I glanced at the clock and realize that I’ve been working in complete silence for the past three hours. I’ve been very productive in that time: editing blog posts, curating Pinterest boards, crafting terms and conditions for a giveaway, adding blog posts to WordPress, emailing employees tasks to do, responding to emails, updating my time on Harvest, sending a meme to a co-worker on Slack, emailing clients with questions, following up with influencers. I’ve done a days worth of work in three hours as I cram in as much as humanly possible before the start of Phase II of treatment please g-d tomorrow.
But last week, I played 20 Questions with Dr. Moshe Gatt at Hadassah University Medical Center in Ein Kerem. Dr. Gatt is my second opinion doctor, the specialist I went to see hours after my confirmed diagnosis of diffuse large b-cell lymphoma back in December 2017. I like Dr. Gatt a lot, and it’s not because I truly enjoyed this article he penned years ago that I found via Google stalking, but he has a great bedside manner, came highly recommended, and he responds to patients via email and WhatsApp. That’s a huge plus in my book. While I’m still very happy with my care at Shaare Tzedek Medical Center and I 100% trust in my Doctor, I wanted the opportunity to speak with Dr. Gatt before I began Phase II of my treatment plan.
So, I put together a list of questions before our meeting and recruited the help of Gaby’s Aunt Della who joined me at the first meeting so it was very appreciated that she joined me at this meeting. The appointment was at 4:30 p.m. on a Tuesday and Gaby was knee deep in carpool and childcare.
The issue with using Sharap, which is basically where you pay a high fee for access to a specialist without going through your Kupat Cholim or waiting months for your appointment, is that the Doctors usually see people off hours. By the time we got to the -3 floor of the Shareet Institute building, the department was all but deserted except for a number of people scattered through the waiting room. Another plus of going with Della is that she didn’t automatically join the people waiting in the waiting room, she went through the wooden “gate” and towards the doctors offices in search of Dr. Gatt. We were on time for our appointment and wanted to make sure Dr. Gatt wasn’t just siting waiting for us.
We couldn’t find his name on any doors and a number of doors were closed, so we stopped into one of the offices with a physician and an open door and asked the Doctor if she could point us to Dr. Gatt’s office. “Dr. Nasty,” as I will refer to her since I do not want to use her real name however I do know who she is, told us that she had no idea who Dr. Gatt was and blew us off. Weird, but okay. We considered asking another doctor, who was meeting with patients himself, but a hospital staff member passing us in the hallway was very friendly and pointed to one of the closed doors where a meeting was in progress. We thanked her for confirming his office and sat directly across the hall in a waiting area that’s marked “for employees only (the door was open!).”
Now, I should mention that my RBC’s were really low that day. They were under 10 and normally that could warrant a blood transfusion. But, since I’m thank g-d young and relatively “healthy,” my Doctor just prescribes lots of rest and in the past my body has rebounded. But, when my RBC’s are really low, I’m exhausted, it’s difficult for me to take a deep breath, and I feel like crap. So, I was thankful for the comfortable chairs and the ability to rest before our meeting. But it had already been a long day and I really just wanted to go home, crawl into my bed, and go to sleep.
Twenty minutes go by and I’m starting to get a little agitated. I decide to talk to the people out in the waiting room to make sure there was no one else waiting before us to see Dr. Gatt. You can imagine the people in the waiting room were just as agitated but after confirming that no one else was waiting for Dr. Gatt, I went back to wait with Della. In the office next door, a woman begins to cry and shout at the doctor, and I try to distract myself. I can’t emotionally handle the anguish of someone else’s pain and so Della and I try to talk over this stranger’s grief. By 5:15 p.m., I was pretty much done waiting and decided to knock politely on the door to confirm that Dr. Gatt was even in there in the first place. Five minutes later, the door opens and Dr. Gatt emerges all smiles. I tell him that we are his 4:30 p.m. appointment and he gestures for us to enter his office and then disappears.
There’s a draft in his office but otherwise, nothing else has changed in the four and a half months since our first appointment except for me. Before bone marrow biopsies and six rounds of R-CHOP chemo, night after night of prednisone inflicted night sweats and insomnia, daily Clexane injections and hours of bone pain from neupogen, weekly PICC line cleaning and what used to be a head full of Jewfro hair. During our first appointment, I sat in complete terror as Dr. Gatt explained my disease, my prognosis, and a treatment plan. During our first appointment, I had no idea what the next five months would look like, or what my life would suddenly become.
“I didn’t recognize you at first,” Dr. Gatt said, when he returned to his office.
I don’t recognize myself these days either, I wanted to respond, but held my tongue.
I wondered if he could see the changes beyond the wool cap covering my obvious bald head, or the deep dark circles beneath my eyes and the dry, ashy skin of my face. Time was short and so I launched into my 20 questions and he patiently answered every single one. When it came to Phase II of the treatment plan, Dr. Gatt and Dr. Ashkenazi differed on one specific aspect. Otherwise, they were both aligned and so even though I am not looking forward to spending 4-6 days in the hospital (x2), I accept that high-dose methotextrate is a necessary course of action for my treatment.
Midway through question #9, Dr. Nasty knocks on the door and enters the room unapologetically. She needs his help with what appears to be a specific note regarding a patient’s care and they confer for a good five minutes as Della and I sit in stunned silence. This is the doctor who didn’t even know who Dr. Gatt was and yet, here they were discussing a specific patient’s care. She exits the room as unapologetically as she entered and we return to my 20 questions.
But I can’t stop thinking about how awful she was to us, and how unnecessary it was for her to be so unbelievably rude. She could have said that she was too busy to help us, or she could have helpfully just pointed in the direction of Dr. Gatt’s office. She could have apologized for interrupting our meeting, which cost me a LOT of money that we already were made to wait for almost an hour. She could have just been a decent human being, but she chose none of the above. I’m truly thankful that she is not my physician. I don’t care how talented you are as a doctor, but if you’re a shitty human being, you’re worthless.
As Dr. Gatt typed up a summary of our meeting, Della asked her question. She wanted to know when my hair would grow back. Dr. Gatt answered “two weeks,” and Della pressed him to clarify. Two weeks from the completion of my last round of RCHOP, my hair should start growing back. I resisted the urge to run my hand over the sparse tufts of hair that remained. It doesn’t matter though, I don’t want any of the hair that’s still on my head to remain after treatment is done.
When treatment is finished, and the PICC line has been removed, I’m going to muster up whatever strength I have in me. I’m going to shave whatever little hair is left on my head until my scalp is smooth and then I’m going to finally go to the Mikvah. And when I emerge from those waters, six months of torture will hopefully be behind me forever, and I will truly be reborn.
Tomorrow starts Phase II of treatment, including a new type of chemotherapy drug. Please keep me in your prayers: Lior Shira Batya bat Chaya Yehudit.