Once the statement “you have cancer” passed through my ears and hit my brain, I experienced a temporary form of hearing loss. I could see the radiologist’s lips moving, but I didn’t hear a word he was saying. Luckily, I had 3 additional pairs of ears with me for the biopsy results—my husband and 2 of my 3 adult daughters. (One lives in the Mid-west, so we keep her informed.)
That was nearly 4 years ago: a similar experience happened to me recently. I am extremely happy to say that this diagnosis did not revolve around cancer.
The visit was for my yearly routine eye exam to review my eyeglasses prescription. At the end of the exam, my doctor said, “You need to meet with our glaucoma specialist. The current test suggests you have angel-closure glaucoma, and left untreated, this can lead to blindness!” Needless to say, I spent the next week on the anxiety roller coaster, waiting to meet with the ophthalmologist surgeon.
Don’t Go It Alone
Having experienced “hearing loss” nearly 4 years earlier with my breast cancer diagnosis, I asked my middle daughter, Leila, to accompany me to the appointment with the glaucoma ophthalmologist. Leila was kind enough to take time off work, and was there to meet me, with her notepad and pen in hand.
In addition to just having her there, what made her attendance so important to me was her position with a major pharmaceutical company in research and development (R&D). And what is Leila’s R&D department currently working on, you may ask? A glaucoma study, naturally. I was very fortunate to have an extra pair of ears and a backup opinion on how to handle the situation. Leila was aggressively asking the doctor questions I would not have known to ask.
When the testing was over, the doctor encouraged me to book the surgery before we left the office. My daughter suggested that I wait to schedule the laser iridotomy, for several reasons. The major reason was–“Get a second opinion,” Leila insisted.
Next step was a trip for a second opinion: my youngest daughter, Tasha, did some research and was able to schedule an appointment for me, with her daughters’ ophthalmologist.
Once again, my husband and Leila were there with all the information from my previous eye exam. The second didn’t think it necessary to do the eye procedure any time soon. So one ophthalmologist says I need surgery now, and one says I don’t. However, the second physician did suggest I make a day trip to the University of California to the Jules Stein Eye Institute to confer with one of the top glaucoma specialists. Third opinion here we come.
Back to the week of my initial eye exam: that week I also had an appointment with the wonderful surgeon who had performed my breast cancer surgery. My primary care physician referred me back to my surgeon for a consultation on the results of the ultrasound recently performed on my legs. My varicose veins were irritated, swollen, and weeping blood, partially caused by one of my medications.
This time, I enlisted my business colleague, Carol, to bring her pad and pen to take notes. As in the past, Carol made notes on topics I barely remember the surgeon covering. I am so grateful to have family and friends who are able to accompany me to doctors’ appointments and jot down terms and procedures that seem to go in one ear and out the other, where my health is concerned.
The great news was, no vein-stripping (or laser iridotomy) surgery. A surgeon who, in my case, didn’t think surgery was the best treatment plan. Instead, he recommended aspirin to help thin my blood, elevating the legs, and a heating pad on the leg twice a day. This is my kind of surgeon!
I encourage every patient to have an extra pair of ears along during any doctor’s visits. Not an option? Ask your physician before your appointment, “May I record the session in the event no one else is available to take notes?” (Although, this may not be acceptable practice because of legal issues, you won’t know unless you ask.)
If recording isn’t practical, let your doctor know right upfront that you will need a little extra time at the end of your exam, to take notes and verify the diagnosis and treatment plans. If a nurse navigator is available, ask if he or she is in a position to take notes on your behalf.
Being fully informed and knowledgeable about the state of one’s health is both reassuring and empowering.
And keep in mind: Some spouses aren’t always the best “extra set of ears” when loved ones are concerned. I believe it’s called “selective hearing.”