There are a just a couple details regarding my care over the last few days that seem unfortunate not to include in this chronicle—and also in some ways heighten the sense that perhaps this whole experience is teetering a little into a world of powerful magic beyond our understanding (But maybe that’s just Duke? asks this devout yet unmistakably shaken Tarheel).
One goes like this: Dr. Georgiade, my surgeon-to-be and the chief of plastic surgery at Duke, was not in clinic at the cancer center on Friday when we saw him. Instead we were sent to his offices at The Aesthetic Center—a couple miles down Erwin Road from the main Duke Hospital craziness.
I liked Dr. Georgiade when we met him at my first appointment. He is friendly and straight shooting. As my friend Drew has articulated, he has a little bit of that “fighter pilot” vibe that surgeons can sometimes project and he is unnervingly hard of hearing (scalpel? I thought you said apple!), but he exudes competence and kindness.
I liked him even better after our (albeit somewhat traumatic) visit on Friday.
First off, The Aesthetic Center is appropriately brand-spanking-new-looking and very lovely—tucked back among perfectly B-cup-sized little rolling hills in a dappled-shaded medical park with parking for weeks.
From the get-go, the whole scene felt a little Truman Show-y, something we wouldn’t exactly put our fingers on until almost back in Greensboro on the drive home.
We had actually messed up my appointment time and were running an hour late. When we talked to the nurse (who answered the phone!) she had said, “That’s ok! Come on in anyway! Just drive safely!”
So fresh and newly constructed was the whole complex, it almost seemed fortunate that we arrived a little late to give the numerous landscapers time to lay out more pine straw in anticipation of our arrival. A couple boxwoods were hastily planted as we walked down the pathway toward the office.
Once inside, I went to the desk and the receptionist looked up and said, “Nina Riggs?” Yes, I said, I’m so sorry I’m late!
“It’s no problem at all,” she said. “Just take a seat and I’ll tell them you’re here.”
No insurance card. No co-pay. No 43 HIPAA forms. No photo ID.
So John and I took a seat. The waiting room was silent and comfortable. There were two other couples waiting, leafing through magazines, but they didn’t speak or look up or have their names called, and they looked suspiciously like set extras.
Once in the back (after a 2-minute wait), we entered an exam room where a tech was already waiting to take my vitals (heartrate: 114! I guess I was a tad nervous), etc. Then entered the nurse, who introduced herself as Old Dee—she was DEFINITELY straight from central casting. Hilarious and kind and a music-to-the-ears Boston accent (turns out she is from Andover), I loved her immediately.
When Dr. Georgiade came in he said, “So glad you made it! I was worried when you didn’t show!” and Old Dee vigorously nodded in agreement. “Yup, he had me call over to the cancer center to make sure you didn’t go there by mistake!”
Um. That is certainly a first. Perhaps that’s what the Duke web site means by patient-centered care?!
Then we entered the unpleasantness of the tough conversation about where things stand with my current treatment. The occult tumor. The you’ve-sure-thrown-us-a-curveball-here-young-lady bit. John’s already told you all that. Old Dee finished Georgiade’s sentences for him. At one point she might have straightened his bowtie. Then, when all the questions were done, Old Dee pulled out a sample mastectomy drain and the doctor announced that was his cue to leave.
Much later, as we came out into the hallway to leave, Dr. Georgiade was just standing there smiling at us. “You can leave through that door,” said Old Dee, pointing at the back door, “No need to check out.”
And they stood there together waving at us from the hallway. “Have a good afternoon!”
As we drove out away from The Aesthetic Center we saw no other cars on the drive. I couldn’t make out the name of a single other practice in the complex—too dappled was the shade. The landscapers had gone home, but now that I think about it I may have seen some workers striking the set as we pulled out onto Erwin Road.
The second notable craziness: At 6:30 on Saturday morning, when I woke up with my whole face swollen shut and hives covering my body from head to toe, I almost fainted at the sight of my bald swollen splotchy tongue-big dog-lipped self in the bathroom mirror. I walked out and woke John up and said, “Um, think we need to go to the ER.”
To his great credit, he took one (pretty astonished) look at me and said, “First let’s try a Benadryl.” He knows this drill pretty well. He was right—we avoided the ER, but by 8:30am I still wasn’t a lot better looking, so we decided to call the Duke Urgent Line (why do these things always happen on the weekend?!).
What happened next is still killing me. I dialed the phone, spoke briefly to an operator about what was up, and not 20 seconds later a voice came over the phone, “This is Dr. Cavanaugh.” The Queen herself! In my bedchamber! On a Saturday morning!
She had some ideas—take some steroid pills, try Allegra, go to the ER if the swelling returns. We talked for about five minutes—just one of Time’s Top 100 Most Influential People in the World and me, as I itched my head and every other corner of my body.
[Addendum to the Addendum: Today I called Duke back to follow up on whether I should keep taking the steroids and other meds since the hives are still happening, and this time a nurse ran interference. When I spoke with the nurse again this afternoon, she informed me that the Queen was “decidededly not pleased” that I had not followed her advice more to a tee by not going to ER when the rash returned. The guilt I have felt since that phone call is maybe more crushing than last week’s biopsy blow. I am so, so sorry I was a bad patient, Dr. Cavanaugh. It will never happen again.]