Thursday, October 3, 2013

When the New Normal Becomes the Old Normal.

Sonoma Coast
In the midst of the anxiety surrounding the decision to undergo the bone marrow transplant I asked a question that hitherto I had not broached. Nor have I asked since. Before asking I was aware that doctors our lousy fortune tellers, but that didn't stop me. As Dr Schrier and I discussed the details of our joint decision to proceed with the procedure I asked him to predict my future. "If the stem cell transplant works, how long can I expect to live?" I asked, hoping for hope. "Well, generally after four years the disease tends to come back," he reported. Immediately I said,  "I was hoping for ten years."
Where did that number come from? Why not twenty? I see numbers in everything and ten years resided at the corner of pragmatism and optimism; facts and faith.
After the stem cell transplant, but before I knew that it failed, I wrote a fictional story of a man who knew exactly when he was going to die. (Link to Solids) There was no pre-planned allegory or moral that I was trying to convey. It was just a story. Over the years I ascribed many things into the meaning of what 49 year old me was feeling as 54 year old me re-read it. What I see most now is the consummate importance of the unknown. We metaphorilize the future unknown as darkness, yet is it only the place where the light has yet to shine; and we hold the beacon.
Two and a half years ago I stepped down as chief of my department. It was hard to fulfill all of my responsibilities while working only three days a week with mounting side effects of my varied chemotherapy drugs. I was often sick for extended periods of time. I remained on disability and closed my practice to new patients. I focused on a referral practice to treat prostate cancer with radioactive seeds and continued stone lithotripsy on Fridays. Dr. Troxel asked how much longer I expected to work. Given my knowledge of the natural progression of amyloidosis I said I figured to work two more years assuming by then things would have worsened.

The future had a different plan for me.

I continued my chemo. Slowly, I better adapted to the predictable outcomes of my drugs and their side effects seemed less onerous. My disease responded better than expected as the treatment repelled and tamed my bad clones. The tiger remained, but was now quietly curled in the corner just barely out of sight.

Just over two months ago Barbie observed that I hadn't been sick for a long time. I realized that she was right. She added that maybe I should consider going back to work, not only in extending my work hours, but also to take on full duty responsibilities. As such, I would do many more of the types of surgeries that I was trained to do. This would also include call. There have been many times in our marriage when Barbie will suggest something that would completely change the course of where I thought we were going and immediately I know that she is right. It was time to eschew the safety net of disability and move forward with the goal to continue working until I am old enough to retire, just like everyone else does.

Today was that day. I began the first day of my new old life as just a regular urologist working with my partners again to take care of whomever needs our care. It was wonderful. The patients I met today will be my patients for a long time. I truly have no idea of how long I will live nor do I think about it much. I have returned to the masses who live in blissful ignorance of their own mortality. It's a wonderful neighborhood.

How many times have I used the lesson of the importance of accepting the new normal unaware that my old normal lay in the unseen reaches where time takes us all. When the new normal becomes the old normal it uncovers the magnificent adventure that it is to fall forward into the unknown we call future.

"Ten years? Sounds like someone is bargaining with God." Dr Schier had told me.
We are still on good terms.