Saturday, October 5, 2013

Gratitude - My docs

You can buy "Utah Lottery Tickets" just over the border in Malad, Idaho. That is to say we don’t have one in the Beehive State. Now, there was that little kiosk in the Shell station outside of Seattle where I bought gas last weekend and for the low, low price of $2, I could try my luck at having all my financial woes resolved for life. Once in a while, I'll get a little good luck come my way, but shall we say à la Hunger Games that the odds were not in my favor. Suffice it to say, I didn’t win the lottery last night. Ah well, I and how many other countless millions can rip up our worthless lottery tickets and try, try again, right? 
I will say that my good fortune has paid off handsomely in other places where it really counted – specifically in my medical care. I’ve focused on nurses because they’re the ones to whom I’m closest on a daily basis, but the fact remains that the doctors at the helm in bringing me away from outright dying are nothing short of world class. And that term really isn't exaggeration. Read on, dear one!
But I can’t start there. I have to begin with conscientious basic medicine that found my leukemia to begin with and unlike every other post I’ve written, I want to publicly thank by name those who have been so instrumental in quite literally saving my life and keeping me around to enjoy many years to come.
Set the clock back to December 6, 2012 for a simple blood test that would save me 10% on my health insurance premium at my new job. The screen, I’m sure was set up to encourage people toward healthier choices and to screen for things like high cholesterol. I was in great health, exercising daily, skiing the black diamond slopes, eating well, and losing about a pound a week as a result of my better health choices already, so why not save a little coin in the process? I had also scheduled a routine appointment with the doc at the VA hospital to transfer my records from Long Beach VA to the local Salt Lake City VA. I was able to cut through the bureaucracy finally and see a general practitioner in early January. I met with Dr. Richard Rose who spent nearly 40 minutes one-on-one answering my questions about turning 50 and reviewing in really great detail every health concern I had. How many doctors would do that? When we were about done, I showed him the results of the insurance screening blood test. My cholesterol was actually down 40 points from the last time I had it tested, so I thought I really was moving in a good direction. He looked at it all and agreed I was in a good place.
Except one.
He looked at the white blood count and thought it was a bit high. The Salt Lake Downtown Alliance had a New Year’s celebration over a number of venues within walking distance of my new home and for someone who rarely gets sick, I caught a cold. He thought that may have been the source, but asked that I take a local blood test to be sure. Long story short and five blood tests later, my white count hadn’t changed and he sent me over to hematology. I didn’t make the connection until I got a call asking that I come in for a biopsy.
Biopsies are not a pleasant procedure (you can see pics and read about mine here), but I went through with it and a week later, I met my first oncologist, Dr. Ahmad Halwani from the Huntsman Cancer Institute, who in no uncertain terms told me that I was going nowhere except inpatient for testing in preparation for aggressive chemotherapy to put this thing called acute myeloid leukemia into remission. Was it that bad? Really?  Apparently it was and he was indignant that I would have the unmitigated gall to suggest I garage my car first. He was that concerned about my condition. I actually did take the car home and get some of my own clothing instead of the lovely hospital gowns much to his chagrin!
Over the next four months, I would be overseen by Dr. Halwani and four great fellows – Dr. Shivan Patel, Dr. Danielle Nance, Dr. Zach Reese, and Dr. Tsewang Tashi and a tenacious PA, Tiffany Pyle. I was able to work with these people to keep me out of the hospital between rounds of consolidation chemo. They answered my questions until I got to the point where they ventured into the transplant territory where it was outside their area of expertise. I never felt like I was being snowed by medical jargon or protocol from these doctors, nor did I ever fall under the cloud of the proverbial ‘god complex.’ I got nothing but the utmost professional courtesy and again world-class care. Ironically, these great doctors are referred to as “salvage.” I hardly felt that was the appropriate term.
Then came the call.
In July, I received a call from the Seattle Veterans Hospital that a suitable marrow donor had been identified and the next phase of my treatment would begin. And enter another new staff of doctors to take over where the salvage team had left off. Headed by Dr. Thomas Chauncey, I was not only educated about the process very carefully by Dr. Ed Wu and my most recent fellow, Dr. Melinda Biernacki, I was brought into what felt like a family. The level of care has been even more personal and intense than I underwent in Salt Lake City, gratitude doesn’t begin to describe how I feel. The bone marrow transplant process was actually pioneered in Seattle at the Hutchinson Cancer Center, so again, who could ask for a better team?
There have been a tremendous amount of heroics involved in the medical side of cancer, yet it’s a quiet sort of thing that truly belies the magnitude of the act of saving one person’s life. In reality, it’s not one person’s life a doctor is saving in bringing the cancer to long-term remission, but a family and a network of friends. No doubt, a cancer diagnosis will stop everything in its tracks, but with the able hands and knowledge of a cast of doctors, it only slows and for a time before something almost miraculous occurs and it is as life re-boots. Regardless what label you choose to ascribe to this process, it's awesome.
I’d be remiss in not naming more docs I’ve come across because there are so many others that played into my treatment because of side effects and complications, but the endless trail of white coats of physicians who enter my room, introduce themselves a time or two and leave made it difficult if not impossible to establish a relationship long enough to remember names. With that in mind, let me thank them by what they did and names as I do remember them: MICU, Respiratory and Pulmonary – notably, Dr. Towne, Infectious Diseases, the various Medical Team docs in the SLC VA system – especially, Dr. Amy Osborne. I know there are more.
Thank you all. I only have an idea the kind of long and odd hours a doctor has to put in to be good, let alone world-class. You inspire me to be a better version of myself, even if it’s going to take some time to get back there. Attitude and focus are just the beginning. The journey is far from over, but stopping a moment to take stock of where I've been and to recognize all the incredibly talented and dedicated people that got me here is something I find more than just a little necessary. It’s not the drama of a TV show, but the lives you save are real. Thank you for making me one of them.
Music for today...who else, but the Thompson Twins - Doctor, Doctor!
I saw you there, just standing there
And I thought I was only dreaming, yeah
I kissed you then, then once again
You said, you would come and dance with me
Dance with me, across the sea
And we could feel the motion of a thousand dreams
Doctor, doctor, can't you see, I'm burning, burning?
Oh, doctor, doctor, is this love, I'm feeling


Ships at night give such delight
We all leave before the morning light

Please don't go, no please don't go

'Cause I don't want to stay here on my own


Oh Oh

Doctor, doctor, can't you see, I'm burning, burning?
Oh, doctor, doctor, is this love, I'm feeling?

Doctor, doctor, can't you see, I'm burning, burning?
Oh, doctor, doctor, is this love, I'm feeling?

Fever breathe your love on me
(Breathe your love)
Take away my name
(Take away)
Fever lay your hands on me
(Breathe your love)
Never be the same
Oh Oh
Doctor, doctor, can't you see, I'm burning, burning?
Oh, doctor, doctor, is this love, I'm feeling?
Doctor, doctor, can't you see, I'm burning, burning?
Oh, doctor, doctor, is this love, I'm feeling?
Come with me and make believe
We can travel to eternity