I Know I’m Just a Kid, but Thanks, Doc
This narrative will tell the story of my closest friend’s experience as a kid being diagnosed with a fibroblastic sarcoma in his left leg. For anonymity, he has asked that his name not be included, but agreed to use his initials, so he will be referred to as RC. In an effort to accurately tell his story, in his words, some questions from the interview may be omitted, phrased in third person or paraphrased. Additionally, the vernacular in which he spoke will be used and may not always be grammatically correct. Let’s take a journey through RC’s illness experience and see how it has affected his life.
How it Began
It is something I’ll never forget. Like all other kids in elementary school, I enjoyed recess–swinging from the monkey bars, jumping off of the swing at my highest point, having foot races with my friends…it was the highlight of my day. But over time, I realized that after recess, and more frequently, throughout the day, my left leg would give me trouble. It was an awful pain mixed with numbness and sometimes even tingling. I told my parents about it and they chalked it up to “growing pains”–I mean I was pretty tall for my age, so I didn’t think much of it. Plus, they only took us to the doctor when we REALLY needed to go; being immigrants from Guatemala, they wanted to ensure that every dollar spent was well worth it.
One Saturday while playing with my younger brother outside, I fell and this quickly changed my parent’s “diagnosis” of growing pains. Falling wasn’t unusual for us…we were boys; we liked to rough-house and get physical with each other. The unusual part though, was me not being able to get up afterwards. I moved my right leg and it “worked” and in my head I was moving my left leg but my eyes showed me that it wasn’t “working”. I was young, but I looked and I didn’t see any bones sticking out of my skin and I wasn’t feeling the pain and numbness that I usually felt after playing, so it couldn’t be anything serious right? My dad picked me up, carried me to the car and off to the emergency room we went.
I don’t remember too much about the actual ER visit that day, besides my parents looking very concerned and upset. During the time there though, I slowly began to regain feeling back in my leg and was walking before we left a few hours later. When we returned home, I was told that I wasn’t going to school on Monday, but instead we were going to visit a doctor who could hopefully figure out what was going on with my leg. At this point, I wasn’t too scared yet; there was a little hint of worry, but I was a kid so I just brushed it off.
We arrived at a huge doctor’s office early Monday morning; we were the first of three families there. I vividly remember the other kids there…their hair was very thin, if they had any at all; they looked very small compared to my brother and me and they were dressed in jackets and long pants despite it being summertime. I asked my parents “what’s wrong with them?” My mother began to cry and walked outside for a few minutes, returning right before the nurse called us back. Like any other doctor visit, my height and weight were taken, the annoying lady put the temperature probe in my mouth and continued to ask questions…like I was going to answer them right then, then told us that the doc would be in shortly. In the time we waited for the doc to come in, the image of those three sickly looking kids were burned into my head and I couldn’t stop thinking about them. Am I going to lose my hair? Will I get that small? What’s wrong with me? Why did my mom cry so hard? Why does my brother look so frightened? Now I was terrified. I sat there in silence and waited for what seemed like forever
Finally, we heard a light knock on the door and in walks this medium sized, quite fit, bald headed man with a funny mickey mouse bow tie. Before he could finish his sentence, which began with “Hi budd…” , I quickly blurted out “ am i really sick? Am I gonna look like those other kids in the lobby”? And his response was one that I will never forget. Out of the tons of things he could have said he chose these words verbatim “You’re jumping the gun kiddo…I was just gonna ask how you were doing…and if you like video games? We have a huge playroom right down the hall and I’d love to walk you there and get to know a little bit more about you. AND, you can bring your brother along too”. I can’t lie, I was still a little upset that he didn’t answer my questions, but was very intrigued by the video games, so I happily obliged. Looking back on the particular interaction as an adult, I see that it truly shaped my expectations for future doctor visits with Doc and other doctors as well. While in the playroom, Doc seemed very interested in my home and school life; asking what was my favorite foods, favorite games to play, favorite subjects in school. Favorite this, favorite that. He never asked though, about my leg and how I ended up in his office. After a few short minutes, he left me and my brother to our own avail…I have to say, I was smashing him in Madden and it was great.
After some time, Doc came and took us back to the room. It was the moment we had all been waiting for–he buttered me up with video games and toys just to tell me that I’m going to be just like those other kids, great. He started by explaining to me that our bodies have these connections (which I now know are nerves) all over that communicate with our brain so that we can do pretty much everything we do, like move. He then continued to tell me that I had this collection of masses (which I now know was a tumor), resting on one of the major nerves in my leg that can sometimes cause pain and numbness. AH! So this is why my leg hurt a lot after recess and why I couldn’t walk that day? I asked in my head. In the smoothest tone and with a headnod, he confirmed my suspicion. This was kind of creepy, because how did he know what I was thinking? Nonetheless, it was very much appreciated. From there, he told me how WE would fix this. I want to emphasize the WE here. He told me that he would need my help; that he would need me to be brave and trust him, his staff and my parents throughout the entire process. I understood this and wanted to do everything I could to help Doc. But the true understanding didn’t come until later in life, which I’ll talk about in just a second.
In order to relieve the stress that the tumor was placing on my nerve, surgery was required. The hospital was quite different from the huge office with the playroom; things felt more serious and it smelt kind of funny. As we all sat there, me in a hospital gown that covered everything except my butt, my brother playing his gameboy and my parents seemingly calm although their son was about to have his leg sliced open ( a little comic relief here :)), Doc walks in and quickly, but very efficiently tells us the game plan for the ensuing surgery. Some nurse would come in soon to give me meds then take me to the “OR” so that we could get things rolling. Apparently I’d be pretty groggy and have a “mind fog” (better known as being
high…I’m sure one can relate) when I returned. As I was wheeled to the “OR” I was a little nervous. Big lights, lots of people in blue paper clothing and masks…what are they about to do to me? Then I remembered that Doc needed my help, I had to be brave for him. I moved over to the new bed in the “OR” and the rest is history. The next thing I remember is asking my nurse for some ice cream because “my mouth was as dry as the Sahara Desert.” I couldn’t tell if the surgery worked or not because it was still pretty numb and my incision was closed by like twenty staples, which was really cool. Minutes later, I was scolded by the nurse for pulling back the dressing to look at them. I couldn’t walk for a week after surgery so imagine the fun I had whenever I needed to go to the bathroom or shower…I’m really thankful for my brother. Now, let’s go home.
I return home a few days later and everyone is being so nice to me and doing everything that I say–it was pretty nice, I can’t lie. Days turn into weeks, weeks into months, months into years and now we’re here. I can now say that the tumor was removed, and he nor his nasty cousins never returned; and knock on wood, they never will. I have a huge scar on the inner portion of my left leg that reminds me of my experience with Doc, but more so than that, I have the memory of how he took the time to make sure I understood what was happening and ensured me that he would be there every step of the way. Due to the nature of the surgery, sometimes it hurts when I overdo an exercise or stand up for too long, but I continue to place my confidence in Doc and believe that I’m going to be just fine. I was a kid then, but as an adult, I truly thank Doc, because he showed me what a true doctor-patient relationship should be like. Never once did I feel uncomfortable, unseen or disrespected–as a kid. I’ll always have a piece of Doc with me. Yes, because of this experience, but also because my wife is a pediatric oncologist, funny how things work out, right? Thank you guys so much for listening and I hope that my story helps you in your future.
The author intends to study medicine with the career goal of becoming a surgical critical care physician.