I’m still learning how to configure the blog. My domain name has yet to reach its target, and I haven’t figured out yet how to add a “Subscribe” button. But I wake up each morning looking forward to writing, and that’s a beautiful thing. Though I’m still not “public,” I can see how this medium is dynamic and agile enough to serve the universe’s purposes.
I plan to keep most of my posts to 500 words or less. This morning, though, after drying my tears and fixing my smeared mascara following a difficult blood test experience, I wrote a longer piece. On my to-do list today (along with the Subscriber button research) is figuring out how to put part of a longer piece in the post and store the rest of it elsewhere if the reader is interested. Since I don’t know how to do that yet, I will just dump it all in, with my apologies and a promise to do better in the future.
Finding the Purpose Behind the Pain
Needles do me in. Shots are OK, but blood draws bring me to my knees. I wasn’t always this way. I have a nice big fat vein in my left arm that I’m not allowed to use anymore since my mastectomy. Once you have a breast amputated, they tell you no more blood draws or even blood pressure tests on that side of your body. I’m not sure what women do who’ve had both breasts removed.
The other complicating factor is my very low blood pressure (my highest level when I was giving birth was still lower than my husband’s before he was prescribed meds). I think that’s why my blood doesn’t come out of my body once they manage to find the ever-elusive vein.
And I am terrible at fasting. I have to eat immediately when I get up at 6:00 a.m., which makes me a shaky, queasy mess if I have to fast before blood work or, worse yet, before more involved medical procedures.
This morning I was scheduled for routine blood work as part of my annual physical. The physical was a few weeks ago, but I could only get an afternoon appointment and, since I had failed at the fasting, I had to skip the blood draw. For this morning’s re-do I had taken all the right precautions. I arrived when the doors opened (8:30 a.m.–still late to eat for me, but doable), drank lots of water, asked for a warm compress to heat up the veins, and informed the lab techs that I was a difficult draw.
Then I remembered that a friend’s recent case of shingles had raised the question of whether I needed a chickenpox vaccine (you can’t give someone shingles, apparently, but shingles sufferers are highly contagious for chickenpox). I had had a mild case as an infant, but my immunity had always been in question.
The technicians needed an order to add the extra test. It took an hour for the doctor’s office to send the new paperwork. By that point I was not only a shaky and queasy mess, but a crying one too. Yes, crying. Silent, patient crying, but no less wet and no less embarrassing.
I had managed for most of the wait to go through all of my usual Eckhart Tolle-inspired practices. Clearing my mind, focusing on the sound of my breath, reminding myself that there weren’t problems, just situations. I took action when I could (checking in every few minutes on whether the orders had been sent) and tried to let go of the rest. Everything happens for a reason, I silently chanted over and over to myself.
But my blood sugar continued to drop, and, I realized, I was likely suffering from a mild case of Post Traumatic Stress syndrome. I was primed for it after last night’s conversation with a close girlfriend, who told me about the lumpectomy she had earlier this week. It brought me back to the most draconian experience I’ve ever been through, and renewed my outrage that doctors are still putting women through unnecessary suffering.
When suspicious lumps or abnormal cells are identified in the breast, surgeons need pointers to make sure they are removing the right tissue. The procedure to insert the pointers is called “needle localization.” Since I was not a candidate for the usual core needle biopsy when my mammogram detected three worrisome calcification clusters (my breasts were too small and I might have been shish-kabobed), the plan was to do a surgical biopsy with needle localization.
The surgeon explained that, prior to the surgery, a radiologist would insert hollow needles into my breast while I was clamped (standing) in a mammogram machine, then wires would be threaded through the needle to mark the abnormal clusters for the surgeon.
During my pre-op check, a hospital technician suggested I ask my breast surgeon for a Lydocaine patch for pain management. My surgeon complied, but said the patch wouldn’t help much. She explained that, according to the Georgetown radiologists, pain medication shots distorted the reading and complicated needle placement.
I applied the patch and hoped for the best. Women went through this all the time, I thought to myself. How bad could it be?
When the first needle was thrust into my breast, I saw stars. With the second needle, I felt I was in a medieval torture chamber. By the third I had fainted (for the first time in my life), the radiologist having to bear-hug me from behind since I was still clamped into the mammogram machine. A few more needles, a few more fainting spells and an IV-drip later, the nurse wheeled me, crumpled and teary, to the operating room. I couldn’t wait for the anesthesia to take me away.
Although I had researched a wide range of doctors as part of my proactive approach to my medical care, it hadn’t occurred to me to ask about pain management philosophies. If I had thought about it (which I hadn’t), I would have assumed that pain control had come far enough in the 21st century to narrow the scope for major differences between practices.
My doctors were all based at the highly acclaimed Georgetown Hospital’s Lombardy Cancer Center in Washington, D.C.. My girlfriend’s procedure (which mirrored my own tortuous experience) was done at George Washington University Hospital, another D.C. institution with an excellent reputation.
My breast surgeon has since moved to a different medical practice in Fairfax, Virginia. In a routine follow-up with her a year after my mastectomy, I asked her about the needle localization nightmare. Was my experience unusual? At the time I thought I was just being a whimp. Then she let the bomb drop. She told me that my experience was not unusual at all. When she tried to raise the issue with the Georgetown medical team, she was met with “this is the way we’ve always done it.” She wasn’t to rock the boat.
When she left Georgetown, she was shocked to learn that local anesthesia was used routinely elsewhere (including at her new practice). It turns out that it is totally unnecessary for women to suffer through the indescribable pain of a long, thick needle being shoved into a breast with no anesthesia (Lydocaine only numbs the skin).
My jaw dropped. My fists clenched. I had visions of immediately writing an investigative feature article outing the old boys networks at these old school institutions that perpetuate pain and trauma for women already reeling from a breast cancer scare.
That was two years ago. I let go of it (I was still in the early stages of learning to recognize and let go of egoic-mind patterns after reading Tolle’s A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose).
But my conversation with my girlfriend last night stirred it all up again. It’s one thing to put me through that hell. When you start hitting my girlfriends, I can’t let it slide. On top of that, I attribute that experience, at least partly, to why I’m now a sniveling mess at routine blood tests.
So, the universe has once again pointed me to the purpose behind the pain. I wasn’t supposed to let the issue rest after all. It’s not the last that you’ll hear from me on this.