“Time, time, time, what has become of me, while I looked around for my possibilities. I was so hard to please…”
— Simon & Garfunkel (Hazy Shades of Winter)
PRE-cancer, my general doctor’s appointments were scheduled at least 1 to 4-months in advance at the hospital where I've gone for years. And this was true for bi-annual eye appointments, yearly check-ups, GYN visits as well as any extra appointments for follow-ups, lab work, mammograms, sonograms or anything additional and outside of the purpose for which I was originally scheduled. Usually special procedures were only available on certain days of the week, which made it difficult, but necessary to make new appointments for visits that would tie up more entire days. For this reason, I learned to attempt more control by doubling up visits as much as possible to only make one trip.
It takes two trains to ride me approximately 75 – 80 minutes from my apartment to the hospital where I receive general health care. One pet peeve is that though great that this hospital is on a local train line, the train often runs on the express track forcing patients to pass the hospital by one stop to then have to walk down a steep staircase, across to the opposite platform, then up the stairs on the opposite side in order to wait for, and ride the train back one stop to the hospital. Once at that stop of course, the patient must either wait for the tiny elevator, or walk down another steep flight of elevated stairs. I’ve formally written to transit officials to inquire why sick people or those heading to visit loved ones should have to go through all of that? The response I got didn't address the concern.
For appointments, we are told to arrive 30 minutes before the scheduled time. It takes about that long to actually make it through the line with the receptionist to confirm your arrival. I learned to stand a certain distance from the desk and not to act too anxious about approaching the desk or one of the many receptionists could snap at you about either her not being ready for you, or about keeping the designated distance from the desk that is expected that patients maintain until called. Once at the desk for the most part, these women would soften and get you all entered into the system, but then you wait— and wait a lot more. On average and without exaggeration, the wait time is 2 hours from the time that I left the front desk. Meaning that a nurse does not sit with a patient to obtain the preliminary or basic vitals until 2 or 2.5 hours from the patient's arrival at the hospital. Sitting in the large waiting rooms of that weird tone of beige and tan mixed with a little pink, that is always way too full of many who are just in for routine visits. Sick and ailing people accompanied by their care givers, children or partners in all shapes sizes, colors, dialects sit edgy, anxious, tired, bored, SICK and endlessly waiting. Its an intense and sad environment with morning shows or the ‘baby daddy paternity test shows’ that often had me on the verge of twitching and frayed nerves every time. For the most part, I will say though that by the time I actually got to a doctor, I generally found them to be good, interested, caring and competent, (except of course for the one who would eventually deliver my cancer diagnosis).
For me, at ‘the poor people hospital’ a doctor is not physically seen on average until the 3 hour marker post check in—which does not include the 30 minutes prior of standing on line at reception. Once finished, its usually 6 hours from the time I have left my home though despite the damage to my psyche, nerves, and dignity, it all seems an okay exchange considering the alternative and knowing that it could be worse? And it is far worse in other places—but seriously? (And our newly current administration provides little hope for care.) What do others do when scheduling any appointments in the reality of chronically long trips and even longer waiting cycles? Doesn’t all of that pose a real problem for people who lose multiple days in wages in order to see a doctor? One could easily imagine how the decision to not ever make the effort to see a doctor could easily happen. I’ve considered that for myself, “Maybe I will soon become one of those people who just won’t bother with doctors’ visits all together unless there’s an emergency. I’m pretty healthy and this endless process is just too painful and demoralizing—on the regular.” I have felt unhealthier and unhealthier after each trip, the travel, the endless wait time in a dreary environment with people who are often too busy to fully engage. It's taxing and seems to waste a lot of my time and energy.
I specifically remember having this thought on the day that I was in for the biopsy that I had to schedule on a different day a week or two after the the results of the sonogram that I had had weeks prior, which was about one month after my useless mammogram. Because my breast tissue, like many women was dense I always ended up getting a sonogram after having gone in for the mammogram that never showed anything. These two services are not ever provided on the same day and warrant two separate appointments and trips to the hospital. This particular year, had been incredibly busy and due to other check-ups, follow ups and lab work etc. I had been at the hospital more than my nerves were prepared to be okay with, so after the sonogram, then biopsy and in making the appointment for the follow-up and results, I thought about vacating my 'healthcare project' for a spell. Even though I was at the end of my list of routine visits for the year, I was over it and looking forward to that last appointment in the chain of many where I had expected to receive the (negative) results of my biopsy and complete the current medical obligation to my own health for the year.
Well, my mind changed but not immediately when my results turned out positive for carcinoma. I was shocked and sure they had confused my chart with someone else’s. While attempting to digest the reality of that, one of my initial and overwhelming responses was that I really just don’t have the time for this. I didn't have the time to make one more appointment, much less even to make that appointment. I didn’t have time to read, research, get a second opinion or simply deal with IT at all! I was far too busy and had far too many things to do. I had lots of responsibilities and this would be in direct conflict with them and my life. I'd already been struggling to eak out some personal time in my life for myself — and certainly, cancer would cramp my style as well as my plans to make other plans that I need to make! (Silly, and so true, right?)
Little did I know or understand the impending number of cancer related doctors appointments and other visits that I would have to keep over the coming year. It is true what they say…Its often not the cancer that truly gets you, its all of the other stuff, the side effects from treatments, the medications, surgeries, the amounts of information that the doctors spew at you, the gazillion decisions that must be made, the loss of your schedule and the sense of freedom in your life and in your body—AND all the waiting that wears you down. Yet, I am grateful and have been quite lucky. The late, great Kathryn Russell Rich said this, “Mostly cancer is boring, like a tedious second job that demands extreme amounts of drudge work, time and patience.” And I've been humbled in learning that there's no choice but to show up for it all and develop not only an agility, but a large degree of giving up the controls. Apparently all that time before my cancer diagnosis, I had been completely unaware that I had been in various stages of training...being a patient, struggling with patience, while learning how to wait, to see and let go.