Towards the end of the second week of the initial course of radiation, Laura started complaining that her surgical site from the biopsy was sore. She felt that the clinic staff were not listening to her. When she saw the surgeon on the Friday of the third week, he said to come by his office for a “fly-by,” an unscheduled appointment, on Monday. When Laura arrived for her regularly scheduled radiation on Monday, she tried to ask her oncologist what was going on. He practically ran away from her and said she had to go over to their office a few blocks away to see the surgeon. (Afraid of the alpha dog?) To the end Laura complained bitterly about the way she was treated that morning. Her father was a physician. She always preferred physicians who reminded her of her father. To be treated so brusquely by her oncologist in a moment of confused vulnerability shocked her beliefs about physicians.
After she went over to the surgeon’s office, Laura just disappeared. Her driver that day, Gary a colleague at work, had to sit around for hours waiting to learn what had happened to Laura. Gary contacted me in the afternoon to let me know something was going on, and to ask if I had heard anything. I hadn’t. Then we both were told that Laura had been admitted for a procedure to clean out an infection on the site of her craniotomy.
The next day that procedure lasted two hours—longer than expected. Laura went back to the same bed from which she was discharged after the biopsy. We were both incredibly upset and angry about this turn of events and worried what it meant for her treatment. I blamed myself for not being the one who was driving her. Because our unemployed friend had her own health problems, we had found a number of friends and colleagues to take turns driving Laura to the city for radiation and back. As her husband, I could have come into the clinic with her to help her articulate her discomfort and make sure that she was understood sooner. Friends and colleagues couldn’t.
Laura spent three days in the hospital, but was able to come home in time for her birthday. Her birthday reminded us that body-time doesn’t stop. We were more worried about tumor-time, body-time on fast forward. The tumor wasn’t taking a break. And what about treatment time? If the course of treatment had only a 50/50 chance of having any impact on the tumor, how was this interruption going to affect those odds?