Friday, December 29, 2006

House Call

"Gynecology office!"

"Hello, Perky. Is Doctor Lee in?"

"No, I'm sorry, he isn't. May I help you with something?"

"He was supposed to call me an hour ago to discuss treatment options. When will he be in?"

"Let me check." She shuffled around on her desk a bit, clicked through a few computer screens, then chirped, "In about an hour. He's going to want you to come into the office, though. Can you be here in thirty minutes?"

"No, I can't. It'll take me an hour and a half to get there. I'm at my parents'." That information wold have been extremely helpful before I'd driven out there. I resisted the urge to bang the receiver on the countertop and scream, "Hello, you empty-headed twit! Why didn't you tell me that yesterday!?!"

Nurse Perky, of course, was oblivious to my rage. "Well, get here as soon as you can, then. I'll let him know you're coming."

When I arrived at the office, I was ushered to a room. No need to undress this time - it was just a consultation. Dr. Lee rushed in, chart in hand. He looked at me, eyes wide open behind his heavy glasses. He pursed his lips, then took the glasses off and sighed heavily.

"It's worse dan we thought, Mouth. You have three places dat are bad." He showed me a sketch he'd done of my cervix during the last visit. "Dis one and dis one, day not so bad. Dis one, dough," he tapped his pen on some boxes with a big X over them, "dis one cancerous. We need to wemove it. Schedule surgery with Perky on you way out."

So that was it. No explination. I knew where it came from, of course. There are commercials all over television right now talking about cervical cancer caused by a virus, how you can have it and not know it, and now they have a vaccine for it. It's too late for me to be vaccinated, of course. I've already got it. It's already doing it's damage. The surgery is scheduled for mid-February. My appointment for a second opinion is in one week. We'll see how that goes.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The C Word

"Good morning! Gynecology office, how may I assist you?"

"Hello, Perky. Did you get any results for me yet?" I'd called every day this week.

"Dr. Lee isn't in until tomorrow," Nurse Perky responded.

"I understand that, but I'm travelling tomorrow at noon. I just want to know what the results are."

"He'll call you in the morning, then, and you can go over treatment options."

"Perky, I don't want to discuss treatment with you - I just want to know the results of the test. What did it say?"

"You have cervical cancer, Mouth. Dr. Lee will call you in the morning. Cheer up, though. At least we caught it."

I wanted to scream at her to cheer up while I shoved the receiver through her ridiculously broad smile and down her choking throat. Instead, I very politely said, "Thank you," and gave her my mobile number.

I don't know how bad it is, or how long it's been there. I don't know what the coming months will bring. All I know is that the new year is four days away, and I'm supposed to get on a plane bound for Tennessee to meet M's family tomorrow. I'm supposed to go down there and smile. I'm supposed to be gracious and charming and fun. What I want to do is crawl under my bed and sleep through the weekend, until the bells at the cathedral sound midnight on Sunday.

What I'm going to do is somewhere in between. I'm going to charge my phone tonight to make sure it's got power when Dr. Lee calls in the morning. I'm going to go pick up a new prescription from Dr. Internist - some new wonder-pill he's found for chronic pain. I'm going to call and confirm my appointment with the other GYN's office, so I can get a second opinion on Dr. Lee's treatment suggestion.

After all that, I'll probably sit down and have a nice, long cry.

2007, here I come.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Seven to ten business days

I sat on the examination table, swinging my naked legs, wondering just how much some one walking through the door could see through the gaping back of my hospital gown. Finally, a nurse peaked in. "All finished?" she asked, entirely too perky for my mental well-being. I nodded as she opened the door wide to let in the doctor.

"So, wha's dee pwobwem?" Dr. Lee squinted at me through thick glasses. I explained that I believed I had an infection, that my abdomen hurt, that I was tired all the time and had aches and pains everywhere. "I see. Lay back and le's take a wook."

There's nothing more uncomfortable than laying on a clinic table, legs spread, with nothing between you and the world but a see-through cotton sheet and a paper gown that doesn't close in the back.

"Oh yes, definitely infection. Wen did you have you last annual pap?" It had been two years, with my trip overseas. "I give you medicine for dis infection, you come back in one month for pap. He snapped off his gloves and walked out. I was still sprawled on the table when he pulled the door closed.

One month later, I was back on the table, spread-eagled and exposed. "You wiw get notice in two weeks of wesults." I asked him about the abdominal pain. I'd already been to see an internist about the other symptoms. "You just adjusting to birth control." He was gone before I had a chance to question him further.

Two weeks went by. Two weeks of checking the mail, two weeks of waiting for the postcard with a smiling woman saying, "Your OB/Gyn cares about your health!" Two weeks, and nothing, and then it was three. At the end of the third week, I called the office.

"Let me grab your file!" chirped nurse Perky. When she came back on the line, she wasn't nearly as excited. "There was a problem," she said. The news wasn't good. There were some abnormal cells in my pap - possibly pre-cancerous. "We'll need to get a closer look and possibly take a biopsy." I set the appointment for a week later, and sort of dazed through until it was time.

Dr. Lee showed me a five-step scale for the levels of cervical cancer. "I think you awound level two," he said. That gave me a 70% chance of recovery within twelve months, without treatment, and a 30% chance of developing cancer over the next five years. The plan was to do a visual inspection with a magnifying device, then take a biopsy if it was needed. They wound up doing a scraping of my side wall, a tissue sampling from behind the cervix, and two cervical biopsies. When he was finished, the doctor told me to prepare myself for the results. I was closer to a level three or four than a two, which gave me somewhere between 60 and 75% of developing cervical cancer in two years, if I didn't already have it.

"How long?" I asked, shaken, but still in control.

"Seven to ten business days," he said over his shoulder as he walked out the door again. I made a mental note to change doctors, and marked my calendar for the results.

Saturday, December 23, 2006


6am - December 23, 2005

I woke up to the clang of the phone ringing. Eyes closed, I fumbled on the nightstand, looking for the receiver.

"What time is it?" I grumbled, my voice muffled by the pillow.

"I don't know. Are you up?" My mother. One of two people audacious enough to call me at that hour.

"I am, now."

"Look, when you get up - well, when you get out of bed - and you go to check your email... I just want to tell you I'm sorry. Mo, are you listening? You need to be prepared when you see it."

"Prepared for what? When I see what?"

"George sent you an email this morning, Mouth. He wants a divorce. I'm so sorry."

"What? How do you know that?" I asked, eyes opening painfully against the morning light.

"He sent a copy to your father and I."

"Why would he do that?" I frowned.

"I don't know, Mo. Call me if you need anything."


I laid in bed for about an hour, thinking about why we'd decided it was best that I leave Bahrain, why I'd come home, and why he'd ask for a divorce two days after I'd had a third heart-breaking miscarriage. Then I thought about money - or the lack of it. It was the end of the month. There was $500 in my checking account, and I didn't have a job. My mortgage was due in less than ten days. I heard his voice in my head, a conversation from three days before.

"I think you should wait to get a job. Get your classes started, figure out how much time and energy you'll have after you're established in your coursework. Then, if you still want a job, get something part-time, on the weekends."

At the time, it had seemed like he only wanted me to be successful. Had he planned it? We'd argued the next afternoon when I came home from the hospital. He perfunctorily asked if I was alright, and moments later laid into me. It hadn't occured to me at the time that the argument meant the end of us.

"It's them or me, Mouth. You canbe faithful to your husband, the man you pledged to love, honor, and obey, or you can keep hanging out with your friends. Them or me, Mouth. Which is it?"

I hadn't answered him. All I'd said was that I wasn't going to let a man dictate to me who I could or could not spend my time with, husband or no. I didn't think it was fair for me to have to give up my support group, people I'd known for years, because of his insecurity. He thought surely a woman couldn't be surrounded by men all the time and not give in to temptation. I'm made of stronger stuff than that. The argument didn't end well, but I didn't think he'd leave me. Not so soon after the baby. Not two days before Christmas.

I called him. The phone seemed to ring forever on the other end. Finally, he picked up.

"Are you sure?" was all I said.

"I'm sure."

"What do you expect me to do about the mortgage payment? It's going to take me a little while to get a job."

"Gee, Mouth, I don't know. Since those friends of yours are so great, why don't you ask them for it?" The line went dead.

... a few months later...

"I miss you, Mo, and I love you. I think I made a mistake."

"Is that an appolagy?"

"No, I still don't think I was wrong, I just don't want to be without you."

"Then we're no better off than we were in December, George. I tell you what: I'll give you a year. One year to the day after you told me you wanted a divorce. One year to figure out what you want, and to get it right. After that..."

I didn't finish the sentence. It didn't seem necessary.

... today.

A year ago, today, I obligated myself to waiting for a man who didn't want me. A man who didn't love me because I wouldn't obey. A man who made our private life public to my family and friends.

Today I got my freedom.

It's a strange feeling. Strange, but welcome.

"Free at last, free at last,
Thank God Almighty, I'm free at last!
The very time I thought I was lost!
Thank God Almighty, I'm free at last!
My dungeon shook and my chains fell off!
Thank God Almighty, I'm free at last!
This is religeon, I do know!
Thank God Almighty, I'm free at last!
For I never felt such love before!
Thank God Almighty, I'm free at last!"