Thursday, December 2, 2010

When Patient Fatigue Sets In

I'll never forget my first day as a wide-eyed freshman at a small university in South Carolina. When I learned that one of my roomies was a senior, I gushed, "Oh, it must be so sad to know that this is your last year." "Believe me," she replied. "When the time comes, you're ready."

Fast forward a few decades to a post-stem-cell-transplant visit to the City of Hope. I was slowly (and reluctantly) weaning my way from three to one visit per week. When I learned that a fellow patient was there for her annual appointment, I felt like a college freshman all over again. I couldn't imagine a stretch of 52 weeks without an appointment any more than I could imagine leaving dorm life behind.

Funny how three more years as a student and a patient changes your perspective. By the time I hit my junior year, I was plagued with student fatigue. You know the drill - when you think you're going to scream if you have to write one more paper or attend one more lecture or eat one more meal in the cafeteria.

Now I have patient fatigue, but not the kind that comes from massive doses of chemo. I'm simply tired of being a patient. If I have to take one more test or see one more specialist or endure one more procedure or . . . you get the idea.

Unlike my early days as a student or patient, I'm not as willing to do research or ask questions, and that's too bad. I'm still beating myself up over a City of Hope visit in August. My doctor and I celebrated the good news of clean, cancer-free scans and pondered the bad news of continued weight loss (I tipped the scales at 106 that day) and a host of GI problems. When it came time to discuss the results of my bone density scan, the doctor commented that my bones were thin. I didn't bother to ask the obvious follow-up question: "How thin?"

Six weeks later, I broke my hip, an event that led me to once again ask, "How thin?"

Last week I got the answer to that question with a printout of my bone density exam. "Osteosporosis" was the headline. The results indicated that I was eight times more likely to break a hip than my counterparts with normal scans.

Would this knowledge have prevented my broken hip? I doubt it. But it does make me think twice about wearing slippery socks on hardwood floors (although my accident happened with bare feet). And it does remind me that, in spite of patient fatigue, it's important to pay attention in class.