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Tears of Fear

After a four-day bout of intense, immobilizing, lumbar back pain, associated with a fever of 103.4, my wife and I decided that going to the ER was indicated. Within a very few hours, I was in the ICU with a presumptive diagnosis of Staph septicemia (infection) and pneumonia. Faced with my falling oxygen saturation, the intensivist recommended intubation and thus, for the next five days, I was in an induced coma while he and the infectious disease physician battled to save my life.

I did survive, and in two weeks I was on the ward, and in three I was in rehab. The exact source of the Staph infection was never really determined.

However, based on the possibility of an infectious prostatitis seeding my spine, my family doctor ordered a PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test. When the result came back at over 20, I was devastated, fearing that I had cancer of the prostate as well as the sepsis. I cried, and cried, and was utterly disconsolate, lying alone in my room, totally bereft.

The thoughts running rampant through my brain were unrelated to the possibility of dying, but rather were about having to make a decision as to how to manage this diagnostic conundrum. Surgery? Radiation? Radium implants (a good friend had chosen this option)? Hormone therapy? Doing nothing? Each possible option was associated with pros and cons, none of which were pleasant or appealing. The only relief from this mind-chatter occured when one of my nurses came into the room, asked what was going on, and offered a hug. This I deeply appreciated.

A urology consult was ordered with one of my colleagues, someone I had known for fifty years, and who had been in my wedding party, and someone for whom I had the utmost confidence. Following his evaluation, he changed my whole thinking and feeling. “Matt, an elevated PSA is almost always due to three things: cancer, prostatitis, and infection. Your prostate feels fine, you don’t have any urinary symptoms, and you have been dealing with a very severe systemic infection, which is most likely the source of your PSA result. Let’s just follow it for now and see what develops.”
Now, three years later, and a normal PSA, I still vividly recall and reexperience the intense fear, feelings, and tears. For some reason, I could handle the septicemia, but the fear of cancer was overwhelming.

Matthew Zwerling

Santa Rosa, California


2 thoughts on “Tears of Fear”

  1. What an adventure! So glad you came through it whole, Matt. It’s so telling that the nurse’s hug helped, and why not a hug from the intensivist? As a wise old orthopedist advised me, “Choose a doc via the Three A’s: Amiability, Accessibility, and Ability–in that order.”

  2. Ronna Edelstein

    I am glad that all’s well that ends well. I understand your tension. I have experienced such stress while waiting for breast biopsy results–and wondering how I would move forward if the worst occurred. Continue to be well!

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