Today's Image
April 10, 2002

Two years ago, my mother was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. She underwent surgery to have her thyroid completely removed, and then she was given radioactive iodine, which meant she had to be isolated from all humans for three days. Her voice changed; she felt awful. After the treatment, she had to go on a synthetic thyroid hormone. She'll be on it for the rest of her life.

Subsequent scans revealed that the surgeon performing the surgery did not, in fact, remove all of her thyroid; a small piece was left. The cancer appeared to be gone, though. The fallout from the remaining thyroid sliver was that, in order to prevent a recurrence of the cancer, she had to be on a much higher dosage of her thyroid medication than would be otherwise necessary. The required level of the hormone gave her hot flashes and robbed her of her ability to concentrate; she had horrible mood swings and no energy. She also had to undergo periodic tests that mandated weeks of a miserable low-iodine diet that made her hate life itself.

Worse, the doctors didn't seem to be able to decide what the right dosage would be. Every time she had her levels checked, they were wrong. Nobody seemed as upset about this as Mom; her doctors seemed overly calm and disinterested in her case. Mom did her own research and brought documents and books with her to her appointments. Her doctors were dismissive...and then they closed practice and left town. Every doctor she tried ended up leaving, in the course of two years.

For much of those two years, I advised her to just give up on finding a decent doctor in her area. "Johns Hopkins is only a couple of hours away," I told her. "Just go there!" She was too busy to be able to take the time away from work, and wasn't sure her insurance would cover it.

Finally, several months ago, she went to Hopkins. They treated her like she should have been treated from the very beginning, asking her every question under the sun and going over her body from top to bottom. Mom found her thick chart greatly entertaining and proudly showed it off to us at Christmas. I felt relieved that she was finally under competent care.

Last night she called me. "I have some news that you are not going to believe," she said. "They now think I never had cancer."

Her pre-surgery films had been examined at Hopkins, and the report had come back stating that, while there was now no way to tell definitively, Mom's thyroid looked completely benign. In other words, she had surgery for nothing. She was on super-high levels of her medication for nothing. She was on a low-iodine diet for nothing. She suffered for two years for nothing.

Eric said, "I smell blood." I do, too.

"You know, Mom, another woman would sue."

"I know.

Mom is firmly of the belief that, no matter what, Christians do not sue. I don't agree with her, but there's no changing her mind. When I was a little girl, she once slipped over broken jars of baby food in a grocery store; an employee had dropped them and had gone to get a mop without putting up any kind of warning. Mom's leg was shredded on the broken glass and was badly bleeding. The manager hovered over her as she cleaned herself up; he knew the store was at fault and that they could be held liable. Mom wouldn't think of it. She even continued to shop at that store.

This is much, much more serious than a jar of baby food or a scraped leg. They removed a perfectly functional organ from her body. Mom's philosophy, however, remains steadfast and unshaken.

"I couldn't sue if I wanted to, anyway. It was the Armed Forces hospital that read the films the first time, and you can't sue the government. The doctors are gone. There's nobody to sue."

That can't be accurate, can it? Surely somebody should be held liable for erring with my mother's body like that. Even if they won't be held to it, there needs to be the possibility of accountability.

Mom is just happy to have things heading toward normal once more. She was bubbling over about being able to eat seafood when I talked to her last night. She said that it will take four weeks of her new medication dosage beore she starts to feel like herself again, but that knowing the end is in sight is giving her renewed hope.

I love hearing her so happy. I must also admit to being relieved for one selfish reason: while she still legitimately had thyroid disease, and that will likely be passed on to me eventually, the threat of a genetically inherited cancer has disappered somewhat from my horizon. It was definitely good news that we received yesterday.

But I still want to hunt down the doctors who stole two years of happiness from my mother, and I want to make them suffer the way they did to her. I can't, and she won't, but I see red whenever I think of the atrocity of what they did to her. They hurt my mommy, and for that there should be justice.

previous one year ago:
I'd never heard of the one where everybody coats their hands with Vaseline and tries to see how many cotton balls stick to them, though.
two years ago:
I checked with the librarians and clerks, and nobody had seen anybody walk out with a bench under their arm.
On the Stereo:
Radio talk show

On the Bookshelf:
City of Bones

Gratuitous Sam

Baby piano


Going out?


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