Tag Archives: blood tests

When your Doctor finds something you weren’t looking for

Me and a subset of my support network (Kevin center, Becky right), having coffee at Sheri’s Java Shack last Friday after my most-recent blood test. Turned out we had reason to smile. Good thing, that!

A few weeks ago I embarked on a new journey, departing from my long-time quest to climb faster by figuring out what has been causing my breathing issues, to dealing with an anomaly in a blood test… a very-high platelet count. Out of maybe 40 different tests run on me, 37 came out beautifully, indications of someone in very good health. 2 or 3 did not, which, I’ll admit, put me into a restless state of mind. The first re-check came back worse, quickly adding a new Doctor to my portfolio, a Hematologist/Oncologist. The fear and trepidation of each incoming blood test, prior to my visit with the Hematologist, was stunning. For the first time I can remember, I felt like I had something I couldn’t fight using my wits, intelligence or strength. A really scary feeling!

New test results continued to arrive on my phone even later that same day, as if someone was deliberately trying to torture me. It made for a very rough weekend. In fact, my phone let me know of a new test result just as my daughter and I were getting ready to ride away from the shop that Friday night. I didn’t check the results until later, but as we started the ride home, we came across a down-on-his-luck guy pushing a shopping cart with his belongings, asking if we knew where a soup kitchen was. We said no (which was truthful) and moved on. 10 seconds later I turned around and headed back to him, checking on my phone to see if I could find one. Nothing open that late. I had $14 in my wallet; I took out $10 and gave it to him. I don’t know why. I just knew it was something I should do. It didn’t make me feel better, but one of my core values seemed to have become more important. All those little situations you don’t give much thought to, where what you do might make the world just a little tiny bit better, or a little tiny bit worse. Always try to choose the better.

The results of that evening’s incoming test were worse than those previous. There was this feeling, a totally irrational feeling, that the “worse” numbers on the retest might be an indication of something bad happening really fast. That feeling had no basis outside of an amateur looking at numbers without having any real context to understand them. But I resolved to handle things better, and besides, I was now on a medication (Hydroxyurea) that has a history of working very well dealing with my specific issue (too many platelets). Give it a chance. And yes, pray.

Some of the fear subsided as I began my meds, and even more so as I continued to ride well, improve even, completing the 100 mile Sequoia Century with my son in fine form. By the time two weeks had passed, I felt OK with things, I was ready for that next test. So I went in Friday morning, knowing I’d be getting those pesky emails later in the day, emails with test results that had the potential to wreck my weekend. I went with Becky and Kevin (seen in the photo) and had a truly good feeling about things, about not just the tests themselves but the future in general.

And at 2:48pm the results came in. Platelets decreased from 3x normal to just 2, with the Doctor hopeful that further improvement will be seen at the current relatively-low dose of Hydroxyurea. Thoughts of things going seriously wrong completely dispelled. Many thanks to my family (kids Becky & Kevin, wife Karen, dog Jack, cats Zack & Zoey), extended family, Chain Reaction employees and customers who have helped keep my spirits up. It’s time to settle in for what’s likely to be a very long journey (in general, scary as “bone marrow” issues are, a diagnosis of essential thrombocythemia does not typically affect lifespan but becomes a long-term managed condition).

Scared to death but ridiculously-normal

(If you’re looking for something cycling-related, there’s nothing to see here, move along. Just an overly-lengthy piece about a guy’s fear of needles and having blood drawn, along with mortality issues and a bit of gulit.)

Confession time. Yesterday was my first “voluntary” trip to a doctor in… could be 35 years. Seriously. Yes, I’ve had a few life insurance physicals, and yes, there was that broken wrist (actually the base of the thumb) a couple years ago. But aside from that, well, let’s just say I’ve done my best to avoid encounters with doctors. It’s not that I have problems with hospitals or doctors per se. I don’t look at Kaiser and think “This place gives me bad memories, ‘cuz it’s where my dad spent the last days of his life 24 years ago.” I don’t live in denial, thinking if I see a doctor, they’re going to discover something terribly wrong with me that I’d rather not know about.

It’s far simpler than that.

I have a pathological fear of needles and having blood drawn. Seriously. I am tough as nails on virtually any sort of pain (for the most part, broken bones & teeth have never bothered me, and when the ‘doc would insist that I take something like Vicodin to “stay ahead of the pain”… well I tried it… once… didn’t like the way it made me feel, and didn’t need it anyway), so this isn’t about pain. It’s about needles, and watching or thinking about blood bubbling up in a tube. It’s about the blood drawer looking at my arms and saying “You’ve got great veins, this is going to be easy!” and I get nervous and manage to collapse them so they have to keep stabbing at me over and over as I get white as a sheet. And when you associate that with anything having to do with a doctor visit.. well, you can see my problem.

This even caused me a fair amount of guilt; when my father was dying (of an unusual blood cancer that hit a lot of people who worked in the newspaper biz at the time, probably having to do with a deadly combo of benzene, lead and photo chemicals), he needed blood, which many family members and friends generously provided. But not me.

But I’m 56 years old now, and in that full-circle sort of thing, the same age as my father when he died. A rude reminder of mortality, and when you talk about metaphorically seeing death staring you in the mirror, you start noticing things like that mole… has it changed? You notice that you’re not as fast on the climbs anymore… is it really just a breathing issue?

So I made an appointment with a generic Doctor at Kaiser, ostensibly to discuss just my breathing issues (likely exercise-induced asthma), but when it becomes quickly apparent that I’m a guy with no (medical) past, it’s almost as if I can hear the door to the exam room locking, aware of my desire to flee, so the good Doctor can order up all manner of blood tests, lung x-rays and whatever else.

And so it was that I went from there to the place they collect your blood, and it was there that I nervously sat down in the chair, and started to think about things in a fatalistic manner, as in, it’s only a matter of time and this will be over. I noticed two vials and hoped that both weren’t going to be used; I imagined blood being coaxed from my veins one drip at a time. But I gamely looked to the side, hoped for the best, felt the slightest of pin pricks, and then did the unthinkable. I forced myself to relax. And amazingly, it was as if I could feel the release of tension and my veins willingly open up and easily fill both vials in record time.

8 minutes later… I kid you not… I get my first email from Kaiser, letting me know the automated part of my blood tests are available. All ridiculously normal. Not happy about the hematocrit level of 44; do I need to microdose EPO to get it up to 50 (max legal limit for cycling before they accuse you of doping) or what? Yes, I can laugh about that.

The second panel came in today, all the cholesterol stuff, liver tests, quite a few things that, if readings are “bad”, point to things that could be trouble. And agin, every single one of them ridiculously normal. Blood sugar levels, cholesterol, the two biggies, perfectly fine. No indications whatsoever of anything like my father died from, and yes, even though I realize it was almost certainly environmental, you still wonder.

There’s more in store for me down the road; internal plumbing inspections for one (I shouldn’t have joked about cyclists being obsessive and “anal” about heart rates, as that provided a nice lead-in to a discussion about colonoscopies), and the previously-mentioned x-ray of my lungs to rule out any damage from 2nd-hand exposure to cigarette smoke as a little kid. But the rest of it doesn’t scare me. And the next blood test doesn’t scare me nearly so much as this last one did.  –Mike–