Have you ever received one of those letters from a GP saying: “we have received the results of your blood test. Please call xxx xxx xxxx to book a telephone appointment with the doctor regarding the result. This is NOT URGENT.”? Well, I have had a couple of these and they’ve never turned out to be anything fancy. For instance, after one call it was suggested that I top up on some iron pills because my iron level was slightly lower than normal but nothing to “worry about”. Therefore, I wasn’t worried when on the 10th of January 2017 I received a letter like this and duly rang to make an appointment.
I was a bit worried though when five days before the appointment my usual doctor, Dr A, rang me. In my head, doctors don’t ring patients before their appointments unless absolutely necessary. After all, they’re already swamped with the people coming into the clinic every day and under pressure to turn everyone around in ten minutes flat. Dr A said, actually I can’t remember exactly what she said (not uncommon when the senses are aroused to something unusual) but the gist of it was “I’ve referred you to a Haematologist; there is something in your blood tests that indicates you may have lupus or cancer or…” I didn’t really take in the other few things she mentioned. Dr A went on to say “we need you come in for another blood test and if you haven’t heard from Haematology within a week, let me know”. Wow, within a week, Dr A means business: these were the thoughts spinning around my head.
I got off the phone and then kind of laughed it off – oh well – I had asked for my symptoms to be reconsidered as a whole, so I could hardly be surprised that they may have found something. Yet I was surprised. For over twenty years I had never felt I had straight or complete answers about any of my common nondescript ailments that for the most part I had got used to and adapted to. Now it seemed a new context was about to arrive. Then practicality kicked in and I thought, no point worrying until I know there is something to really worry about. After all, the GP hadn’t confirmed anything. I’d wait to see what the Haematologist said.
I almost didn’t mention it to my husband. Over the years he had heard me bang on about my immune system only to have nothing confirmed; I didn’t really see the point in bothering him. Then I noticed I had started to worry a little and remembered that Dr A was insistent I have an appointment with the Haematologist urgently. So, in a full about turn I told Hubby what was going on and asked him to come to the appointment with me. One of the more sensible decisions I have made and one I’ll forever be grateful for. Thank you, Universe.
We walked up to Kings College Hospital (KCH) on the 30th of January; it’s a nice easy 25-minute walk and I was enjoying Hubby being off work on a week day. We felt relaxed. We found the Haematology Outpatients Clinic or HOP as I have come to know it.
The waiting room freaked me out. It was busy. Most people in there were at least twenty years older than me and many seemed to have mobility difficulties. I felt out of place. I walked around the corner to another seating area and a lady looked up me. She seemed to be staring. She was closer to my age. The only one. I smiled. She smiled back, sort of. I turned back to Hubby to ground and distract myself. I don’t know what he was thinking but he said something that made me laugh and I felt better again. Optimistic. Calm.
The Haematology Consultant, Dr K, was a bundle of energy and ushered us into a clinic room. She didn’t seem to have my latest blood test results so I handed her a copy. Hubby was annoyed at this and immediately challenged her as to why she didn’t have the results to hand. I thought, yeah, I love that; using his voice, making his expectations clear. Dr K explained, apologised and we moved on. I also gave her copies of the natural killer cell (NK) tests that I had from years earlier. I was used to these being dismissed so was appreciative and slightly surprised when she looked at them with interest and nodded. She kept nodding and making notes down the right hand side of a page as I answered her questions about symptoms, how much pain I was in (from this point forward every consultant I have spoken with has asked me about it, expecting me to have been experiencing pain). I shared my usual long list of symptoms (more nodding) and said I wasn’t in pain (raised eyebrow) and insisted I found it hard to answer some questions because I don’t know what ‘normal’ is.
Dr K paused and then in very matter of fact way (perfectly done) stated that my last two blood test results indicated that I had Myeloma Blood and Bone Cancer and that they would need to run some more tests to confirm it. I felt strangely calm but tears welled up. Dr K seemed to misinterpret these a little but was kind and asked if I needed water or a break. I explained my tears were about relief. Relief that what I knew to be true – that something WAS wrong – had finally been believed, and validated. I no longer felt like a hypochondriacal fraud. The tears were relief. I could trust myself, my body, my knowing. I did know my body best.
Suddenly, I was acutely aware of Hubby who was sitting slightly behind me. I turned and looked at him. He was crying. He had got it straight away. He knew I was about to have a bone marrow biopsy and that was just for starters. He knew that they hurt. He hates me being hurt. Dr K started explaining the biopsy and other tests I would need and Hubby said he knew what it was; he was a bone marrow donor with Anthony Nolan Trust. He had been called several times for matching over the years. I felt calm, clear but I was churning inside seeing Hubby so upset.
Dr K, in what I would come to know as her splendidly efficient manner, initiated the needed tests and a follow-up appointment there and then and asked for another blood test that day.
The blood test went smoothly. The phlebotomists at KCH are good and I mean really good. I have had some serious problems over the years with nurses taking blood from me, not being able to find a vein, being rough or causing pain or a whopping bruise and the phlebotomists that take bloods day in day out are fantastic in my book. I was in and out of there in minutes after a great chat and barely noticing there had been a needle in my arm and eleven tubes of blood vamoosed!
We wandered towards home slowly and then took a detour via Peckham Refreshment Rooms where I knocked back an Italian almond liqueur. Just because I could. It seemed the right thing to do. It tasted GOOD.
Statistics: Myeloma UK. www.myeloma.org.uk
Illustrations: Sapphire Weerakone, clinical psychologist, baker extraordinaire, artist and master doodler.
Copy Editor: Stephanie Kemp
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