A few days ago, while I was in my clinic seeing patients, I received a phone call. It was another doctor who wanted to discuss with me the results of a patient’s laboratory exam.
It is not unusual to have another doctor call me to discuss about a mutual patient. Except this one was not about a mutual patient. On the other line was the Hematologist-Oncologist (Hem-Onc) doctor. The patient he was calling me about, is my wife.
It started with a regular annual doctor’s visit. After having routine test, my wife’s Primary Care physician was alarmed by the results of the complete blood count (CBC). This prompted a referral to the blood and cancer (Heme-Onc) specialist.
After the evaluation by the Hem-Onc doctor and having the exam repeated, that’s when the specialist called me. He said that he was concerned about the elevated count of a blood component, and for some “funky-looking” cells. He recommended a confirmatory test, a bone marrow biopsy.
Bone marrow biopsy is not a very dreadful procedure but its not a walk in the park either. It can be done as an outpatient, usually under “conscious sedation” (meaning, light sleep). It entails drilling a long large bore needle into the hip bone down to the marrow, and aspirating and scraping a “sample” contents inside the bone.
The problem of being a doctor, is that you know “too much.” Too much than needed. So in my mind, I already ran down on the possible differential diagnosis. I started to play the different scenarios, their treatments and outcomes. And even though I know that it can be nothing or something benign, I couldn’t shake off the idea that it can be a myeloproliferative disorder. In layman’s term, leukemia.
My spouse’s family history was not reassuring either. Her father died of cancer in his 60’s. She has two brothers that died prematurely, one was barely 50, and the other one in his 40’s. Then her sister who was a little older than her, was diagnosed with cancer in her 40’s.
I tried to be nonchalant and positive about it when I spoke with my wife, but I think she can sense that it can be something serious. For the succeeding days prior to the scheduled biopsy, both of us were feeling the uneasiness, as if there’s angry storm clouds hanging over our heads ready to discharge their fury.
The fear of the unknown is one of man’s greatest fears. It terrifies us. It consumes us. It kills us even before we die.
Two nights before the biopsy, we both cannot sleep. My wife asked me point blankly, “Am I going to die?”
I don’t know how to answer that question. Or perhaps I don’t want to answer that question.
She told me that she’s really afraid. So in the middle of the night she asked that we kneel down in prayer.
As we prayed, I asked God to be with us as we go through this storm.
Suddenly I was drawn to the story of Jesus and his disciples when they were caught in a great storm* while crossing the Sea of Galilee. I saw myself struggling with the oars and the sail with the disciples. We were trying our best to keep the boat afloat……
The winds are howling. The billows are rolling. The thunders are cracking. The storm is raging. And I am terrified and trembling.
But where is Jesus?
He is asleep! How can he sleep, when we are about to be swallowed by the storm and the sea?
“Master, do You not care that we are perishing?” I cried.
When Jesus arose, he looked at me lovingly, yet he asked me why do I have so little faith.
Then he spoke: “Peace, be still.”
I looked around me. The winds are howling. The billows are rolling. The thunders are cracking. And the storm is even more raging.
But I am still.
(*Mark 4: 37- 40)