A curtain scratches a metal rod as it slides. The fabric flutters from the motion, sending hopeful chills across my body. Faith brushes against my skin, restraining the agony that threatens to bubble through my being. The tension that had my muscles coiled with an electric, and nervous, brand of energy eases. My heart loses the erratic and hurried pattern it had adopted earlier. Finally, there is temporary relief.
Maybe this is it, I think as people scurry around me. Maybe this will be the end of whatever the hell is bothering him. Maybe everything will go back to normal. She’s a doctor, she’ll find out what’s wrong.
The curtain scratches on the metal rod again, revealing my father and an Emergency Department doctor. He is sitting on the bed, stricken with the most bizarre and puzzling illness. A ferocious pain is laced throughout his back, stealing much of his trademarked humor. A mysterious, and nasty case of itchy skin has zapped his body. As he sits, he tries to resist the unyielding urge to scratch his legs.
The doctor stands next to him with a pompous and self-assured smile. She radiates confidence as she glances over her patient one last time before announcing her diagnosis. “Back spasms” she utters scribbling in a notebook. “I’m sending him home with muscle relaxers and Vicodin.” She walks away quickly after dismissing our concerns and further questions. She reassures us of her confidence in her diagnosis as she steps away to input the prescription and attend to her next patient.
The hopeful notions that chilled my body warms slightly as the doctor’s crisp steps faded in the noise of the busy room. The faith that brushed away the agony from my bones begins to wilt as I look at my father. Something was obviously wrong with him, and the doctor simply walked away. She severed the brief connection with my mother and I, and went about her duties without a second thought. Maybe it isn’t that bad, I thought as we found my sister and her kids. Maybe this really isn’t as scary as it seems, I thought as we gathered his medication. Maybe he isn’t as bad off as he thinks.
A rigid film obscures my judgement again as we leave the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Ann Arbor. I popped my headphones in and became absorbed in my thoughts and problems. I was about to start my final year of high school and I hardly looked at any colleges or the programs they offered. In this swirling rush to nail down my future, I disconnected myself with the problems my father was facing. Just as the doctor picked the easiest diagnosis possible, I too chose the easy route and ignored the life altering and utterly dangerous problem stirring in his body.
A week later I find myself again in an Emergency Department room. Instead of driving an hour to the nearest VA Hospital, we ended up at Hurley, a county hospital. An atrocious shade of yellow decorates the walls of the tiny room as the clock eats away the evening. I struggle to concentrate on my homework as my father lies on a bed groaning softly. Beside me, sits my mother. Worry has encased her entire being since the first trip to Ann Arbor over a month before. He curses softly between groans as we wait for someone to come in and begin the examination. Misery rips through her body, tearing and slashing as it roars through. Such notions also breach my chest, sending out terrifying pangs as this mysterious illness ravages my father. Whatever ugly and fearful emotions penetrated my body and assaulted my mind were not as awful and grotesque as the ones that pillaged my mother.
After a brief talk with the doctor we were again sent home. Again, they claimed he had back spasms. “A bad case, sure,” the doctor had said, “but I’ve seen this before”. They issued my father Vicodin, Valium and Motrin 600s for his symptoms. Again, our worry and my father’s pain were dispatched as fodder and noise. The hopeful and faithful feelings I had begun to cultivate in the Emergency Department at the VA hospital withered further, as my trust in the medical professionals dissolved a little more.
The next few days passed slowly as I trudged through the daily school routine. My father was barely a step beyond being bed ridden. He could only walk if he had an old cane gripped in one hand and someone helping him along. The crushing pain that ebbed in his body seemingly grew worse, despite the intense medication regimen. Finally, after a weeks’ worth of sleepless nights, the decision was made to call an ambulance, have my father taken back to Hurley and not leave until we had an answer that felt more concrete than “back spasms”.
After a speedy ride through the darkness, and a stern talk with my mother, a doctor in the Emergency Department finally ordered some tests. He was the first doctor we had seen to run a series of tests that involved something more complex than apply his hands to my father. He actually employed medical technology to solve the problem, rather than sending us away, essentially passing us off to the next physician we happened upon. After the results came in the doctors admitted my father with a rather troubling, but manageable diagnosis; an infection of the spine.
A few scattered specks of hope bonded together as I took in this news. They doubled, and infected my heart with joyful notions as the night wore on. Its curable, I thought. Before long, I was optimistic about my father’s condition. The drama of the ambulance ride to the hospital coupled with the uneasy nature of the last few weeks had jolted me. I had gone from being sure nothing was wrong to believing that some mysterious illness was surely ransacking my father’s body.
Somewhere before I drifted off to sleep that night tangents of faith sprouted as I continued weaving the specks of hope together. Some of my faith in the medical community’s ability to heal was being restored. They knew what was wrong with him now. Maybe the other doctors were just too overworked, I thought. Maybe they were just bad at their job.
However, the follow day another batch of doctors dismissed their colleagues first diagnosis, seemingly with ease. They appeared to trash the idea of an infection in the blink-of-an-eye, without evidence and without reason. But, they had plenty of reason to alter the diagnosis. More test results had been finalized and examined. Once this happened, the doctors were convinced they had found my father’s true problem; a large tumor crushing his spine.
You can read part three (And the News Only Crafted Fear Within my Bones) of this tale here .