The room smelled distinctly of disinfectant, harshly lit by two fluorescent bulbs buzzing overhead. Crisp corners of pamphlets neatly stacked upon one another filled a plastic encasement, hanging above the doctor’s station. Squat plastic bottles filled with antibacterial soap were lined neatly next to the aluminum sink, like soldiers preparing to march in to battle in the war against germs.
My mother sat beside me, quiet clicks emitting from the keyboard of her phone, as she navigated websites and her text messages, patiently awaiting the return of the doctor who, on the other side of the wooden door, held the results to the X-rays I had recently stripped for, standing vulnerable in a chilled room, devoid of a top, while the x-ray technician instructed me to pose in various positions, lifting my arm slightly in this direction, changing my body position to a certain way.
I held my hands together, a clump of entangled fingers and examined how remarkably dry my skin appeared, completely void of any air. It was perhaps because, at that moment, every last ounce of air in my body was in my lungs, painfully holding my breath.
I woke up that morning in pain. As I turned to my side to raise myself upward and make my morning journey toward the shower to get ready for work, a sharp, burning pain radiated across the expanse of my upper back. I drew in my breath and shock, and yet another pang danced across my shoulder blades, what I imagine being struck by electricity and having the current course through your insides must feel like. I sat up and counted, until the pain subsided, writing off the discomfort as a pulled muscle.
I got myself and the boys ready for the day. Bellies were filled with breakfast, teeth were brushed, shoes and socks put on, and out the door we headed, each to our separate destinations. I booted up my computer once I arrived at work, logged in as I had every other day, and began to perform my job.
I was only able to tolerate the pain until my morning break, when I noticed that every movement, even the most subtle, caused me to wince. I headed to the nurse’s office on site at our building, and after glancing at me, she sent me home immediately. I knew at that point that my notions of a pulled muscle were clearly out the window. I called my mom, and asked her to meet me at my building. I wanted to go to the doctor as soon as possible. I knew that whatever I was facing was an issue that needed to be addressed immediately. Which lead us to where we were now, waiting in the room that, in a size considered quaint by others, was effectively strangling me with claustrophobia.
Thankfully, at the moment where I felt as though I were going to burst out of my chair and head for the door, the doctor walked back in, the clean, white lines of her coat brushing against the black of her slacks, a striking contrast. Her brows were cast downward, and concern pulled at her face. She was doing the best she possibly could to control her facial expression, but I had studied nonverbal communication in college, and I knew what she was saying before she spoke a word. Something was wrong.
“We’ve found something. There’s a mass on your lung, and to be honest, I’ve never seen anything like it. I’m having a radiologist look over the scan now, and we should know in a bit. I’ll check back in with you in just a few moments.” She stepped out quickly, leaving the aftermath of her news in her wake, a figurative bomb with the dust still settling. My mother, who had remained mostly quiet until the point, placed her phone on her lap and looked at me with panicked eyes. “What are you thinking?,” she asked.
What was I thinking? It was so hard to describe when I couldn’t even begin to process my own thoughts. What if I had cancer? What would happen to my children, my husband..my life? My children were still so young, and still navigating the world. They needed a mother to do that with. At that point in the year, I had already been sick so often, and it didn’t feel fair to have the possibility of such a heavy diagnosis weigh on it further. I absolutely did not want for my children’s last memories of their mom to be ones filled with sickness and exhaustion. Tears started to build in the corners of my eyes, spilling onto my flushed cheeks. I had already had such a difficult year.
It just wasn’t fair. “I’m thinking I’m going to die, ” I told her, at that point not caring to sugar coat my feelings. “That’s not funny,” she said curtly. No. No it wasn’t.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the doctor returned, her expression notably changed. Light filled her eyes and her step was lighter than it had been when she first entered our room. “It was a mistake. The technician positioned incorrectly and we caught your arm. I’m so sorry for the confusion.” She waved the mishap off dismissively, continuing to explain that I had a viral infection that needed to run it’s course.
Life is so precious, and is never promised to anyone. I am extremely grateful that on that day, the slight angle of an armpit which appeared to be a mass was something that could have been easily corrected. I remember leaving the office feeling as if I were enveloped in a fog. At once, I was relieved, and also very scared. That evening, after the children and I had eaten dinner, and the boys were happily occupied by their favorite cartoon, I stood under the warm mist of the shower, and cried; my tears mixing with the stream of water and creating tiny rivers down my face. Life is a gift offered to many, and appreciated by few. And now, several months later, I always remind myself of that day in the doctor’s office, and to be thankful for my health. The outcome could have been drastically different.