In my mind’s eye, I see them coming—a long processional stretching back years, each with a different cloak of disease, each with a small receptacle. They come bearing gifts for me, their doctor—a small box, a carefully folded tissue, a child’s sippy cup (the top tightly closed), and occasionally, yes, toilet paper.
What are these gifts my patients bring me? No frankincense or myrrh, nor precious jewels, nor Godiva chocolates. The Magi explain: “I coughed THIS up this morning and thought you might want to see it!”. “When I moved my bowels this morning, THIS came out.” “I went to blow my nose, and LOOK AT THIS!” “I gagged taking my pills this morning and THIS came right out of my throat!” From every orifice of the body, they bring these gifts to me, and to my nurse, sometimes stopping on their pilgrimage to show my secretary, and other interested parties in the waiting room.
Pathologists and internists LOVE these gifts. They have special foodie names for things that they like to look at under the microscope or see in the emergency room, like “caseous necrosis” which means “dead cheese” found in the lungs of tubercular patients, and “red currant jelly”, the color and consistency of blood and mucous mixed in the stool, and “coffee ground emesis”, which is what a bleeding ulcer produces when mixed with stomach acid. The descriptors go on and on.
Here’s the thing. When you come to me, you already HAVE a diagnosis of cancer made by a very competent pathologist. You are likely already under treatment. So whatever comes up, or down, and out of you, I don’t need to see it. Really I don’t! Write down when and where it happened, what you were doing at the time and perhaps a small description of the “item”. But please, leave the wadded up toilet paper at home! Thank you very much.
On the other hand, a box of chocolates would be very nice!