Around 8:30am on Thursday, my 33-day quest to see a doctor at Johns Hopkins finally ended, as I was given actual appointment times with actual people in actual departments at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center. Of course, those appointments begin at 7:50am. But whatever. I am meeting with a personally-recommended doctor at a top cancer center and getting scanned all on a Friday morning. The whole thing worked out just about as well as could have been expected.
But if you’ve been a reader around here for long enough, you know the rule of Nick when it comes to cancer treatment: Every bit of good news must be met with an equal and opposite bit of bad news. The cool (horrible?) thing has been that each new bit of bad news is more interesting/outrageous than the last. So I guess I should have seen this one coming, but I didn’t. Guess I’ve been out of the game for too long.
You ready for this? Good.
So I spent some time on Thursday notifying my team of doctors that I would be getting scanned and meeting with Dr. Ambinder on Friday. While I wanted to do the scan out here, I was open to making a trip back to Michigan to meet with Dr. Anderson and get his thoughts on the whole deal. So I e-mailed Dr. Anderson’s nurse coordinator, Joyce, to see if Dr. Anderson felt it was useful to meet with me in person, or if we could just handle things over the phone. Simple enough. I did not expect this in response:
From: Desjardins, Joyce
Thu, Mar 3, 2011 at 1:50 PM
To: Nick Cheolas <email@example.com>
Hi- I'm sorry to tell you that Dr Anderson resigned on 2/18.
When I got the “you have cancer” call from Dr. Houin back in July, I sort of expected that. I knew there was a massive lump under my left arm, I knew what massive lumps could mean, and I had prepared myself for the possibility.
This…I did not see this coming. I stared at the e-mail for a while. I didn’t really believe it at first. I looked at the word “resigned” and thought about what it meant: Did he take a new position? Was he fired? Did he just quit? Did he get a better offer somewhere else? What the hell just happened? Did something happen to him? His kids? I had no clue. If you think about it, I saw Dr. Anderson once a week for four of the most difficult months of my entire life. You build a unique relationship with that person. No matter what other doctor I consulted, Dr. Anderson was always there to add his perspective, discuss the case, defend his position, explain things, and so on.
And now this. Now, I’ve learned to get to know the Coordinators at these cancer clinics, and I know Joyce, so I gave her a call. The rest of her e-mail mentioned that other doctors were covering Dr. Anderson’s cases, and they could meet with me or speak to me by phone if needed. I figured, at the very least, I would figure out what was going on and go from there. If Dr. Anderson was at another hospital, I’d just contact him there. That seemed like the most likely outcome for a guy in his mid 50s who had been practicing medicine for 30 years.
I called Joyce. Left a message. She called me back. And asked me, “So…are you as shocked as we are?”
Nobody has any clue what happened to Dr. Anderson. Everything was normal and he was in the clinic treating patients until February 18th. On Monday, everyone else showed up, and he was gone. Apparently people soon found out that Dr. Anderson had resigned over the weekend. Without any warning. Without any information. Just vanished.
I talked to Joyce for a while, then asked her at the end, “I know you might not be able to say much, but do you have any idea…” She cut me off. “None,” she said. No idea why. No idea where he went. No idea what he’s doing now. Nothing to offer any of his patients. She had been scrambling for two weeks to straighten everything out and get patients hooked up with new doctors.
My dad called one of his friends who works at Henry Ford. He knew Dr. Anderson. Had no idea he was gone. Checked the directory only to find his name wasn’t on the list.
So just like that, he was gone.
In the past few hours, I’ve had about a billion different thoughts on this situation.
- I hope he’s alright. I really liked, respected, and trusted Dr. Anderson and I still do. There was never a point at which I felt he didn’t know what he was talking about. Never a point at which I felt he was giving anything less than his best effort. If he was an eccentric, flakey but brilliant guy, then maybe I could see something like this happening. He wasn’t. He’s not a guy who would abandon his patients. Of course, I’m just going off of what one person said, and maybe I misinterpreted things…but it’s somebody who would know things, and I don’t think I misinterpreted direct quotes.
- I have no real worry that his resignation was because of some reason that could affect me, but I guess its a possibility. I just don’t think he seemed like the kind of guy who we will find out got his medical degree from Tito’s Medical School in Tijuana. Even then, he seemed damn smart. I think I’d still trust him.
- Shit I’m glad this happened on March 3rd and not October 3rd.
- If anybody is able to handle their primary oncologist vanishing into thin air, it’s me. THIS IS WHY YOU HAVE 5 DOCTORS!
- I’m thinking of holding a televised series entitled “Nick’s Next Top Doc” to choose my next primary. Doctors will compete in a series of increasingly inane challenges – mostly physical – to see who gets to treat me from now on. I think there’s potential there.
- Of course my doctor would just quit practicing medicine two months after treating me when he’s been practicing for three decades. Haven’t I been paying attention to things since July?
- Seriously though: What the hell happened?
And probably a few others that I didn’t list. All things considered, I’m fine with things. This won’t have a huge impact on me, and I have more than enough doctors to figure things out. But it’s still just one more off'-the-wall episode in this never-ending absurd epic tragedy. I really do feel like I’ve had a crutch knocked out from under me.
So how does this change things going forward? I have no clue. I’m leaning toward declaring Dr. Ambinder my “primary oncologist,” just because I would prefer my primary be close to me out in DC. For this reason, I’m really glad I got my tissue out to JHMI and had them do the whole workup on my case. And I’m really glad I found this out today as opposed to Monday. At least I know the situation before I see the doc.
The rest of things…I’ll just figure them out as I go along. I don’t know what Dr. Zelenetz is going to say, and I don’t know what Dr. Ambinder is going to say. Without that, I cannot and will not speculate. Not worth it. I’ll get things sorted out soon enough.
And even if I did figure things out now, I’m not terribly interested in finding out what new piece of information will come along and shoot my plans to shit this time around.