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About the book and author

 

Misdiagnosed: 
WAS MY WIFE A CASUALTY OF AMERICA'S MEDICAL COLD WAR? Point here for more book info
 

Paraview Press, 2001
ISBN: 1-931044-04-X
Health, 232 pp
Trade paperback: $14.95
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Excerpt
 

From the Book:

 

Jane developed nagging symptoms of a physical ailment of her own that spring-her lower back ached, as though she had wrenched a muscle. It seemed easily explained once we made the connection: She had hurt herself by impulsively moving a very heavy carton out of the kitchen before friends came for dinner one Saturday in May. The solution was automatic: Jane made an appointment with a chiropractor.

Unlike those who are skeptical of chiropractic, Jane had been a longtime believer in the effectiveness of spinal adjustments. For twenty-seven years she had used the services of Geraldine Holden, a chiropractor who enjoyed a good reputation in the New Age community at Virginia Beach. A slender, diminutive, energetic lady, Holden gave chiropractic a good name because of her caring nature: she was constantly researching new treatments and was a storehouse of knowledge about nutrition. When she retired, only a few months before Jane's backache surfaced, we had both attended her farewell dinner. She had turned her practice over to another woman, Brenda Sinclair, whom Jane entrusted with her monthly adjustments. Indeed, no health-care practitioner saw more of Jane over the last ten years than her chiropractor. When her regular chiropractor had been unavailable, Jane never missed her monthly checkup but used another chiropractor, Christopher Newby.

Jane never explained to me why she came to trust them and their skills to the exclusion of orthodox medicine. When she was a young mother she trusted allopathic doctors. Garland recalls when she was growing up "we all had regular doctors." Jane's medical files show that she had timely pelvic exams year after year until she was about sixty, after which they stopped. Her gynecologist had retired, she once told me, and she decided against seeing another doctor, for reasons she did not explain. Her records show she expressed concern to her gynecologist about heavy, prolonged menstrual flows. Garland remembers she was told that a hysterectomy might be necessary. Jane evidently asked Holden's opinion, for she later told an interviewer that her "chiropractor and a friend" helped her through this crisis. Not only did she avoid surgery, she moved through menopause without suffering the usual hot flashes. Attributing this to "exercises and grieving the loss of her beauty," she was also able to avoid hormone replacement therapy. From then on Jane seems to have placed absolute confidence in her chiropractor's advice to the exclusion of conventional medicine. In other words, the only medical explanation I have found for Jane's becoming a strong believer in alternative medicine is that she felt it helped her weather painlessly a major crisis of her life, with the result that her sense of her own femininity remained undiminished. 

I never questioned the wisdom of her not having a primary-care physician because she was never ill until hit by cancer. Besides, I had used a chiropractor on occasion and believed in the efficacy of their healing work. I was also familiar with the abuse that chiropractors, as a professional group, had suffered for years from anti-chiropractic propaganda issued by the American Medical Association. With the thought of writing a book on the subject, I had researched the AMA's attempt to stigmatize chiropractors as "quacks," and to destroy them professionally. It became clear to me that the AMA, one of the most wealthy and powerful trade organizations in America, had created a war-like atmosphere that contaminated the health-care field.

Chiropractors had not been the only targets of the AMA. For the last fifty years or more, the AMA had also attacked the legitimacy of osteopathy, optometry, and podiatry. Osteopathic physicians, for example, were branded as cultists, and medical doctors were told not to associate with them or teach in their colleges. When those tactics failed, the AMA reversed field and tried to take over the osteopathic profession. Such combative tactics within the medical field have been going on for well over a century. 

"The story of 19th century medicine is the story of power struggles over the definition of medicine, as well as over who would win the political and regulatory power to have their definitions accepted as legitimate," says Paul Root Wolpe, Ph.D., of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Bioethics and Departments of Psychiatry and Sociology. "The medical landscape was populated with a host of competing practitioners, each vying for a market share and for legitimacy in the eyes of the consumer. Homeopaths, Thompsonians, hydropaths, and even patent medicine salesmen were relied upon by large groups of Americans for their health care."

Clearly, biomedicine-treating body chemistry with agents different from the disease to affect bodily function-gained ascendancy, and allopathic doctors assumed the mantle of "regulars" who practiced orthodox medicine. Development of countless new biological agents by the expanding drug industry enhanced the power of allopathy. In the 20th century it fought rearguard actions against alternative practitioners, none more brutal than the AMA's effort to destroy chiropractic. Curiously enough, discovering what went on inside AMA paralleled how the public discovered the tobacco industry's secret research on nicotine in cigarettes-an insider leaked a truckload of documents that spilled the whole story.

The documents showed that the AMA in 1963 had established a Committee on Quackery, which "considered its prime mission to be, first, the containment of chiropractic and, ultimately, the elimination of chiropractic." To achieve this ignoble objective the AMA told its physician members that it was unethical for them to associate with this "unscientific cult." It distributed literature designed to discredit chiropractic. It discouraged colleges from cooperating with chiropractic schools. It sought to spread the boycott to the College of Surgeons, College of Radiology, and Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, which all agreed to direct their members to forego professional association with chiropractors. It lobbied state legislatures against giving legal sanction to chiropractors. It was a brutal take-no-prisoners attack.

The chiropractors fought back with a lawsuit based on the leaked documents. The AMA claimed that its actions were purely in the interest of patient care. But testimony showed that some physicians believed chiropractic to be effective and that chiropractors were better trained to deal with musculoskeletal problems than most physicians. The result was a stinging defeat for the AMA when a federal judge in Chicago issued an injunction in 1987 that forced the AMA to cease such tactics. 

While the court tried to level the playing field legally, there was no way that it could oblige practitioners of either profession to cooperate; nor did it instantly change the hostile climate that had been created during decades of hostilities. A "cold war" continued between many physicians and chiropractors, as well as other alternative practitioners. "Given the vitriolic condemnations that flew between allopaths, homeopaths, eclectics, and others in the 19th century, it seemed absurd to suggest they would ever get together and cease their rancorous posturing," said Professor Wolpe in Frontier Perspectives. "In fact, the American Medical Association, in its initial code of ethics written at its founding, specifically excluded from its ranks all 'irregular' practitioners. In its attempt to become the sole legitimate medical society, the AMA's attacks on its competitors were strong and unrelenting. The last thing the regulars seemed poised to do was to welcome the irregulars into their professional societies."

This historic conflict also created hostile attitudes among alternative health-care practitioners and their clients who resented the denigrating opposition of mainstream medicine. Many of them developed a strikingly partisan attitude against orthodox medicine. Once she stopped consulting a regular doctor, Jane became one of those partisans. She had no family physician for the last decade of her life. I teased her that her primary-care doctor was a chiropractor. But her health was always so good that there seemed no point in challenging the wisdom of her complete reliance on Holden, who did more than give her spinal adjustments. Holden also recommended nutritional supplements and offered dietary advice that guided Jane's meal preparations.

"Every time I came home for a visit she was on a new diet," recalls Garland. "I didn't know there were as many diets-food combining, The Zone, eat-right-for-your-blood-type, the Atkins high protein diet revolution, the Cayce diet-she tried them all." 

I didn't mind most of her dietary detours, only those that banned coffee, because whatever she prepared was delicious and nutritious. But I joked that she was a member of the "diet-of-the-month club," and for the most part accepted her choices for our meals as long as I could have my morning coffee. Jane never got defensive about being teased, and her health always seemed so sound that there was no arguing with her strategy for staying healthy. She didn't drink more than a single glass of wine with dinner, never smoked, watched her weight, and kept her figure trim by walking, swimming, playing tennis, and occasionally doing yoga. 

The first adjustment for her backache seemed to help, temporarily, but the pain soon recurred. She returned for another adjustment, and another, and another. Recalling how I had thrown my back out once by moving a heavy piece of furniture, I knew that inflamed tissues just take time to heal. So neither of us suspected a more serious problem.

Jane probably never had a pain-free day again: Something more serious than a muscle pull was causing it. And even chiropractic-nine visits in ten weeks-wasn't helping. On the next to last visit, chiropractor Christopher Newby recalls that Jane "told me for the first time that the adjustments only helped her for a day or two and that she had to sleep in a brace and use ibuprofen for pain. This was brand new news to me." If she had told him this earlier, he said he would have "insisted on medical attention." He added: "I explained to Jane that if the adjustments were that ineffective and producing no real progress, this was an indication of an underlying medical problem and she should seek medical attention. I explained that as a chiropractor I was incapable of providing her with a full medical diagnostic examination, but that she should get one, including X-rays." 

Jane ignored that advice but returned to him ten days later, saying she had been in "excruciating pain." He repeated his belief that she needed medical attention, "but she said she wanted to try acupuncture." Newby recommended two physicians who also did acupuncture. She chose a specialist in internal medicine who practices acupuncture, and he saw her that very day. She wrote in her journal:

I liked Dr. Lee Sung very much. He was very thorough. Got my physical history, took my blood pressure before sticking his needles in me. I'm sitting here in bed [journaling] with an ice pack on my lower back. I simply touch the little acupuncture patches that Dr. Sung put in my ear yesterday and it helps with pain, which as he explained, has become chronic because I've had it for seven weeks.

This journal entry suggests another reason for Jane becoming so partial to alternative practitioners. As a therapist herself, she believed in the efficacy of "talk therapy," and was disenchanted with doctors who give patients a minimum of time to discuss their ailments compared to alternative practitioners, who tend to be better listeners. "That's why psychotherapy is so needed today," added therapist Bonnie Youngberg. "Doctors don't take time to listen like they used to. They send their nurse in to take your blood pressure, for example-things the doctor used to do, and then you could talk to them. Now the doctor is in and out in a few minutes, and the patient gets little chance to talk to him." Dr. Sung, who took her medical history himself, was an exception, and Jane came away feeling greatly encouraged. Although he took no other measures to diagnose her pain, his hair-thin acupuncture needles at key points on her skin provided immediate relief. Jane thought she had found the answer at last. 

As Jane pondered the meaning of her painful summer, she posed questions in her journal:

What do I need? Is it all right for me to take care of myself? My children are grown and gone. Bob is at work. Tears fill my eyes as I wonder about myself and my own needs. When we are raised by a narcissistic mother and are drawn in to meet her needs, we develop a sense that her needs are more important than ours. We learn to tune into the other person and lose contact with our own beingness. We overdevelop our sensitivity to the other and underdevelop our sensitivity to ourselves.

Next evening two of my grandsons, Danny and Abe Cutler, arrived from Seattle for their annual beach visit with us. Jane always makes them feel at home. In fact, Jane was such a hit when I first took her to Seattle to meet my family, before we were married, that Abe, then five, asked her, "If you don't marry Grandpa, will you marry me?"

Jane played gracious hostess all during their three-day visit, going to the beach and preparing meals. But her pain resurfaced, and she returned to Dr. Sung for another acupuncture treatment three days after her first treatment. Indeed, she saw Dr. Sung four times in ten days. When she told him during the fourth visit that the pain had spread to a higher place on her back, he said, "Don't confuse me," according to Jane. Discouraged that acupuncture had not ended her pain, she never consulted him again. But she still resisted seeking conventional medical attention, probably because she assumed they would give her pain-killing drugs. Jane was so resistant to taking drugs that she didn't even keep a bottle of aspirin in the house.

As I reflect back on that summer, I feel remorse for not getting more involved in helping Jane find relief. I was preoccupied with a painful situation of my own, a conflict with my boss at work that nearly resulted in my leaving my job. It took weeks to resolve it to my satisfaction. Jane's backache at that moment seemed less critical than the pain in the neck I was dealing with. 

The immediate result of Jane's pain was that she realized she needed to focus more attention on taking care of herself instead of others. She wrote: 

Fifty years ago I got married. I was nineteen. Basically I've been giving out to others ever since. I made a commitment to John fifty years ago, and to Bill twenty-three years ago, and to Bob five years ago. NOW I am making a commitment to myself. My body is screaming at me to REST, to take CARE OF JANE. 

Jane tried various other therapies, including massage and Jin Shin Do, an oriental technique for working with the body's subtle energies. One massage therapist, Diane Hall, gave her "a very intuitive and sensitive massage" and opined that Jane has some parasites. "There's pain in gall bladder and liver and stomach, plus sciatic nerve." In trying to rest, Jane retreated to our bedroom when possible, but by then we were in the busiest season for summer visitors-everyone loves to come to the beach in July and August, and our door was always open. In addition, Jane had put herself under a writing discipline to complete the manuscript for a book she had been working on for several years. Entitled The Transforming Power of Divorce, it was based on interviews she had done with women who had gained in terms of personal development through the divorce experience. I had helped her with the book, primarily editing her material. Trying to balance all these demands was daunting for Jane, especially as her back pain was unrelenting.

A massage therapist suggested she try a new physical therapist, Antoine LeBoef, who had been trained in osteopathic techniques in France but lacked a license as an osteopath. A specialist in body work, he identified himself as an "etiopath." LeBoef told her an abdominal muscle had contracted and needed loosening. "I felt so much better after manipulation and a massage that I went to the beach and swam and walked and lay on the sand," she reported.

Next morning, however, she noted: "I can hardly move without piercing pain in chest." LeBoef attributed her pain to "overdoing" it and suggested rest and heat on the painful area. She stayed in bed all day and felt too weak to have a visit from her son David's little boys, whom she adored. "I had to say no. I'm flat on my back, sorry to say. I'd have loved having them."

My daughter Dana and eldest son Josh arrived from Whidbey Island, in Washington state, and Jane made them all feel so welcome that none of them realized that she was ill. "I've been so extroverted all my life, it's hard to shift gears," wrote Jane. "I'm seeing how compulsive I am about DOING, mailing cards to people, pasting photos in the mat to hang on the wall, telephoning. It's hard to break the pattern and let my energy go inside to heal me."

As a health spa operator and therapeutic massage therapist, Dana is another member of the pro-alternative medicine clique in our family. She is also a former Arthur Murray dance instructor, who had taught her sons swing dancing, which was enjoying a come back among young people, and they put on quite a show for us. Jane got such a lift from the evening she said, "I felt great!" I loved hearing that, but it was such temporary good news.

By mid-August Jane was spending more time in bed with a castor oil pack on her tummy and an ice pack on her back, and reading The Alchemy of Illness by Kat Duff. She journaled: 

I wonder whether there are deeper mysteries and hidden designs of illness beneath the pain. On my walk today around one block, this feather floated down, being wafted through the air. It brought me a message of "being," lightly floating into my path. When you die the doing will be over. Let go. Be like this feather. Be like me. You've been told to let go. Now your body is forcing you to rest, float. Be carried by the breeze of the Spirit. I am with you now and always. Know that all is well. Breathe deeply. In and out, deep and long. Calm. Ease. Smile. Release. Present moment, wonderful moment.

One morning Jane described her condition:

Got up at 6, needing to change my position, but did sleep most of the night. Pain in the sciatic region of my back and sacroiliac area and pain going down my right leg, and pain near shoulder in back, also right side. It seems to keep moving all around. I took twomore Tylenol for pain.

She walked around one block very slowly and came home and lay down. Later she wrote: 

I mopped the kitchen floor after sweeping it. I am still caught in the thinking, thinking, thinking that my value is in what I do, washing a load of clothes, taking chicken off the bones, washing and putting away the dishes. It is hard getting in touch with my body, but Bob is helping relieve me of everything, and I'm doing a little deep breathing.

I need to surrender now by simply saying and meaning, "I don't know." I am willing to give up all of what I think I know because it hasn't worked. And I ask that you teach me. I cannot teach myself and I do not trust other people to teach me because I find they are saying the same things I am. 

I give permission to the energies around me to enter my physical body, to transform my old beliefs into new awareness, and to take the physical cells themselves and make them more radiant. I ask to be taught by these energies.

When she returned to the etiopath, she complained of a burning sensation in her right knee and thigh, pain in her sacroiliac and right leg. But he insisted that her leg was fine, and that her pain was coming from her lower back and the psoas major muscle in her abdomen. He described her condition as lumbago, rheumatism of the lumbar region, and adjusted her accordingly. But it didn't provide lasting relief. Once again, she received a treatment without having received a correct diagnosis.

A "beautiful and healing massage given to me by Dana" seemed more effective. "It was a turning point for my body-spirit, a very loving massage. I went into an altered state at times and then came back. It was a real gift," said Jane. Afterward she felt good enough to go to dinner at an oceanside cafe and to the theater later with the family. She commented: "Abe [12 years old] wore his black suit and dancing shoes and rode with me and took my arm as we walked to the restaurant. 'I feel suave,' he said. We had fun and a good dinner, then saw Sweeny Todd and came home and watched David and Bathsheba with Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward, which I did enjoy."

The next morning after breakfast Jane was "feeling a little better" and wrote: 

Took a six-block walk and am back in bed breathing heavily from the exertion. My body is recovering but slowly and gradually. I took two more Tylenol around 3 a.m. When Dana gave me a massage she saw an image of a man with a fist and asked me how I express anger to men. I said I become critical, sometimes confrontive, sometimes I contain it and become sarcastic and minimizing of them. I withdraw and try to be "appropriate" in my expression. My father was very passive with his anger, contained it, got depressed. I internalize it and turn it against myself, making my body ache all over. And what am I angry about? And who am I angry at? 

Bob and Dana and I had a good talk this morning about our Friends Meeting, in terms of my anger. How do I express anger to men? Well, to one man I deny my anger now that he is so ill. I go to prayer meeting with him. I am hypocritical. I turn my anger in on myself. Underneath this anger are my tears and they began to come out this morning, my sadness about my loss of my spiritual community.

I read Walter Starcke's story of the lion that thought it was a lamb. Its mother died when he was born and he was raised among sheep, and even bleated like a sheep. One day a lion came upon the sheep and was surprised to see another lion. He tried to get near the lion to tell him he was not a sheep, but the poor lion ran off with the sheep. Later the lion found him asleep and said to him, "You are not a sheep, you are a lion." The young lion did not believe him, so the old lion dragged him to the lake and said, "Look here." The young lion looked at his own reflection, then at the old lion, and roared-the bleating was gone.

"Bleating" sounds like what I've been doing, being a sheep, following the leader and feeling angry and frustrated all the while. It's part of my assimilation message, "blend in," pretend you're a lamb. I am not.

The meeting is not a healthy place for me. I have a difficult time being real there. Quaker meeting and A.R.E. are both patriarchal institutions that ignore feelings. They claim to be so godly and are not. They have no heart. I've tried so hard, Lord, to be a helpful and loving and trusting person, but I am also an angry person and my body is still wracked with pain. My leg is hurting. My groin is hurting.

I let go of all anger NOW.

Jane switched to another doctor, meanwhile, again avoiding conventional medicine, this time in favor of a homeopathic physician, Dr. Victor Goodhart. Jane's pursuit of healing from this assortment of alternative practitioners to the exclusion of conventional medicine shows more clearly than even I had realized previously just how partisan she was in favoring alternative medicine over mainstream allopathic medicine. She had a firm belief in the body-mind-spirit connection, which contributed to her belief in holistic health-care. She frequently received therapeutic massages, colonics, did yoga and walking exercises, played tennis, ate mostly organic food, heavy on fruits and vegetables, never smoked, avoided carbonated beverages and coffee, and rarely drank anything alcoholic. She could have been a poster girl for a good-health campaign.

Jane was so seemingly healthy all the years I knew her, never even suffering the common cold, that we believed we had found the fountain of health, if not youth, in our sensible habits. It was a New Age version of the old maxim, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away." Jane kept the doctors away, even dismissing the need of a periodic physical or a mammogram, even though until she turned sixty she had a mammogram each year.

So, again, I didn't question her choice of homeopath Goodhart. We had been to his office in Norfolk many times for chelation therapy. We considered him to be a caring and courageous physician who braved the disapproval of his peers by offering unconventional remedies-he was then the only physician in Tidewater, Virginia, who offered chelation therapy. Goodhart had been, we were told, a medical missionary in his younger days, and had a reputation for being a devout man who not only took time with his patients but prayed for them. He is also an oncologist who had once specialized in treating cancer patients but had become disenchanted with the conventional allopathic approach and opted for homeopathy. This latter fact seemed of no significance at the time because we had no idea Jane would require an oncologist. But having gained no lasting relief from any of the other alternative practitioners she had consulted, she hoped Goodhart might have an answer for her. 

Dr. Goodhart said I have inflammation of the meninges, which are coverings for the spinal cord in my back and in my brain. That is a very unusual condition, one he hasn't seen before. He gave me a homeopathic remedy for the pain, which wanders all around my body, and for healing this condition. I am visualizing blue breezes blowing on the fiery meninges. I also take Tylenol every four hours to head off the pain.

When Jane returns home and tells me this, her condition sounds serious to me, but at least it seems to explain why all those chiropractic adjustments hadn't worked. Garland said, in retrospect, we should have known her mother was in unusual pain when she began taking Tylenol. "She never took painkillers, even aspirin. She didn't believe in them." 

Garland and Samantha have just arrived from Boston. Jane rejoices in having them come as often as possible. She arranges for Laura, David's daughter who lives close by, to join Samantha, and delights in watching them play together. 

I give thanks for the quietness of this moment, the gentle breeze blowing, Laura and Samantha playing happily and I am not in pain-and I am not needed. My energy can go inside and heal me. I am an energy being. Divine Intelligence is in each cell and knows what to do. All I need to do is listen, and let go. Rest in the Spirit.

Jesus, the Christ, lay your hands on me now. I open and receive. Angels, Guides, help me now. God's will is being done within me and without. And all is well.

Goodhart's pain remedy doesn't work, so three days after seeing him Jane calls his office and is told to stick with it. A week later she returns to see Goodhart, and this time I accompany her. The pain has become more intense during the week since her first visit to him. It seems like the best relief is provided by little Samantha. She likes to sleep in our room and early in the morning climbs into bed between us. At night Jane likes to read to her, such stories as Benjamin, the Meeting House Mouse. "She went right to sleep afterwards with me stretched out on the bed beside her. I fell asleep too. What a sweet dear child she is and so much fun," wrote Jane.

Goodhart's office, on the second floor of a Victorian house in an upscale section of historic Norfolk, consists of a room full of lounge chairs for chelation patients, a lab, an examination room, and a tiny office in which the doctor spends most of his time, using what he calls his EAV machine. EAV is an acronym for Electro-acupuncture. Jane and I don't know how it works but we had watched him use it several times before to help him determine what remedies to give us for different conditions. We know only that he holds the machine in high esteem. I learned later that the machine was developed nearly 50 years ago by a German, Reinhold Voll. It measures electrical characteristics of the body when a probe touches acupuncture points on the patient's hands and feet. Electrical imbalances, displayed on the EAV's gauge, are said to reflect physiological disturbances in the organs. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers it experimental and unreliable. But Goodhart said repeatedly that he was "getting good data" from using it. This time his data tell him something different about Jane's condition. As she recorded in her journal:

Dr. Goodhart put me on his EAV machine and found that along with inflammation of the meninges I have Newcastle disease, a painful disease of the nerves, in my case the sciatic area and down the right leg, shooting pains that come and go. I am worn out with the pain, up and down all night taking Tylenol and remedies and a hot tub. Then Epsom salts bath this morning, Stephen Halpern music, incense aromatherapy, and heating pad on my stomach.

Dr. Goodhart gave me a new remedy for Newcastle disease, and I will go back to see him next Monday if I am not better. Garland is concerned about me and irritated that I'm not going to see an orthopedic doctor instead of a homeopathic physician.

I have never heard of Newcastle disease. My medical dictionary describes it as a virus that comes from birds. Another homeopathic remedy is created in Goodhart's lab, and we return home, hoping once again that this is the answer-but this remedy brings no more relief than the previous medicine. Sleeping only for brief periods, Jane seeks relief from Tylenol and by soaking in our hot tub.

Hurricane season arrives, handing us a seemingly greater concern: A towering sycamore by our house, said to be over a hundred years old, is hollow and no longer sturdy enough to withstand winds of tropical storm velocity. Nothing can replace it. Usually our section of town is relatively safe from storms that sweep in from the sea, losing a tree here and there, and electric power for a night. But this season, Jane and I voluntarily sacrifice the grandest tree in the neighborhood before Hurricane Bonnie strikes and darkens our neighborhood for three days and nights. Without air conditioning, we spend these humid dog days of August in quiet repose-Jane, Garland, Samantha, and I, reading and talking and going to bed when darkness overtakes us-and wondering whether all the food in our silent refrigerator will spoil before the power returns. Without the hot tub or her heating pad to help soothe her aching back, Jane resorts to more painkiller drugs. "My body hurts so much. I hate drugging it with Tylenol. What am I to do?" she says. 

She is reading John Irving's new novel, Widow for One Year, never dreaming that but for a change of gender how appropriate the title for what lies ahead.

We go back to Goodhart a week later. That day Jane wrote, "I don't feel at all well. Very weak, pain in groin and buttocks." This time Goodhart and his EAV machine said she may have a "gangrenous appendix." His nurse took a blood sample and sent it to the lab. Again, we are alarmed. Goodhart suggests she see a Norfolk surgeon, Jason Calhoun. Jane is sufficiently frightened to take his advice and call the surgeon. Dr. Calhoun, however, will not give her an appointment without a reference from Goodhart personally. Jane relays this request to Goodhart through his nurse, but he declines to speak with Calhoun about Jane's case. The result: Calhoun refuses to see Jane. 

At the moment, I failed to comprehend what lay behind this frustrating run-around. But my patience had run out with the ineffectual treatment Jane had received for four months. So had Jane's, and her confidence in alternative practitioners had been shaken. I finally convinced her to consult the family practice I have used for many years. On September 2, a nurse-practitioner and a physician examined her and dismissed the appendix as a problem but thought she might have a hernia and referred her to a surgeon. In listening to her lungs, they thought she had a slight case of pneumonia. A CT-scan was ordered. The CT-scan, two days later, revealed that Jane had some fluid in her left lung. She would see the surgeon the following week…

A few days later Jane is in the surgeon's office. After his examination, Donald Brewster, a handsome young surgeon, recommends a colonoscopy, to be done by one of his associates. Her lung will also be drained at that time. We report to the hospital the following week for these procedures. Waiting in a crowded ante-room, I am soon rewarded by a positive report from Brewster's smiling young associate, Tom Henderson. "It looked healthy-no blood," Dr. Henderson tells me, but the fluid will be analyzed. As for the suspicion that Jane has a hernia, the surgeons rule it out. And her colon is clear. Thinking she might have a disc problem in her lower back, she is referred to an orthopedic specialist. And X-rays of her back are taken, the first in the four months since she first complained of pain.

In his office three days later, orthopedist Jonathan Dunnick shows us her X-ray films and points to signs of deterioration in the disc between her lowest vertebra and the tailbone. Shrinkage of the disc can put painful pressure on nerves, he explains, and might require surgery to correct. He needs to do an MRI, (magnetic resonance imaging) to be sure. He also orders a bone scan. Back surgery sounds frightening, but she hurts so much, Jane agrees to do anything he suggests. Leaving his office, we feel more relieved than distressed, simply because the diagnosis seems certain and the condition, although serious, is correctable. I also appreciated his not leaping to a pro-surgery conclusion until the results are in from an MRI and a bone scan. While we really don't know what either of those procedures entail, I know that an MRI is considered top of the line technology for diagnosing puzzling pains because the sports pages routinely report what an MRI has revealed about injuries to the highest paid professional athletes. It gives me confidence that the most thorough diagnostic technology is finally being applied to probe the mystery of Jane's condition.

In late September I downshifted to a four-day work week, a plan favored by Jane who wanted me to play more and work less. My first Friday off, we are both at home when Dr. Brewster, the surgeon, telephones with stupefying news: Jane's lung fluid contained malignant cells.

"What does that mean?" I ask..

"There must be some cancer there," Brewster replies, sounding as dismayed as we are.

Looking at one another, we are speechless. Jane begins to cry, and I hold her in my arms. At length, she picks up her bag of runes and draws Uruz, the rune of termination and new beginnings. She turns to the Book of Runes and finds these words: "Uruz indicates that the life you have been living has outgrown its form. The form must die so that life energy can be released in a new birth, a new form."

"You know," she whispers stoically, "I'm not afraid to die."

I refused to discuss dying, or even think about it as a serious prospect. Jane is just overreacting. The main thing is that we have learned the cause of her back pain-it is that damaged disc, and in the morning we will go to the hospital for the MRI, then see the orthopedist for his recommendation on how best to correct that problem. With that attempt to put things in order, I retreated to the golf course and Jane took refuge in her journal.


Copyright 2001 A. Robert Smith 

 

 

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