Thursday, May 05, 2011

May 4, 2011 - Tests, Tests, Tests

On Monday I hopped a New Jersey Transit train for New York City. The destination was Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center’s midtown outpatient facility, the Rockefeller Outpatient Pavilion. The purpose? Pre-surgical testing, in advance of my thyroidectomy coming up on Friday, May 27, at MSKCC’s Memorial Hospital on the main campus.

My appointment was for 11:15 with Dr. Anna Rita Marcelli, an internal medicine specialist who does pre-surgical screenings. Dr. Jay Boyle will be doing my surgery, but evidently the protocol at MSKCC is for the big surgeons to farm out the prep work to other physicians. These doctors are specialists their own right. Their task is to ferret out any pre-existing conditions that could potentially cause trouble in the operating room. It’s one of the benefits of going to a comprehensive cancer center.

I suppose that means that, if Dr. Boyle is the executive chef, then Dr. Marcelli is the sous-chef. This is not to detract in any way from Dr. Marcelli's abilities; in the world of haute cuisine, a sous-chef is a well-respected role. In fact, in her spare time Dr. Marcelli is a Professor at New York's Weill Cornell Medical College.

I quickly discovered she’s really, really good at what she does – mainly because she uncovered a potential problem in my case that led to a whole lot of additional tests. It also extended my stay in the city from what I’d guessed would be a couple of hours till about 6:30 p.m.

The first thing they did was send me for an electrocardiogram (EKG). Then, I went into a little examining room where a nurse checked my vitals prior to Dr. Marcelli’s examination. As she was taking my blood pressure (which was a little high, but on a subsequent test turned out fine), the nurse inserted my finger into the pulse oximeter, the little clamp with a glowing red LED that always makes me feel like E.T. The pulse oximeter measures the percentage of hemoglobin in the blood that’s saturated with oxygen.

In my case it read 90%, which is borderline for the condition known as hypoxia (abnormally low oxygen level). A normal reading is considered to be 97% or 98%.

I do have obstructive sleep apnea, and use a bipap machine to augment my breathing every night. The negative airflow of the bipap keeps my soft palate from sinking down and blocking my airway, which means I sleep much better with it than without it. One of the side effects of sleep apnea can be hypoxia, so I do want to be sure to talk about it with Dr. Gustavo De La Luz, my pulmonologist, when I get a chance.

As Dr. Marcelli came in, she gave me a thorough physical, but kept coming back to that less-than-stellar oximeter reading. After repeating the test a couple of times, she told me she wanted me to undergo some further tests, right then and there.

Earlier I had told her I’d had a problem last fall with a blood clot in my lower leg, for which I’d had a few visits with Dr. Franklin Frasco, a local vascular specialist. He’d determined that the clot was in a minor artery, and was therefore not in a position to break off and cause an embolism (arterial blockage) in one of the lungs. He told me to lose weight and get more exercise, and also to start wearing compression stockings (all of which I’ve been doing, although more sporadically than I should have). He released me from his care, saying I didn’t need to see him anymore.

Dr. Marcelli told me that, with the combination of my blood-clot history and the borderline oximeter reading, she wanted to rule out an embolism prior to my undergoing anesthesia on the 27th. Now, here’s where the power of a major cancer center like MSKCC comes to bear. Even though the Rockefeller Pavilion is an outpatient facility and not the main hospital, it’s state-of-the-art. They have the capacity, even at that location, to deliver just about any standard diagnostic test you could imagine, on very short notice. Between noon or thereabouts, and the time I finally walked out of the building about 6:30, I’d had an echocardiogram, a CT scan of the chest, an arterial blood test and a series of pulmonary function tests.

All of them I’d had before, except the echocardiogram and the arterial blood test. Still, most all my local experiences of such tests have involved several days of waiting. At MSKCC, once the doctor ordered it, the tests were stacked up one after the other in no time, and I swiftly went from each one to the next.

Dr. Marcelli had told me that, if there were any sign of an embolism, she would recommend that I confer immediately with another doctor, to determine “what to do next.” I took that to mean immediate hospitalization, and probably treatment with blood-thinners. At the end of the day (literally), no one suggested anything so drastic. Several subsequent pulse oximeter readings were at 96%, a considerable improvement from earlier in the day, and evidently no one saw anything worrisome in the CT scan or echocardiogram results, so I was cleared to go home.

I closed the place, being the last patient to leave the busy pre-surgical testing area.

I’d kind of expected to hear back from Dr. Marcelli in a day or two, summarizing her findings, but I haven’t as yet. So, tomorrow I think I’ll give her office a call and see if she turned up anything I need to know about.

My assumption, though, is “no news is good news,” so I’m not worried.


Anonymous said...


Whidbey Woman said...

I hope things continue to go well for you. It sounds like you are receiving great healthcare!

Jeanie said...

Wow.Uplifting blogs....bummed to hear you are going through all this...but the writing is great. Thanks for posting.

Rob Pollock said...

Wishing you all the best in your upcoming surgery Carl.

Peace and Blessings... Rob