“Hey, baby…(long pause)…where are you?” It was Libby’s voice on the other end of our cell phone conversation on a fall morning in 2008; now, nearly six years later, every word and every awkward pause of the conversation is frozen in my mind.
I’m certainly not alone here, we all have them, those indelible moments from our past when it seemed as if time stood still, those events in our memories which are separated from the ordinary days by the preface, “I can tell you exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard about ________________. For me, the big three were the Kennedy assassination, the space shuttle disaster and the twin tower attacks on 9/11; or at least they were before I received that call from Libby.
September 2, 2008 was a very ordinary Tuesday morning as I left my office on a short two-day sales trip with planned stops in Athens, Maryville and Sevierville, TN,; along the way I would be seeing some of my existing bank customers and calling on some new ones. As I exited off of Interstate 75 toward Athens I was thinking about the fact that, for me at least, selling was more like getting paid to visit with friends than actual work.
Libby called my cell phone that morning and there was a strange timbre in her voice that I will always remember as she said, “Hey baby…………where are you?” An odd question, I thought, since I had told her where I was going just a few hours ago while packing my bag. As I began telling her again where I was going it seemed as though she wasn’t listening this time either because she said, “Oh… OK…. well that’s nice”. After just a moment of silence, it was evident that her mind was somewhere else when she added, “Oh yea, that’s right, didn’t you tell me that already?”
Libby normally went with me on these trips but she wanted to work on her children’s program at church and besides she had scheduled her mammogram for the first thing that morning. Libby always dreaded her mammograms which seemed to become more painful every year because of the increasing number of fibrous cysts that she developed in her breasts, in addition, the cysts made it more difficult for the radiologists to read the results, causing more than one cancer scare in the past.
As our phone conversation continued, my stomach was suddenly in knots and I still can’t fully explain what I was feeling, but the strange tone of Libby’s voice made me uncharacteristically pull off of the road so I could concentrate on the conversation, that’s when I asked, “What’s wrong Libby?”
After a brief moment of silence, Libby began, “I’m sure its nothing, I probably shouldn’t have bothered you with this but…” . Libby then went on to explain that a new radiologists had read the mammogram and even though she explained her history of fibrous cysts he wanted her to see a surgeon for a sonogram as soon as possible, in fact, they had set up an appointment for the following day at 4:00 PM. Then in typical Libby fashion she told me, “Barry, you go ahead and keep your appointments, I’ll get Miss Helen to go with me because I am sure its just the cysts like every time before”, but I could tell from her shaky voice that she had not convinced herself of that fact.
At about the same time that Libby was saying, “Barry, you go ahead and keep your appointments…” I had already turned toward home, accelerating up the I-75 South on-ramp while Libby continued to fill me in on exactly what the doctor had said.
When it comes to the complicated science of modern medicine, most of us want instant answers and instant cures, so we often become frustrated with medical professionals when they seem rushed and even disinterested during a routine office visit but then later when you are waiting on test results, they appear to be slow and methodical. Having been on both ends of the spectrum, I can tell you that in most cases they move as fast as they need to, besides too much attention from a doctor is usually not a good thing, such as when they set up your appointment at the end of the day so that, “…the doctor will have more time to talk to you.”, or when they personally call to arrange for additional testing and consultations setting up appointments one after the other.
Our next set of appointments came the next day (one after another) as we met the radiologist, ultrasound technician and then by 4:00 PM on Wednesday afternoon we were sitting in a surgeon’s office (his last appointment of the day) reviewing all of Libby’s charts and test results. As we both prepared for the worst, Dr. Burns looked up from the charts and shocked us both, “Mrs. Gilley, I agree with you, the lump appears to be one of many fibrous cysts, I have seen a lot of these and I am confident that yours is not cancerous, I suggest you have another mammogram in 6 months and lets just watch it. You are free to get dressed and leave and I would like to see you again in February.
Wasting no time in leaving, Libby and I were giddy with excitement as we went out through the deserted waiting area littered with 2-year-old magazines. We knew that we had just dodged a bullet and our emotions were trying to recover some equilibrium after our 24 hour roller coaster ride.
Our biggest decision now was whether we should split the 8 ounce or the 11 ounce Renegade Sirloin from the Longhorn Steakhouse to celebrate. The sides would be a loaded baked potato and Caesar salad, but now Libby was holding out for the smaller 8 ounce steak so she could more easily justify the Chocolate Stampede for desert as she joked, “I have no intention splitting that with anyone!”
Holding hands like two school kids, Libby and I were in the hallway outside of the doctor’s office and I was reaching for the “down” button to call the elevator just as Dr. Burns opened his office door and joined us in the hallway. I just assumed he was heading to his car as well, but then he said, almost as an afterthought, “You know Mrs. Gilley, just to be on the safe side, step back into my office with me for just one more quick test before you leave, since you are already here”.
I am sure readers of this blog never hear voices in their head (or at least none that they admit to) but the voices in my head were screaming when Dr. Burns asked us to go back into his office, “……Push the elevator button…..He has no jurisdiction in the hallway………..He’s not the boss o’ you“.
Before either one of us fully realized what was happening, Libby was once again holding my hand, but this time with a death grip as Dr. Burns performed a biopsy with little warning and no anesthesia. I was sick to my stomach with sympathy pains as I kept wiping away Libby’s tears with my free hand saying, “I’m so sorry Baby, I wish I could make it stop”, a statement that I would find myself repeating many times over during the next 5 years.