Our Journey Through Cancer

The ED Visit

November 30, 2017

Anthony never made it to school that day and I never made it to work, not knowing that once we walked through those automatic sliding doors of the Emergency Room department that we would end up leaving later that evening in a helicopter. Anthony would not return to school for several months and I would stop working for a total of 16 months.

It was 9:20am and we had already been in the ED for about half an hour. ED visits always seem so much longer than what they really are. The waiting time is daunting while you wait and figure out what got you there in the first place. Ricky (Anthony’s dad) and I sat at Anthony’s bedside while the nurses did their assessments and drew blood for lab tests. Those of which did not indicate anything was wrong. The initial physician who evaluated Anthony wanted to also disregard his symptoms as gastroenteritis but parents who know their child better than anyone else, we knew that could not be the case. I asked the physician if he could at least do an imaging study to rule out anything in his abdomen (me of course praying that it had nothing to do with his brain as my google searches had determined). He ordered an ultrasound of the abdomen and that resulted in no abnormality either. So now what?

Well you should never take what you are told at face value if your intuition is truly telling you something different and in this case if it involves your health or that of your child. So being a nurse and knowing what lingo tends to put physicians in a hard spot, I pulled that card and told him I did not feel safe taking my son home like this without further evaluation. At that point he called in a pediatrician for a consultation, the person who would change our lives forever.

The pediatrician that evaluated Anthony was very thorough and took her time in evaluating him. She spent a good hour with us in the room while she gathered a detailed history and performed a head to toe assessment on him. I noticed toward the end of her assessment she focused mostly on his eyes. She noted he had bilateral nystagmus and while examining his eyes with a opthalmoscope she verbalized that she wanted to order a MRI of the brain. She did not state it at the time but it was confirmed later by the opthalmologist what she must have seen that warranted her to order the MRI is his optic nerve was not visualized in a straight line as it should be.

As a nurse, I already knew that physicians do not have the tendency to order such imaging studies, especially that of a MRI of the brain, unless they have an inclination to rule out something bad. But even then, you hold on to any fragment of hope you might have that nothing potentially life threatening can be wrong.

I accompanied Anthony to his MRI, which as a limited MRI so it only took about 20 minutes. Upon walking out of the MRI room, one of the MRI techs asked “do you mind telling me what symptoms prompted you to bring him in? Was he stumbling while walking or having headaches?” I simply replied that he was only having intermittent episodes of vomiting, as she then replied with “Oh.” That was already a red flag that a tech must have seen something on the images that sparked her interest to want to ask me. Which if you’re in the healthcare profession, you know that she should have never even asked me that information. But I did not have enough time to process it all, soon after we were headed back to the room.

As we were transported back to the room, with Anthony on the gurney to be reunited with his dad, there two physicians walked in behind us. One of the physicians was the pediatrician that had evaluated Anthony and ordered the MRI and the other we have never even seen prior to that moment. Again, I knew this is usually not the case if the results of that MRI had been normal. The pediatrician asked if she could speak to his dad and I outside of the room while the other doctor stayed with Anthony.

Before she could speak tears were already running down my face. Unfortunately being a nurse I know a little too much and knew that the next words that would leave her mouth were not going to be good news. Her demeanor gave it all away. She could barely look at us in the eyes and I could see her hands as she looked down at the floor. Sure enough within the next few seconds she verbalized the words “I have some news and it is not good news. We found a mass/tumor in Anthony’s brain.” Within those seconds I felt the blood leave my finger tips and my heart collapse. I could barely breathe and was drowning in my own tears.

Thank God I was not there alone in the ED with Anthony because I am not sure how I would have taken the news if I were by myself. Although Ricky was devastated as much as I was he was able to keep it together for the both of us. Before we were reunited with Anthony in the room, the pediatrician walked us over to the nursing station to show us the MRI images and point out the mass in his brain. It was surreal and a complete indescribable feeling what I felt at that moment. As I type these words, now 460 days later, it still all comes back to me so vividly. Like a nightmare I will never fully be able to wake up from. Because unfortunately this has been our reality.