Thursday, May 17, 2012

Scary Medical Tests were no problem... Now I have Scary(ish) Results

Shortly after I had an angiogram CT and a carotid Doppler, I posted the story:

Attitude Helps...Even With Scary Medical Tests I meant what I said: the tests were no problem.

Now I have the results. The results are a little scary. The report said I have "significant blockages" of the carotid artery. That's an important artery, and the risks of blockages are serious. I'm at serious risk of a stroke. That's scary.
   I have a consultation next week with a surgeon. He'll give me more detail about how much of the artery is blocked, and he'll make recommendations.
   A lot of people, some people I know, have left their doctor's office with far worse, and far more frightening news than I left mine with on Tuesday morning. I was a little scared by the news. As I've mentioned before, I have memory problems related to Korsakoffs Disease...and believe it or not, I forgot there was a potential problem with my carotid artery.
   This is a testament for routine medical check-ups.
   In 2007, my doctor was listening to my chest for bronchitis. He, like most doctors, also listened to my neck. He said he heard a bruit. I thought bruit was a cheap cologne girls asked me to stop wearing when I was in 7th grade and clouds of it surrounded the classroom. Turns out a bruit is a whooshing sound, a sound that shouldn't be there.
   Back then, he ordered a carotid doppler. That's a test that uses sound waves, like a doppler radar does, to draw a picture of the artery. There was some hardening, but the bigger deal at the time was revealed in a CT scan...and those were the blockages in the arteries in my legs. There was pain associated with those, sometimes.
   The good news is that Lipotor, that statin, that drug that takes away cholesterol through poop, worked. It reduced the blockages in my legs to the point where the last test didn't mention them at all. In fact, the test I had last week came back with the result of "No significant blockage" of any of the arteries in my legs. I did a little dance when I heard that. It would've been a bigger dance if I hadn't heard about the significance of the blockages in my neck, but a dance is a dance no matter what news follows it, isn't it?
   But let's get back to the scary stuff...that isn't really that scary.
   How Did I Feel When I Got The News?
   I've been asked that by friends, and my answer might surprise you.
   Intrigued. I wasn't scared. I was surprised. The carotid stuff was off my radar. It wasn't denial on my part. It just wasn't on the radar. When it came back on the radar with the swiftness of the speed of sound--which is what doppler is--I was intrigued. I wanted to know what the next steps were. I wanted to know what the risks are (stroke), and I wanted to know if the stiff neck I get once in a while was a symptom. The stiff neck is a symptom...of a pillow stuck in the wrong place when I sleep. I have a new pillow; that's an easy fix.
   I was scared for about an hour when I realized that the blockages could become chunks in my bloodstream and cause a potentially fatal stroke any minute or never. That fear passed quickly. It doesn't fit with my personal philosophy to be afraid of death. For one thing, I'm a Christian and death isn't the end. For another, I refuse to walk around being afraid of sudden death because the possibility of that happening can't be avoided. The fear passed.
Gratitude and Hope
   Gratitude and Hope are good feelings, and I have both. I'm grateful that I have this problem in this country at this time. Now we have angioplasty and stents. Now we have drugs that can reduce cholesterol, and in some cases take it out of the bloodstream. Now we have stuff that will go through the arteries through a small incision in the leg and open blocked passages and clean stuff out that shouldn't be there. I joked, callously, that they might have to cut my neck open and go in with a spoon, but I know that's not the case. If the blockage is really, really bad, surgery might be required...but there won't be a spoon in sight.
   I hope (there's that word again) I don't have to have surgery, but if I do I'll have it with confidence in the doctor who does it, and the staff who helps him.
   I think the worst part of this will be the waiting for next Tuesday to arrive, wondering what option the surgeon will recommend. I don't like not knowing things. I'm the kind of guy who insists on getting bad news first. If you say to me, "There's good news, and there's bad news", I'll always want the bad news first. Bad news requires action, as far as I'm concerned. Good news can wait.
   I'm a lucky guy, and always have been. Even when bad things happen (like Wernickes), I've had good things come from them (like sobriety, and a deeper appreciation of my life) that I might not have had before.

I feel good. If it weren't for that bruit, that sound my doctor heard through a stethoscope five years ago, I don't think my neck would've been checked at all. But it was checked. It was checked again. It will, I'm sure, be checked on a regular basis for a long time to come. I'm glad it will be. I'm glad it was.

   I'm not going to kid you--I'm still a little scared. I'm scared enough to listen to medical advice, and that's a good thing. I'm going to continue to live and enjoy my life, and I do so with faith in God and trust in medicine. 

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