We arrived at Dr Whittams’ Forster rooms early on Thursday, anxious about why we were called back to see him a day earlier. Oddly, we found ourselves in a dark, empty office, except for the two receptionists. They looked at us with surprise when we approached the reception desk. One of them asked what we needed. We told them we were there to see the doctor. The older of the two said, shaking her head, “oh no, the doctor isn’t here today. He has surgeries all day.”
Brendan and I needed help understanding what was going on. We explained how the Taree office had organised us to be there. A brief phone call and some awkward glances in our direction followed. Ten minutes later, the younger woman came to where we were sitting and showed us to the doctor’s office.
“Doctor will be with you shortly. He said he would pop over and see you between surgeries,” she said apologetically. She then hurried out of the room.
Sitting in the quiet, poorly lit office, just Brendan and me felt odd. Like we shouldn’t be there. Sitting side by side, we didn’t speak, but both knew this was not how good news was delivered. We sat frozen, pale, shaken and too afraid to open our mouths for fear of what might come out.
Barely breathing, it felt like we were in a twilight zone. Things appeared normal, but we knew they weren’t quite right. A foreboding feeling had settled around me like a cold, dense fog. Our lives were about to change forever, not because of anything we had done. I heard a voice in my head reminding me to breathe.
Dressed in scrubs, the doctor hurried in shortly after we sat down. It felt like an eternity. He sat, pulled his chair toward us and brushed his still thick, black hair over the top of his head in what seemed like a nervous gesture. Looking at us very seriously, he thanked us for coming in. He explained that he wanted to avoid giving this kind of news over the phone. I heard myself exhale heavily. I hadn’t realised I’d been holding my breath. Brendan was bracing himself. Sitting stiffly upright, straight back, hands clenched tightly together. He was stealing himself for what was coming.
“I’m sorry, this looks nasty.” Dr Whittam said.
I felt my world fall apart in a single heartbeat. Tears filled my eyes — not wanting to acknowledge the truth by sliding down my face, they did anyway. I saw Brendan’s body slump a little out of the corner of my eye, the breath squeezed from his lungs abruptly — as though he had just been hit in the guts by a sledgehammer. His chin shook slightly — as he took a minute to gain his composure and strength. That minute felt like an hour passing. Bren cleared his throat nervously and asked what would happen next.
After pointing out the two hot spots again on the same scans Bren had bought with him to the first appointment, Dr Whittam turned back to us. This was going to be a serious conversation.
“There is only one person I would trust to send you to, with what I think this is Brendan,” he said matter of factly. “He is an Orthopaedic Surgeon in Sydney and is the best in the country. I will organise with the people down there, where he has weekly clinics, to schedule an appointment for you as soon as possible.”
‘OK, so that’s, what, 4 hours away?’ Bren said
‘Is that the closest hospital I can be treated at?’
‘Yes, if this is what it appears to be. It would be the best place for you to have treatment.’
‘OK then, let’s do it.’
With that, the doctor held his hand out and shook Brens’.
‘I’m sorry to have had to tell you this, Brendan; I didn’t want you to hear over the phone.’
‘Thank you.’ Bren said.
‘If there is anything I can do for you in the future, don’t hesitate, even if it’s just to have stitches removed after your biopsy.’
Dr Whittam wished us well and said goodbye. We left his office dazed and spiritually bruised. But not confused. Bren was in trouble. Being referred to one of the country’s best orthopaedic and sarcoma surgeons and getting in to see him quickly was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, we were grateful for the best care available; on the other, it confirmed our worst fears. This wasn’t good.
Bren was still driving at this stage — although his pain was getting worse by the day. I asked him if he wanted me to drive when we got to the car. I didn’t know how he was still standing after what we had just been told and didn’t think he would want to. It was a thirty-minute trip home.
‘What are ya — crazy,” He said in mock horror.
We laughed as I got in the passenger side. Driving wasn’t one of my favourite things to do. I didn’t enjoy it, and my husband was meticulous in his teasing about how bad I was at it. Even though we both knew I wasn’t bad at all.
“Shit!” I said, not wanting to look at him as we drove out of the medical centre car park.
‘Shit, Babe — Shit.’ He said.
I had tears rolling down my cheeks; he grabbed my hand and squeezed it.
‘We’ll be OK.’ He said.
I couldn’t find my words. All the way home, the word FUCK went around my head on a loop. FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! FUCK!