.”

    1. Ronna Edelstein

      I hear you. I am sorry that you have endured so much angst. I pray that you are doing well and enjoying your life.

  2. Ronna Edelstein

    Dr. Padilla, your advice is valid. However, as a gold-medal worrier, I cannot stop myself from suffering angst, even for things beyond my control. As Shakespeare acknowledged, all’s well that ends well–and that gives me some peace for the time being.
    I appreciate your taking the time to read my story and respond to it. Thank you.

  3. Al Padilla, MD

    For many years, I’d counsel my patients that they should “let the doctor do the worrying” – for several reasons:
    1. We know what to worry about
    2. We’re really good at it
    3. We get lots of practice.
    But of course, when the doctor becomes a patient….

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