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Surgeons, Lumps, and a Golf Ball


So, Peter had this pain in his back.

We thought it was an overworked muscle, so I massaged it for him, as good wives will do. But the more I tried to break it down, the more intense was his pain. And during the night, it became fevered and protruded like an egg.

That’s when it occurred to me that maybe this was something that shouldn’t be popped. And my imagination went crazy with all of the worst case scenarios. Partly because it was late at night, when everything is always worse, and partly because I am familiar with worst case scenarios.

I did a little middle-of-the-night internet research – which I know I should not do, so leave me alone, please – and it gave me a span of possibilities. This could be anything from a blemish of zero concern to an abscess that required an immediate trip to the ER. I did not take him to the ER, but neither did I roll away from him and fall asleep. My Fitbit can attest to this. I was awake from 3:30 on, mostly praying, keeping my hand on the lump and willing it away. And also reprimanding myself for letting my guard down, for loving too much, for opening my heart to a love that could break my pieces all over again.

Peter and I spent a couple of days dancing around these new roles. We had never done a health concern together before. He didn’t know what to do with a partner willing to do this with him, so he deferred to the more familiar role, which is Protecting Wife From Trauma Triggers. He’s very good at that role.

But It wouldn’t work this time. I didn’t want him to lie and tell me he felt “just super.” I didn’t want him to minimize or distract or withhold information. That only spun me into orbit and sent me into detective mode. My doctor said it best when she said she learned long ago to never sugar coat it for me. I’m more of a bottom line girl. Just tell me what’s going on so I can do the next thing that must be done.

Meanwhile, we named the lump Arnold Palmer. We named it after Peter’s favorite drink, and we found it best to address this situation that was the size of a golf ball.

He made an appointment with his doctor, the same surgeon who removed this lump five years ago. Peter had told me this guy is about 106 years old and very old school. When he had first discovered this lump years ago, the doctor had said, “So, do you want this taken out? Yes? Okay, roll over and let’s do it.” Right there on the paper sheet on his exam room table. This guy removes lumpy breasts and discolored moles on the scalp, and he’s been doing it for probably six decades. He is more interested in actual health care than in the healthcare industry, so when he can, he’ll spare you the deductible and the trip to the OR, and he’ll just get it done the same day.

(To clarify, I don’t think this is true of breasts. They get their own time and day and OR. As they should.)

Well, sure enough, this office is old school. Two exam rooms, a waiting room with two chairs, and a receptionist with a nervous giggle who is prone to misplacing insurance cards.

She said I was welcome to stay with Peter for the procedure, so long as I am not prone to fainting. And so I chose to keep my mouth shut tight regarding the fact that I am indeed prone to fainting. I’m just saying, it has happened. Not when I have been the patient, but when I am there to support the patient. As the patient’s mom. Or, say, wife.

But I really didn’t want to wait outside for the secondhand report. I had a few questions of my own, and I really was dying to see how big this Arnold Palmer really was. I kept my diet Coke close, determined to take cool sips as needed and to will myself to stay conscious.

Peter and I waited for the doctor to come in, and I distracted myself by exploring the exam room. I found a human anatomy book that looked like Harry Potter’s book of spells. Bound in green leather, titled with faded gold letters, it was probably forty years old. I opened to the middle, which happened to also be the chapters about the middle section of the human anatomy. Well, lower middle.

I was suddenly face to face with diagrams of genitals. Men and women.

It’s not easy to embarrass Peter, but I managed the feat. “Tricia!” (Loud whisper.) “What if he walks in while you’re looking at that?!” As if I were sitting there reading Fifty Shades of Grey aloud.

But then I flipped a few pages, and to my great horror, a patch of surgical mesh fell from between the pages. Two patches, actually. The kind that might hold a hernia in place or repair a sunken pelvic floor, I imagine. I don’t really know. The whole scene was suddenly far too intimate and gross enough to make me close the book.

Just as I was stuffing the mesh back in between Harry Potter’s pages of crotches, the doctor walked in. Perfect.

Peter introduced me as his bride, which I love. It’s the name I love most. I’m a new addition since the last time he’s seen this doc.

“I wish you had called me first,” said the doctor.

At which point I became very self-conscious, suddenly aware that maybe I wasn’t welcome in the procedure after all. Maybe he liked a heads up before he had a spectator in his line of work. I could have called. Should have called.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said, preparing to leave.

“No, I’m sorry,” he said. “If you had called me before you married this wise guy, I could have talked you out of it.”

Oh, I see what we’re doing here. He’s the wise guy. Well, bring on the banter, cute little old guy surgeon.

I was prepared to sip my diet Coke and watch this lumpectomy like an absolute champ, but the doctor did a brief exam, a little measuring and poking and prodding, and he told Peter to put his shirt back on. Something like this is nothing to be alarmed about. Lumps like this go away and come back. He could have it removed, but only if it became a distraction. Hunchback of Notre Dame, if you will. In truth, the pain really had come from a knot in an overworked muscle, and the whole thing could and would settle down. No surgery, no procedures, no anxiety.

It was supremely better than even our best-case scenario. We strolled out of there and off to a lunch date. And we continue to pat Peter on his very healthy – albeit slightly golf-ballish – back.

Arnold Palmer gets to stay. And I can settle down.

Tricia Lott Williford

Comments are closed

  1. Love this visit with a surgeon… funny to me that mesh made you cringe! It’s the surgeon’s version of colored felt or construction paper, you know?

  2. Well if that isn’t the best news you can get from a doc…Arnold will take care of himself and validation you got who you thought you married ????
    A huge “Whew!” From CA. Oh, and I love your writing. My daughter said she’s reading your second book now and boy, does she love your storytelling. I’m seeing her this weekend and taking her one of the three extra “You Can Do This” copies I bought. Blessings for quick recovery, Peter, and good sleep for you, Tricia.

  3. As usual, I love hearing about you two and your adventures. My Theresa and I have even called emergency room visits “Date night” . To clarify it’s not the kind I prefer but when you find your true love any time together is time well spent.

  4. Sheeeeesh. You’re SO good at making people feel a tiny bit of what you’re feeling. I exhaled in the end. Glad you guys are okay.

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