Friday, December 14, 2012


My post-MRI heartburn.
Being a glass-half-full kind of guy, I don't look upon a radical nephrectomy as having lost a kidney. Rather, I gained something I never would have had otherwise: an annual MRI. Not only that, but an annual MRI with contrast -- meaning I get to have an IV drip of radioactive liquid in order to lively up the imaging. Counting my pre-surgery scans, I've gone through this routine enough times to have a highway in Los Alamos named after me. I am, indeed, blessed.

The post-op MRI has always coincided with the Christmas season -- call it a chance to become a human holiday light display -- and this year was no different. My wife was a little leery. How much radiation did I have to get exposed to before it started having drawbacks -- like causing the cancer that they're hoping isn't there? My urologist would have the answer.

If he hadn't retired, that is. It was news to me. He walked out of my life without a word, as if all those years I gave to him (two and a half) meant nothing. I'd have to deal with his replacement. And unlike him, the new guy was a woman.

My new urologist didn't get the memo.
Meeting Dr. G, as we'll call her, was like going on the first post-breakup date. And, as with many dates, the age difference came into play. Now, I feel a good 15 years younger than I really am, but she was at least 20 years younger, which made me feel at least 40 years older. I had to win her over, fast. "How did the tumor make itself known?" she asked.

You always want a good first date story, and her question gave me the opening. As I gave her the rundown -- pain due to the tumor growing near the artery and, thus, cutting off my blood supply -- she scanned the surgeon's notes. "I've never heard of this before!" she gushed.

I felt like Sinatra, circa 1961. "Cool, isn't it?" I replied... and in my mind adding, "baby."

But she wasn't through yet. "This is really something... wow... incredible..." Man, this chick couldn't get enough of my diagnosis.  

Then I had to go and ruin it. "Do I need another MRI? I mean, my wife's a nurse and she said --" Oh my God, she knows I'm married! What would her reaction be?

"It's standard protocol," she answered evenly, "that you have five annual MRIs following this kind of surgery."  She wrote the prescription and bade me farewell until next year's appointment. Yes! A second date!

The following Saturday, I arrived at the radiology center 15 minutes early to discover 12 people ahead of me. The Upper East Side must be lousy with cancer, I judged. No doubt the Second Avenue subway construction had something to do with it. Class action lawsuit, here we come.

On the walls were were four HDTVs, all with the sound off. While waiting my turn at check-in, I watched the one tuned to CNN. I sometimes wonder if people who have to use the closed-captioning realize that mistakes are made. Like the story about the DJs who called Princess Catherine's hospital. What I assumed to be the phrase "Australian radio station" came up as AUSTRALIAN RADIATION -- appropriate, under the circumstances. But what to make of HUE  MAIL YATED? Ah, of course -- humiliated. Must be that tricky accent. Wait 'til they have to quote someone from Queens.

Wait 'til you see the centerfold.
I had barely settled in my chair, skimming through the latest sexy issue of Radiology Today, when a medical assistant mispronounced my name. It was time to undress, get the IV drip and slide into the magnetic coffin.

The MRI is a noisy affair, a combination of drills, anvils and alien spaceships taking off. When it's time to take the "contrast" images, the drip starts dripping. For all its possible side effects, that radioactive goo gives you a warm sensation all over, similar to a quality brandy or high grade Thai heroin. Every year, just before he takes those particular images, the radiologist gives me the same instructions: "Don't breathe, don't move." Good idea, because the subsequent racket -- similar to a fire alarm going off directly next to your head -- makes you want to jump out the door.

"Congratulations! It's a lymphocele!"
A few days later, I received a phone call from Dr. G. There was something on the images -- not cancer, she reassured me about five times -- that seemed a little strange. The radiologist read it as a lymphocele. As described online, A lymphocele is a cystic mass containing lymph that is brought on by diseased lymphatic channels or following surgical trauma or other injury. It should have gone away by now, so she wanted a second radiologist to take a look.

The score thus far: One trip to the urologist, two prescriptions, two trips to to different radiologists, two readings -- all for one MRI. Remind me to do something easier, like buying an assault rifle.

Wait, what's this I read online? The second possibility for the lymphocele: They may also be caused by intense masturbation or intense sex and will normally disappear in a few days.

I hope Dr. G isn't the jealous type.

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