I Might Name My Backup Band the Incidental Findings

Last May, after I lost a chunk of my vision and landed in the opthomalogist’s chair, he looked at my eyes and the freaky results of my visual field tests and the first words out of his mouth were

It looks like a stroke, but it probably isn’t.

To which I immediately replied, “That’s probably good news.”

An MRI shortly after confirmed that all my blood had stayed in its series of tubes and that my problems were “just” a new little demyelinated spot in Meyer’s Loop, exactly where you’d expect it to be to cause my very specific symptoms.

As I put it in my eventual letter of resignation, the whole affair would have been simply fascinating if it were happening to somebody else.

Flashforward a year and a month.

I didn’t get a copy of the latest, so these are old. I made them out of the results from my last cervical series.

Last week, I had a fresh round of MRIs to check in on my recent flare, and this time, we decided to tack on cervical (spine, perverts) in addition to the brain. I haven’t had a spine one done in years, so on that count alone it made sense to get an updated view, and even more so because of my lower extremity weakness and altered sensation this time around.

Because adding the spine takes more time to image, I couldn’t see the doctor right afterward to discuss the results, so they scheduled me to see her for yesterday for the results.

At the appointed hour, I schlepped downtown to get the news, which I expected to sound like every MRI report I’ve ever gotten, which is, “You have a couple of new spots, so it looks like your disease is still really active. I can’t believe you’re still walking, etc etc. Call us if something falls off, but otherwise, see you in three months”


This time, though, when my doctor walked in, the first words out of her usually very sober and measured mouth were

Hop up here on the table and let me feel your neck You didn’t have any new enhancing activity but there’s an incidental finding in the cervical MRI so you need to go get an ultrasound It probably isn’t a tumor.

Because I remembered my lines from last year, I mumbled, “Well, that’s probably good news,” but it lacked the relative confidence I mustered last time around.

I’ve “joked” for years that I will one day “die” of a “stroke,” but I never considered cancer a contender. With my luck, maybe what looked like a lump in my neck was actually a carotid aneurysm, and I could still blow at any moment.

Is it bad that that’s more comforting because an aneurysm fits my cognitive biases better than a tumor does?

Despite her palpations, she couldn’t feel whatever they’d seen so obviously on the films (which are not films anymore, but digital representations on a computer screen), so I didn’t leave with any consolations that it was 99% probably just a little cyst.

And it was a short visit, but in those few minutes, she asked me twice if I’d been having headaches. I’ve had 1 migraine in the year and a half since I quit eating gluten, which I proudly told her, but then we had a skeptical stare-off for a minute trying to read each other.

Me: Does she think I should be having headaches? Is that a symptom of thyroid cancer or unruptured cervical aneurysms with which I am unfamiliar? Why would a neck cyst give me headaches? What does she really think this lump is? What isn’t she telling me?

She: How can I tell someone so young and vibrant and fit and sexy and funny and awesome that she may have mere months to live? Who doesn’t have headaches? That was going to be my entree point into a discussion about The Big One. Maybe she’s just trying to be brave — that would be just like her. Maybe her head aches so much that she’s forgotten what it feels like to be normal anymore. What a trooper. What a brave little toaster.

I wouldn’t want to play poker against either of us.

Ultrasound scheduled for Monday. Wish me luck, probably!

2 thoughts on “I Might Name My Backup Band the Incidental Findings”

  1. I can’t exactly just hit the “like” button on this post due to its rather sobering topic. But it’s still kind of funny. Fingers crossed for an uneventful Monday.


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