Anyone who has ever been seriously ill knows the amount of testing that is done in order to make a diagnosis and to follow a patient’s progress. Bloodwork, x-rays, ct-scans, mammograms, ultrasounds, echocardiograms, 24 hr urine tests (let me tell you that one was invented by a man for sure), bodyscans, bone marrow tests, and the list could go on indefinitely.
There is so much emotionally tied up in the testing. First, there is the experience of having to go to the hospital, wait in the waiting room, wear one of those gowns, sometimes have your dignity be compromised, in order that the test be efficiently conducted. If it is an important test, you watch the technician carefully for any revealing expressions. They do not give away a thing.
Then there is the waiting for results! One test that I have done regularly can take up to two weeks to process. Sometimes one test result is always missing a certain factor. If you are really watching those numbers, the wait can be agonizing.
Then there is the analysis of the results themselves. There is the task of just trying to understand what all these terms mean. “What in the world is bilirubin” is one of the questions I needed to ask early on (My sister the doctor said “oh, he’s little sara reuben’s younger brother”). Of course a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Once you know what a test means, you become hawk-like in watching it. It is so easy to get caught up in a result going up or down by a few points. There was a period where I just hung on those numbers – becoming depressed when they went up and exuberant when they went down. I wrote a poem about this feeling, comparing myself to a gambler pretending to keep my cool as I wait for the outcomes. It’s taken some perspective over 11 years not to attach so much importance to individual results and try and look at larger trends.
What are your stories about the world of diagnostics?