The Patient With PTSD Tries Again to Schedule a Colonoscopy

In light of the major press coverage about the rising rate of colorectal cancer in people under 50, as well as shudder-inducing recollections of what passed as “food” in my childhood home, my sense of self-preservation prevailed and I called yet again to try to have a colonoscopy scheduled. I was mentally prepared this time. I did not expect the wait time to improve. In fact, the wait has lengthened considerably. My GI is now scheduling after Independence Day. I asked if another GI could do it or if I could be added to a cancellation list.  The lovely person who assisted me said she would send a message about it to my GI, but not before she chided me for calling to schedule a procedure in March that was approved in December. I had my reasons. I needed to wait for all the other test results to come back. I added that I tried to schedule it previously, but was so shocked and frustrated by the obscene wait time that I had simply ended the call.

The next day, I received a call from my GI’s office asking me if I could do it in four days. I had 30 minutes to figure it out. I could not find someone to drive me on such short notice, so no, I could not. She also said it might be possible on another date and I managed to find a ride for that date- a man I hardly know at all- but then they couldn’t make it work. So I remain on the cancellation list and am officially scheduled for July- four months from now.

What prompted the GI’s office to call me, I don’t know. Maybe she looked me up and remembered which train wreck I was, exactly. “Oh yes, the anesthesia awareness PTSD person with a cancer history and a cousin with stage III colorectal cancer.”

My PTSD isn’t as severe as many cases are. I can get in the door, thanks to Dr. Overinvolved, but I usually unravel after I walk in, my undoing the result of hyperawareness and irritability. This is different. There’s a part of me that wants to overcome this, that wants to have another experience with anesthesia, but a good one this time, and the result of that will help. I do not react well to having an IV, as I learned from December’s CT scan. I will tolerate severe pain if I have to, but it will trigger me and result in nightmares and sleep disturbance, as I learned from a saline ultrasound I had of my uterus two years.  I want to defeat this. I want to win.  

The fact I feel this way at all is a good sign that I still have some resiliency left in me after all. I often feel so resigned to the status quo, not just with the current effects of my PTSD, but all the elements of my life. I lost my sparkle and my drive to become someone who is at the heart of it all, intensely angry and frightened of life.

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Skin & Nerves

Saturday I went running through town, down along the bike path, out to the pier and back.  When I returned, there was an angry red line on the edges of the nubby, knotty tissue that makes up my thyroidectomy scar, usually hidden in plain sight from all but the most adept and studious observers. It felt raw to the touch, like it had been rubbed and whittled down to lose all texture so as to match the surrounding smooth, pale skin once again.  I had lathered on the SPF 50 Sport all over my face and neck, plus I donned my wide-brim blue hat for insurance. So it couldn’t have been sunburn.

When I arrived at the pier, sweaty and famished, I stopped for iced coffee and a snack. Once inside the cafe, I removed my hat and let it hang down my back, the cord tight across the front of my neck. It was busier than usual, owing to a beach volleyball tournament going on below, and I must have spent 15 or 20 minutes inside, which combined with my intra-run sweat, must have rubbed the scar and created the burn. I never felt it. Instead, when I arrived home, I looked in the mirror and saw my private scar go public yet again, announcing itself with anger on the edges of my strap muscles.

I always see my scar when I look in the mirror. It does not matter if I am in a fitting room, at home, the gym, or in the bathroom. It is the first thing I see when I look at myself. My scar hurts. If I touch it and push on it, I physically recoil. I want to jump out of my skin and scream! I pat it dry, no rubbing, ever. The interventional radiologist wanted to put his biopsy needle through it seven years ago to gain access to a lymph node, and I refused to allow it.

When I initially acquired the scar, I put Mederma on it everyday,with the wish and the hope that it would disappear. The first time I saw my therapist after the surgery, she claimed to not be able to see it. She had been away in Australia for so long that I was biopsied, diagnosed, and operated on while she was away- nothing about me physically seemed amiss. Perhaps she was being polite, or was just clueless. Six months after my surgery, I was introduced to my new boss; she looked right at my scar and was not at all covert about it. I was taken aback but appreciated her honesty.

Owing to the excellent placement of the incision in the ring of my neck, my keeping it out of the sun, and perhaps my copious, daily use of Mederma, my scar all but disappeared from public sight. This was what I wanted. It was what I thought I wanted. To move on, “to get back to what you were doing before,” as Dr. Overinvolved said at the post-op, to make it fade so light and so far it would be just like it none of it ever happened at all.

I wish my scar was loud and obvious, announcing itself and my misfortune to the world. Then it would be a fleshy carved billboard that excuses my underachieving, my loneliness, my inertia to the outside word. It was the only physical manifestation of thyroid cancer my body would ever bear and it seemed I couldn’t even do that right.

The edges of my scar are peeling now, little bits of dead skin roll of it when I touch it, and it has faded from red and back to its mottled, nubby, knobby, touchy self. Sometimes I get a sharp pain on the far right edge of it. But it’s just a little kick, as opposed to the bold electric shocks I felt for the first year that would jolt my entire body into attention. This was the sensation of the nerves regenerating, according to my medical textbooks. My nerves, if you will, did not regenerate as everyone else wanted, nor did I “get back to what you were doing before.” Those nerves were tenuously reunited.  Every once in awhile enough electricity flows through them that I seem daring and brave, but inside I know the truth.

A Perfect Cancer Television Moment

I am in the midst of a re-watch of Rescue Me, a show I have struggled with since my initial diagnosis and treatment, no thanks to PTSD. But I have been able to watch this time, and I am in the middle of season six. Kelly, a one time romantic interest of Tommy’s, has resurfaced with breast cancer and she has just received the good word from her doctor. She is baking brownies.

Tommy: Do I say congratulations?

Kelly: Yeah, ‘you won’ that’s what my doctor told me.

Tommy: That’s great

Kelly: Yeah I’m really…happy.  I dunno happy is a dumb word. But I am happy…I don’t know what I am.

Tommy: Relieved.

Kelly: Yes, I’m relieved.

Kelly then burns the brownies and and starts shouting expletives and throwing things and breaking things in the kitchen.

Kelly: It’s not about the brownies!

Tommy: But your doctor…

Kelly: The doctor said I won, but I don’t feel like I won anything!  I was going to be this kickass cancer patient, and I was, and I did everything they told me to do, everyday. And then this guy, this doctor says, ‘Alright you’re good to go. You’re all set!’  What am I supposed to do?! Find the secret in life?!  Go to India?! Find Jesus?!

*Lies down on the floor, Tommy is perplexed*

Kelly:  …I wish I had a real boyfriend to do this with. (RIGHT?!)

Then, the cherry on top of a this sundae that has my name on it:

Kelly: I don’t want to spend the next 10 years just twisting in the wind trying to figure out all of this anger, grief…

What Kelly doesn’t want is exactly what I have been doing for the last 8 years 11 months and 18 days. Little progress has been made. I’ve just had the good sense to not drag too many other people (husband/boyfriend/hypothetical children) into it.  There is no answer. There is no resolution. It just is. All of it and everyone involved. It is the unsolvable puzzle that is taking up all the space on my dining room table. The years are going by while I stare at this incomplete puzzle, knowing that I don’t have all the pieces in the box anyway, and they were never mine to have, expecting them to just materialize if I stare at it long enough. The lines on my face and my grey hairs are all that is materializing while I stare at this unsolvable puzzle.