In late December 2021, my husband George finally decided to go and see his doctor. For a couple of weeks at least, he had been finding himself short of breath after performing simple tasks and he had trouble walking around the track on base without getting seriously winded. He thought maybe he had a respiratory infection or something, but it wasn’t getting any better and it wasn’t going away.
George saw his doctor on the base and he referred him to a pulmonologist and a cardiologist to get checked out further. He also had him go to the lab and have blood drawn for a CBC (complete blood count). So, he came home and we pulled up his referrals from Humana online and started making appointments.
The next morning, George received a call from his doctor telling him that he received his lab results and he was going to put the referrals to the pulmonologist and cardiologist on the back burner. He wanted George to go see a hematologist/ oncologist STAT. Whaaat? Just hearing the word “oncologist” is enough to make your head spin and your heart beat fast. Unfortunately, when the doctor called, George was asleep, so he was groggy when they were talking and he didn’t absorb everything the doctor was saying. But he did get the point that he had a referral to an oncologist and he needed to make an appointment STAT. So he tried and couldn’t get in until February 4th. Not exactly STAT. A while later, a different doctor from the 87th Med Group called him. He said that the lab technician was so alarmed by George’s blood count that he called him while he was on vacation. Dr. G. said it was important to see a hematologist right away because his blood cell counts suggested leukemia. Leukemia. Oh my God. What are you saying??? The first doctor didn’t use the “L” word. But although this doctor was more blunt and honest, we did appreciate it. The day was starting to feel surreal. During all these phone calls, my stepson Michael was sitting in the living room and George was trying very hard not to allow him to see his reactions or become alarmed. On the verge of tears after speaking with the doctor, I suggested we go downstairs so he could tell me about their conversation.
We had just gotten downstairs when George’s phone rang. It was a case manager assigned to George by the doctor. Her name was Annette. She said she was going to step in and make sure George got an appointment STAT. Then she started telling us we needed to get a binder and make tabs for referrals, notes, labs, etc. She told us how to keep track of how many office visits we had left and how to know when we needed to get a new referral, etc. I was shocked because she was talking like George had already received a diagnosis! I felt my hope that George didn’t have leukemia-that it was something else- die a bit during that conversation. Annette was great though…she got the ball rolling, reaching out to different doctors, hospitals and programs, trying to get George into see a hematologist immediately. We then spoke with a woman named Ragan who told us to go to the emergency room at Cooper Hospital in Camden. The oncology team there would be notified of his impending arrival and they would be waiting for him. Another shock for me was when she told us to pack a bag. This would be no quick trip to the ER and back home.
So, on Thursday, December 30th, I drove George to the ER. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, I wasn’t able to accompany him into the ER. I had to just drop him off at the door, which was very difficult. He was so scared and confused and I wanted to be with him so badly. But it was what it was. I just prayed he wouldn’t have to sit in there for long with all the COVID floating around. George went in and told them he was suspected of having leukemia, that he was told to report to the emergency room and that the oncology team should be expecting him. It wasn’t long before he was moved to a private consultation room “away from all the COVID.” We would later learn that George was very susceptible to infection due to his condition. Later that afternoon, he was admitted to a room on the oncology floor and our real adventure would begin. And it was if a huge bomb had been dropped on our happy, wonderful life together.
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