Friday, February 9, 2018

Sliding Doors

An insane thing happened to Alex and me today. INSANE. Well, it happened mostly to Alex, but I was along for the ride. I'm writing this in a lighthearted manner, but it was pretty awful as it was happening. Laugh or cry, right? I will preface this story with the information that no Alexes were harmed in the making of this story and everyone is 100 percent A-okay. That said, let me start from the beginning.

Alex went to see the doctor for a routine travel checkup this week because he is going to the Dominican Republic next month. After that appointment they took his blood because he has a physical coming up. NBD. Last night they left a message on our answering machine asking him to call today for his results.

After leaving for work this morning, Alex texted that apparently he was anemic. Then he texted again to say that the doctor wanted him to go back today and then I heard nothing else. Assuming all was well, I drove in to work (I usually take Metro, but I had something heavy with me today) and was there for about ten or fifteen minutes (maybe) when I got the following text:

"I need to talk to you. Can I call you in a few minutes?"

I should maybe tell you now that Alex and I don't talk on the phone. We almost entirely communicate through texts, sometimes even when we're in the same building. This seemed ominous.

His follow up to my asking if he was okay was:

"Dr. XXX needs me to go to the emergency room for some tests. Will you go with me?"

Well. That seems even more ominous.

I set out for the hospital and asked if I could call him from my car, but he was unavailable because HE STOPPED TO GO TO A MEETING BEFORE GOING TO THE EMERGENCY ROOM. Once he got out of the meeting he called to let me know that the doctor wanted him to go to the emergency room because his blood test results were bad in that every one of the counts you want to be high was low. And his platelet count, which should be 150,000 to 450,000 was three.

We named them later: Hildegarde, Barry, and Red.

It turns out that the count was actually 3,000, but that's still not good. And it presents a less satisfying image than the one I was imagining in which his three platelets were huddled together, looking around worriedly, and asking, "Where'd everybody go?"

I got to the ER first because I had no meetings to attend. Once Alex got there, I tried to keep him entertained and told him it could be nothing—maybe they mixed up blood samples and some really sick guy had Alex's good results. Maybe he had thrombosis that is, according to my fifteen seconds of web research, sometimes treatable with medication. I very specifically didn't mention leukemia.

Alex, whose doctor on the phone that morning had told him that he needed to "reorient your thinking," was also pointedly not mentioning leukemia. Although when I sat in a chair across from him instead of next to him, he did remark, "I see. You don't want to sit next to your dying husband." We are the worst kind of people.

They took us into triage, where they tried and failed to get Alex's blood, which wasn't a good sign. Then they took us to a double room where they gave Alex a hospital gown. Alex, ever compliant, put it on OVER as much of his clothing as possible and sat down in the bed.

Shortly thereafter, a nurse came by and stood in the doorway. "I'm not coming in because I don't have a mask on," he said. " But we're going to move you to a more isolated room because of the situation."
Again, ominous.

Their thinking was obviously that Alex was severely immuno-compromised and should not be around other people. Alex looked like he was going to FREAK OUT. I internally freaked out by starting to plan his funeral and speculating about whether I'd be able to donate his organs. Because I'm not a monster, I didn't say any of this out loud.


They wanted to try again to get more blood to retest Alex's counts, so they sent in a tech who worked diligently and with vigor on getting a sample out of first this arm and then that arm as Alex, the dingbat, tried to write a work email with the other hand. I have seen that man do work from his phone in some very inappropriate places, but I think this one took the cake.

I took this photo with his permission AFTER we knew everything was okay. Again: NOT a monster.
The lab tech was successful in getting Alex's blood right when the doctor came in to ask a bunch of questions and tell him about the plan. I had a notebook and pen ready because I was going to be Alex's Advocate and take records and otherwise do everything right, but I didn't because I left it in my purse and I only remember the doctor saying that they were going to admit Alex overnight and go from there.

Shortly thereafter, more techs wheeled a portable x-ray machine into the room to do a chest x-ray. We live in a miraculous age.

After this, it was waiting time. I pulled my chair next to the hospital bed, took away Alex's phone, and we waited for whatever was to come next.

What came next was that the doctor eventually came back in to tell Alex that they had the results from the CBC and his counts were entirely normal. I said loudly and inappropriately, "Fuck yes!" as Alex started to repeatedly ask if the doctor was making a joke.

Confidential to Alex: I don't think doctors are allowed to joke like that—"It turns out that everything is fine. You're totally healthy!...Just kidding! You will likely die this week."

Alex literally asked the doctor three times if he was serious. Turns out he was. Then the doctor said, "Maybe the blood samples got mixed up and someone else out there got your results," which, if you remember from three hours and thirteen paragraphs ago, I HAD ALREADY SAID.

It's almost like I'm a doctor myself.

We still had to wait for more results, so the doctor left and we finally said leukemia, in the "thank God you don't have leukemia" sense and generally reinforced how happy we both were that our lives hadn't changed irrevocably that day.

Our nurse came back in to check Alex's chest with a stethoscope, but he hadn't heard the good news that it was probably a lab mistake, so we told him that. He very solemnly lowered his mask, said "probably," and re-raised it. Alex and I were all, what the fuck?

But then he took off the mask and told us that this happens regularly, blah, blah, blah. Alex joked that some elderly and very, very sick man was all, "I'm totally healthy; I have the blood of a 40-year-old!" and the guy's face got serious and he said, "You should probably follow up with your doctor about that."

Half an hour and a sheaf of forms later, we were enthusiastically and with much relief out of there. We went to lunch and Alex drove back in to work.

Life is weird, isn't it? This story could have ended up much differently. Now, a few hours removed, it feels like I made it up. It was exhausting to go through it for just half a day. But people get sick all the time. One day someone is fine, then there's a bad test, and then everything changes. It's awful and it's unfair and I am so very grateful that it wasn't us this time.

Driving in to the parking garage that morning at a hospital I had never been to, I wondered if this was the first of many trips here. I wondered if I was going to become a regular at this place. I wondered of what this was the first day.

Life is precarious. Every day is a gift. I'm glad that we have at least one more.

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