Friday, June 6, 2008

My First Visit to an Oncologist

I show up at Dr. James Cohen's office in Los Gatos, CA. As I walk in the front door a woman who appears to be in her 60's walks past me. She has a head scarf on and it's pretty obvious she has no hair. A cancer patient.

I'm 30 years old and have always been in good health. What the hell am I doing in an oncologist's office?

After the usual administrative nonsense with insurance and HIPAA forms I'm sent to the lab down the hall to have my blood drawn. It takes about 5 minutes and I'm impressed with how skilled the phlebotomist is. It barely hurts and I'm on the way back to the waiting room with a nice little cotton ball taped to my arm where I was stuck.

In the waiting room I contemplate the people around me. I'm easily the youngest person in the room by 30-40 years. What the hell am I doing here?

A few minutes later a nurse calls me back and takes my weight and temperature. I'm shown to a waiting room where she takes my blood pressure and informs me the doctor will see me in a few moments.

When Dr. Cohen pokes his head in he shakes my hand and we head down to this office. It's neat and nicely appointed. All dark wood and daunting, tattered medical textbooks. These are complimented with Harley Davidson paraphenalia and pictures of him riding his Harley.

Dr. Cohen is pleasant enough, soft spoken, a little droll and very dry. In 15 minutes he's quizzed me about my medical history, symptoms, how I got to be in his office, etc. He does a brief physical exam, checking my lymph nodes and spleen for swelling.

He informs me that the blood that was drawn today shows my white cell count at 69,000. That's 20,000 more than it was 2 weeks ago. He says it's likely that I have what is know as "cml", chronic myelogenous leukemia.

Bullshit, I think.

He says they need to schedule a bone marrow biopsy for Monday. I ask him if there is anything I should not do over the weekend.

"Panic", he responds.

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