Memory Lane

August 15, 2006 at 11:07 am (Uncategorized)

“Look! There’s Exempla,” Jay said, as we drove into Denver last week. “We made payments to them for over a year.” Oddly, there was almost a touch of fondness in his voice, as if we were passing old friends on I-25, not hospital chains that have threatened to send us to collection agencies.

I haven’t written for a while because Jay and I both got the stomach flu, and then, as soon as we were able to wander a few feet from a toilet, we headed off to Colorado to visit family. (By the outpouring of concerned e-mails in my absence from the blog, I have deduced that a total of three people, all related to me, read this site. Oh well….)

The drive from Montana to Denver is one we’ve done many times. For about a year and a half, I saw sarcoidosis specialists at National Jewish Hospital. I stopped making the pilgrimage to Denver when my favorite doctor left, handing me over to a colleague who, although I’m sure she was very competent, was also very German. Her authoritarian streak grated on me in ways too numerous to detail. Suffice it to say that she once told me not to bother trying to convey my emotional response to having a chronic illness to her. “I’ve been doing this so long,” she said, “that I know already what’s going on with you.” She also told me to keep my e-mails to her to three lines or less. “I don’t have time to read more than that,” she said. Ah, the humility of doctors.

Eventually Denver sent me to Mount Sinai in New York because they couldn’t figure out why my cardiac sarcoidosis symptoms showed improvement, but my heart kept enlarging and losing function. Or maybe they were just sick of receiving my verboten four-line e-mails. The doctors at Mount Sinai couldn’t shed any light on my burgeoning heart either, and I figured that as long as I was schlepping across the continent to get vague answers and perplexed head scratching, I might as well go see my favorite doctor who had left National Jewish and moved to Philadelphia.

Before I switched facilities, though, we trekked to Denver about every three months. The doctors wanted to monitor my response to medications quarterly, and apparently the MRI machines in Montana were not advanced enough to do the job.  I’ve subsequently realized that the question of where to get medical imaging done has less to do with the resolution of a particular machine and more to do with the territory marked out by a specific radiologist. I’ve come to believe that radiologists are some weird species rising from the mists of medical mythology — half dog, half man. It’s the only way to explain why so much metaphorical pissing and marking goes on in the world of interpreting CT scans and MRIs. No self-respecting radiologist will ever, under any circumstances, countenance a scan performed or interpreted by another radiologist.

Driving to Denver last week, then, was a sort of medical homecoming for us. It was like returning to our ancestral manor of sarcoidosis. See, National Jewish does limited testing in-house, so they had to send me to other facilities for all my CT scans, MRIs, spinal taps, stress tests, echocardiograms, electrophysiology studies, and heart catherizations. Since National Jewish rarely thought to schedule my tests in advance, they had to scramble once we had arrived. This meant shipping me all over the greater metro Denver area. I had a spinal tap in Littleton at the Adventist Hospital; my cardiac MRIs at University of Colorado, Anschutz Pavilion; my neurological MRI at Rose Medical Center, a kidney MRI at Exempla; and stress tests at the University of Colorado’s other campus. Our memories of Denver are marked by the looming, generic shadows of medical complexes — many of which we are still paying off.

In fact, the entire route to Denver from Montana was a sad tale of medical misadventure. Cheyenne, Wyoming, reminded us of a frantic trip to that city’s emergency room to repair the leak in my spinal fluid (caused by the spinal tap performed in Littleton) that gave me the most shocking headache on one trip home. The Best Western in Sheridan, Wyoming, is the unfortunate place where Andrew and I spent a very long night throwing up with some stomach bug.  Billings, Montana, is where I was first diagnosed with sarcoidosis. And so on.

But before I could get too sorry for myself, it occurred to me that there are a parallel set of markers to go along with the medical ones. I am so lucky to have never had to make a medical trip alone. I have always had Jay and Andrew by my side, as well as my parents, who would make the long trip to help out with Andrew while Jay and I saw doctors. One time, Jay’s Mom even flew in from Boston to care for Andrew. With so much support, I have never had to return to an empty hotel room to struggle with bad news by myself; the flurry of activity around me has kept me from dwelling on my illness.

Every site of a medical test is also a reminder of something more pleasant. Exempla Hospital, where I had to drink some foul-tasting concoction for some imaging scan or another, is also adjacent to an impressive fire station, where Andrew got a personal tour and even got to sit in the driver’s seat of a fire engine. University of Colorado is ringed by Starbucks, so whenever I think of the lousy visits to the cardiologist, I also think of lattes and coffee cake and holding Jay’s hand in the clear, mountain light. There is an awesome Ethiopian restaurant just a couple blocks from National Jewish, where Jay, Andrew, my parents and I had at least a dozen happy meals. My Mom and I have hunted for bargains in the Cherry Creek mall, and one time, I even won tickets to the ballet. And all the congested streets linking the various medical centers have entertained my traffic-obsessed son. Some of my fondest memories involve driving back from some test or appointment and spying Baby Andrew in his stroller, flanked by my parents, sitting on a street corner near our hotel, just watching the cars and trucks go by.

It is a testament to the people I love that my drive down memory lane into Denver has more happy markers than sad ones and that I can now laugh about leaky spinal fluid and spurting IVs and doctors with attitudes. I also figure that I could write a guide to the hospitals and emergency rooms of the intermountain west. With the profits from that book, maybe we can finish paying off Exempla.


  1. Paul said,

    Hi rebecca

    Make that 4 readers – one not related and yes I missed your insights.

    As far as the guide book goes you should write it – it would be a great read (then again maybe you shouldn’t………)


  2. Amy said,

    5, another not related. By blood at least, but you are a sister of my heart. And I also miss your words, almost as much as I miss you.
    Seeya soon!

  3. rebecca said,

    thanx guys 😉

  4. Mellissa Welford said,

    I agree with the others. I missed you too. I kept checking the site for updates, and just figured you were having a week similar to mine. lol. Glad you are over the stomach flu.

  5. Carol Schaake said,

    BECKY, Another non-relative active reader. My family and I played with your parents and sibs in Gainsville, FL, 1966-68, and in various places and times since, sharing fun stories of strawberry “blood” thru-out your car, homemade champagne spewing in the kitchen, and with 7 kids under 7, making sugar cookies, creating paper maiche angels & wise-men (paste and newsprint everywhere & then they got moldy), swimming, shopping, etc… . And your adventures continue, hopefully in a book. If you must be sick, you are lucky to be supported by such a loving, talented, special family. I think of you often.

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