Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Good Doctor

We had been referred to Dr. Gail Rosseau. Her online biography listed a stack of degrees, speaking engagements, associations, and awards. What I didn’t know was that, according to a Chicago Tribune article, at one time she had been on the President’s short list for Surgeon General slot. Even without knowing that, her bio told us that she was what we needed.  We scheduled an appointment for her earliest availability.    

Dr. Rosseau’s office was maybe 10 – 15 minutes away from our house.  While it had the same vanilla furniture that the ophthalmologist’s office had, the place bustled.  Patients were zipping in and out. Nurses were walking purposefully. The receptionist was awake and pleasant. These weren’t characters out of an unhappy Swedish movie; these were medical practitioners with important work to be done. I felt reassured.

How does one describe Dr. Rosseau?  I think the answer is with lots of adjectives and exclamation points.  While physically she’s a short blond woman with impeccable taste, her PRESENCE is nearly overwhelming.  She strides into the room, grabs your hand, and introduces herself with a strong, hardy voice: “I’m Gail Rosseau and we’re going to take good care of you!”

And if she didn’t literally say that, I felt as though she had. She was strong. She was confident. She was everything you would ever want in somebody who would be cutting open your skull and scooping out a brain tumor.  From that moment on, my wife and I have referred to her as “The-Good-Doctor.”

She whisked us into a viewing room that had an entire wall which was backlit by some special medical lights.  She set a large piece of sturdy medical film on an imitation wood railing.  The film looked like an X-ray of a skull.  In fact, it was my skull. Dr. Rosseau then said something like “See this big black area here—this is a brain tumor.”

The black area looked like the biggest thing inside my head. This is commonly referred to as the “Oh Shit” moment. You can’t run away from it, you can’t hide from it.  It’s there inside your head no matter where you go.

I mean, we all know on an intellectual level that we are mortal, but being shown that picture of  a dark tumorous mass crushing the rest of my brain, well it had the emotional impact of being hit with a sledge hammer. It hurt.

Brain tumors, in general, are not that common. According to the American Brain Tumor Association (“ABTA”), “for every 100,000 people in the United states, approximately 209 are living following the diagnosis of a brain tumor.  This represents a prevalence rate of 209.0 per 100,000 person years.” It’s like the odds of winning a lottery…only this is a lottery you don’t want to win. “The-Good-Doctor” believed that my tumor was meningioma, which, in the world of brain tumors, is pretty common. 

Roughly 32% of all brain tumors are a meningioma. If you have to have a brain tumor, this is the one to have: it’s slow-growing, benign (i.e. not cancerous) and rarely spreads to other parts of the body.  Said differently, brain cancers are really, really, really bad.  My meningioma tumor was merely “bad”.

I don’t remember much else about the meeting.  She had a very competent assistant. They gave us some guidelines for the next few weeks prior to surgery. The immediate issue, of course, was that now we had to tell everybody.

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