When I turned 35, my wife insisted that I get a physical. I told her I was fine and didn’t need one, but she was persistent. “It’s better to be safe than sorry,” she said.
Soon, I would come to loathe that expression…
At the hospital, they drew blood, checked my vitals, took chest x-rays and had me fill out a lengthy questionnaire. My doctor then gave me the dreaded prostate exam. (FYI: When choosing a physician, always take into consideration finger size!). Removing his gloves, he said, “So, Mr. Dunbar, it says here you eat a lot of boudin and cracklin. I don’t have the results yet, but I am a little concerned about your cholesterol. Diet aside, you seem to be the picture of health. I think you’re good to go. Tell your wife you don’t have to come back for another five years!”
As I skipped toward my car, a nurse ran up behind me in a panic. “I’m sorry Mr. Dunbar, but the doctor needs to see you again.”
“Hmmmm,” I thought. “Am I safe or sorry?”
When I stepped into his office, he and three other doctors were huddled around a glowing screen. “Did you ever smoke?” one of them asked.
“No,” I replied.
“Hmmmm,” he said.
“We discovered something on the plain films,” my doctor said.
“What’s a plain film?” I asked.
“Sorry, I mean x-rays,” he clarified. “We found five lesions on your left lung.”
My heart, a neighboring organ, skipped a beat. I looked up at the screen, and sure enough there were five dark splotches. One was as big as a quarter, and the other four were about the size of a dime. “What is it?” I asked.
“Well, it’s probably one of two things,” my doctor said. “The most obvious of course is cancer. Though it’s unusual since you never smoked.”
“The second possibility,” he said with a morose hint of excitement in his voice, “is a tropical fungus. You told me you lived in South America – there’s a chance you could have picked it up down there. We haven’t seen a case in the states in years.”
“Is the prognosis better than cancer?” I asked.
“Not so much,” he said. “It’s usually fatal, but there are some promising treatments…”
I was starting to question my doctor’s bedside manner.
“I’m ordering a number of tests,” he said, “including a CT scan and some additional blood work. We’ll talk about next steps on Monday. Until then, just sit tight.”
“Right?!” I thought. It was only Wednesday.
When I told my wife, she burst into tears. I tried to console her by telling her that she would be fine. “You’re still young and attractive,” I said. “You’ll have no trouble finding someone else, preferably someone who makes more money than a teacher. I am concerned about Hola though. I got her before we met, and y’all haven’t exactly bonded. I might need for you to put her down and burry her next to me…”
“Our dog Hola is a whore for kibble,” she said. “I’ll give her some Alpo and a pig ear, and she’ll be just fine…”
Humor is definitely the ultimate placebo!
I had a copy of the “plain films” sent to a good friend of mine who’s a doctor in North Carolina. “I don’t like either diagnosis – it doesn’t make sense,” He said. “I really want to see the results from that CT scan. Send them my way as soon as ya can…” (He later confessed that he thought I was toast!)
On Thursday, I flew to Miami to do a presentation for teachers. During my session, I started coughing uncontrollably. I felt like I had a python from the Everglades wrapped around my chest. By the time I got back to New Orleans, I could hardly breathe.
On Friday, I had a CT scan of my entire upper body. That night, I discovered blood in my urine. Whatever I had was advancing quickly. When I informed my doctor, he told me that he wasn’t surprised. “We’ll discuss treatment options next week…”
When I told my dad, he and I both broke down. Telling a loved one about a serious illness is often worse than the actual illness.
Over the weekend, my wife and I had a number of heart-to-hearts. “Depending on my condition,” I said, “I’d really like to see a few places before I die.” I mentioned New Zealand, the Serengeti, Istanbul and Prague. “I wouldn’t mind spending my last days in the Greek Isles,” I said. I then told her I wanted to be cremated – along with Hola – and have my ashes tossed in the bayou near my childhood home.
“I’ll do whatever you want,” she said.
When I met with the doctor on Monday, he seemed nervous. He squirmed in his seat as he spoke. (In retrospect, I think he was worried about a lawsuit.) “I’ve got really good news Mr. Dunbar,” he said. “The results from the other tests were all negative. You don’t have cancer. Or the tropical fungus from South America.”
“But what about the coughing and blood?” I asked.
“I think you may have picked up the flu,” he said. “It’s just a coincidence. And the blood was probably a bad reaction to the CT scan. You’ll be fine.”
“And the lesions?” I asked.
“Well, um, a,” he stammered. “We believe the technician may have mishandled your prints. The splotches were most likely her fingers.”
“So, it was just a bad diagnosis,” I said. I drew in a deep breath, coughed – and then smiled!
Folwell Dunbar is an educator, artist and survivor of a bad diagnosis. He can be reached at email@example.com