My Date with a Needle

After a lump was found on my thyroid during a routine physical, I was referred to a specialist. On my first visit, the doctor reconfirmed what my other doctor had seen in the ultrasound. The mass was large enough to be very troubling and could be felt under the skin when swallowing. After a blood draw and another ultrasound, I was asked to come back the following week for a needle biopsy as this was the least invasive way to tell if the growth was cancer.

None of my most pressing questions had been answered, but at the same time I was glad to put the biopsy off for another day. I don’t like needles, the blood draw having been fairly painful, so the thought of having one stuck into my throat was really daunting. The tests were staggered because the doctor wanted to see how my thyroid was functioning with a large growth covering the entire left side of it. In retrospect I wish she had gone ahead with the procedure.

The remainder of the work week was spent worrying about the lump and if it might be cancer. As I hit the weekend though my thoughts switched to thinking more and more about needles. I wished I was getting the needle anywhere but in my throat. My tender, vulnerable throat. It is like anything else. Biopsies are uncomfortable no matter where you are being stuck, but in one’s own mind that place is always going to be the very worst place.

Before I knew it, biopsy day was here. I was shaking as I waited in the nearly empty lobby. I felt woozy as I was led back to the procedure room. I worried I might actually faint during the test. I was asked to lie back on the exam table and my neck was swabbed with alcohol. The doctor came in as the nurse was arranging the tools on the tray. I was surprised to see the needle was a normal looking syringe. I had been imagining something gargantuan. She explained that she would be injecting me in the neck with an anesthetic. Then once I was numb, she would determine where to insert the needle into the lump by watching the ultrasound screen. She would collect cells from various sections of the mass that would be sent off to the lab for analysis to determine if cancerous. She would do this three times.

Had I known before this very moment that she would be stabbing me four times in the throat, I would have definitely fainted in the lobby. You have to understand that I am a young woman who has never had any health concerns. This was all foreign to me. And I do tend to obsess about things beyond of my control. Then the doctor stressed that I couldn’t swallow when she had the needle in. It was the most important thing she said. No swallowing when she had the needle in my throat! I took one big swallow and then we began.

As she prepared the needle, she chatted to me. I assumed that she did this to relieve my anxiety and to reassure me she would let me know what was happening every step of the way. She commented that I should thank the doctors at the clinic where I had my physical for spotting it and getting me referred to her promptly. I thought yes that’s right and I silently thanked her for not telling me about the 4 needles before this very moment.

The anesthetic was most painful. It felt exactly like receiving the numbing shot before a dental procedure. There is the pinch of the needle, the burn of the medicine and then after a few minutes, the feeling in your skin starts to go away. Not so bad.

Then came the actual biopsy. It wasn’t painless. I could feel the prick when it breached the surface, but once it was in, I only felt pressure and movement. I didn’t try to look at ultrasound screen to see what the doctor was doing. I kept my eyes glued on the ceiling. My fingers gripped the edge of the table so hard I thought they would break as I tried not to even breathe! Trying not to swallow was the hardest part. When you know you can’t, that’s when you want to. The feeling of the needle is unnatural so your natural inclination is to swallow. It stays in just slightly longer than is comfortable. The most unpleasant part was when the doctor jiggled the needle to try to collect the cells.

When one needle came out, I’d start swallowing like mad, trying to get the urge out of my system, before it was time for the next one. Three for the samples plus one for the numbing, four in total. Each one seemed longer in duration and each time my throat felt a little bit sorer. When it was over, they put a Band-Aid over the injection site and I sat up on the edge of the table to get my bearings. I felt a little like I was in the first stages of a cold. The doctor told me that she personally would call me in ten to fifteen days with the results. When I got in my car, I took the Band-Aid off. There wasn’t a drop of blood on it. There was a tiny pinprick at the base of my throat that was red but no worse looking than a mosquito bite. Waiting at home for me was a box of pastries my mother had bought from my favorite bakery. Surprisingly, I was able to eat one with a little bit of difficulty!

The most important lesson I learned that day is that it wasn’t as bad as my imagination had led me to believe it would be. Perhaps this meant the rest would come out good too. I had survived this, and with it behind me, I began to feel optimistic. I had no reason to. I was still in the middle of a crisis and my odds were still at 3 to 7% cancerous, but it felt like I had cleared a major hurdle. I could put it away for a few days. During that time I felt like I was in a place to take Flower Among the Ashes off of my hard drive and get it ready for publication.

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