Yesterday Mark* and I installed a set of built-in cabinets and open shelves for some customers of mine. The customers, who are 100% on board with pandemic safety protocols, turned down the heating, opened windows, and left the house for the day. Mark and I wore masks the whole time we were inside their house. As we leveled the base cabinets, fitted the 8-foot-long walnut counter carefully between the alcove’s walls, and scribed outlying parts to irregular surfaces — all of it painstaking work involving large, heavy parts, ever mindful of the baby grand piano just feet away — it occurred to me that the job bore many similarities to the endoscopic procedure I’d had two days earlier.
The previous procedure, a pancreatic ultrasound and needle biopsy two weeks before, yielded a tissue sample with no trace of cancer cells. The first academic article I found on pancreatic cancer noted the difficulty of obtaining reliable pancreatic tissue to biopsy, so the inconclusive biopsy was not a surprise. And while it meant investing another day in fasting, driving to Indianapolis, etc., I was glad to have it done in the interest of getting the most accurate picture of what’s going on.
Those facing this kind of endoscopic procedure have reason to feel anxious. It’s freaky to imagine having a tube run from your mouth, down your esophagus, through your stomach, and into the upper part of your duodenum. The point of this post is to put your mind at rest by sharing my experience; when it comes to medical procedures of any kind, I am the Dr. Seuss character in Green Eggs and Ham: “I do not like them, Sam-I-Am.”
The hardest part is not being able to take anything by mouth after midnight until your procedure is over. Food is one thing, but not drinking water for up to 12 hours is a challenge. I prepared both times by staying up until midnight the night before, drinking as much water as I could that day and evening, to ensure I was hydrated. After checking in and waiting, you change into a hospital gown and have your vitals checked. A nurse sets you up with an IV and saline. You meet the doctor and the anesthesiologist (my experiences over the years have convinced me that a weird sense of humor is a job requirement for a career in anesthesiology), so you have a chance to ask questions.
Then a nurse wheels you into the exam room where the anesthesiologist and doctor are waiting. There’s someone to keep an eye on your vitals and a tech to get you ready. Everyone I’ve dealt with has been kind. You’re covered in taped-on monitors, with a blood pressure cuff on one arm and the IV in the other. They set you up with oxygen in your nostrils, stuff a nice pillow behind your back to keep you on your side, and ask you to bite down on a plastic tube about 1″ in diameter that keeps your mouth open while the endoscopy tube is inserted. Just as you’re thinking “how the hell am I going to avoid getting a cramp in my shoulder?” you’ve left the house on a worry-free propofol excursion. Bring in the cabinets and the tools. Set everything up. Transform the alcove (or bathroom, or kitchen) into something you hope will delight the customers — they’re out of the picture, just as you are, with a group of highly trained medical pros watching your every heartbeat while the doctor makes his passes back and forth with an ultrasound “camera,” then inserts a fine needle through the wall of your stomach to get a sample of tissue.
All being well, the next thing you’ll be aware of is a kind nurse saying hi as you return to your senses, a moment echoed two days later, when I texted one of my clients to let her know we were done for the day and her family could come home. I waited until her husband arrived, to make sure nothing went wrong while the front door was unlocked.
Two days earlier, in Indianapolis, I awoke with a vague awareness that I’d been drooling; the nurse mentioned it was bile (lovely); the doctor had also examined a spot on my liver this time. As with the first endoscopy, I had no pain at all, not even the sore throat that is the most commonly cited after-effect. I washed the bile out of my hair when we got home, with plenty of time before I had to give a long-scheduled Zoom presentation for the annual meeting of the San Diego Fine Woodworkers Association.
The preliminary diagnosis is still adenocarcinoma of the pancreas. We should learn more after the pathologist examines the tissue sample. I continue to feel fine and am thankful for that.
*My husband, Mark, and I each run our own business, but we’ve significantly reduced our contact with others since March in view of the pandemic. As a general contractor whose work is hands-on (as distinct from those GCs who spend most of their time running their business and supervising others), Mark would ordinarily be spending his days in close contact with fellow tradespeople and customers, much of the time inside their homes. A while back we decided that the most responsible way forward during the pandemic would be help each other on jobs that take more than a single pair of hands, instead of working with others.