If you read the recent post about my abnormal mammogram, you’ll know the depths of crazy that an abnormal test like that can take a person.
I also discussed the fact that, as a physician, I know way too much about the process and the likelihood of Medical Things Happening. Look, if you see enough of these types of cycles, you know how the process typically goes. Testing, results. Re-testing, results. Biopsy, results. Answer, treatment plan.
So I fully expected to be finishing up this process with a biopsy, because 90%+ of the abnormal mammogram findings similar to mine end up going to biopsy. And often beyond the biopsy. As a result, all last weekend, my very rational, logical, calm, cool and collected brain just spun and spun.
It’s amazing how worry can suck the energy out of a person.
I got the repeat mammogram done this morning, and the tech (with whom I work) showed me the extra images and was like, “Um, yeah, the spot didn’t go away with the extra view. Let’s see what ultrasound says.” Thankfully, the ultrasound tech had an opening and got me right in for that step. That meant I would have results today, without having to wait another day. Good.
That afternoon at 2pm, I got the result. Normal. No biopsy needed.
Holy cow. I was relieved.
But what I didn’t mention in the previous post, was that one of my patients, a very nice lady a few years older than I am, has been a few days ahead of me on the abnormal mammogram process. At 3pm on the same day I got my own results, her biopsy results came across my desk.
To say that I felt conflicted would be an understatement. What makes one testing cycle normal and the other abnormal? Luck of the draw? What?
So did my normal protocol. I called her immediately upon receipt of the results, because that’s been my process all along: never sit on biopsy results. Now I know firsthand how agonizing it is to wait even an hour longer than necessary, I’m even more aware of reducing delay.
When I called the lady and explained her diagnosis, I said that I was sorry the results weren’t as hoped. She took the news well and stated that she had expected it based on all the testing that had been done. She said it was a relief to finally know what was going on, and what the plan would be.
Then I asked her what was going through her mind over the past several days while she went from test to test with the time required in between to get the results. You know what? All of the thoughts and worries she had over the last few days pretty much paralleled what I had been thinking. These spinning thoughts likely represent what many patients deal with in similar situations.
I asked her to call with any further questions, once she had time to process the information, and told her I’d check up on her in a week after she had met with the surgeon, per my routine.
After hanging up, I sat and thought for a while.
Did this experience change how I manage patient care in similar situations? Happily, no. The immediate turnaround of biopsy and abnormal test results is exactly how it should be, and I’m proud of how quickly I try to get the information back to patients.
Did it make me even more sympathetic to how patients feel while waiting for potentially bad news? How could it not?
Did my experience make giving bad news to this lady any easier? Not at all. No way. It’s always hard to deliver news like this. I do it more smoothly now than I did at the start of my career, but it never gets easier. In my opinion, the minute when giving bad news like that becomes routine or easy or when we’re not invested in doing so – that’s when it’s time to turn in the stethoscope.
Did this experience change how I look at my own life? Yes, in that there was a moment where I mentally checked what I was doing against what I want to be doing. The good news? It was pretty darn close. Maybe a few tweaks to some items. But not too far off.
What about that “wasted time” on diet and exercise? Damn it, I even went for a run after work today….
All is good for now…until next year’s testing.
Author, daydreamer, and practitioner of trying very hard to duct tape folks together and help when I can.
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