This Last Week – Update

March 11, 2007 Link Amma's Grace

Much as I would like to go blow-by-blow over all of our days here, I can’t, because there is not enough time. Let it suffice to say that 8 days and more than 8 miracles later, we are here, on the 10th of March. I’ll give a brief synopsis of what has happened so far:

Saturday (3rd) and Sunday (4th) were rest days – we got up at 2 or 3 am, and tried to adjust to US time… almost exactly 12 hours behind India… Also did some shopping for clothes, etc. The weather is nice, just bitter cold.

Monday the 5th we had our first meeting with the doctors, Dr A. of the Georgetown University Medical College. Based on what he saw and knew, he advised us to get medical insurance as quick as possible, so that he could proceed with treatment. He was very knowledgeable, and very nice. Given that no proper diagnosis of the disease has been done yet, we couldn’t really chart out a treatment plan, only talk about possibilities. He talked about trying to biopsy one of her lymph nodes to get a quick diagnosis if possible, put us in touch with the social worker – David Fortuna – and said that he thought it could be healed (“…we could get an objective response after stabilization…”). The miracle was that this guy is one of the nation’s top guys in Renal Cell Carcinoma, which is one of the possible diagnoses.

Tuesday the 6th we were able to contact Dave and find more information about getting insurance, rest up some more (we were still doing our 2am stints) and get food, phones, etc.

Wednesday the 7th was our appointment at National Cancer Institute (NCI) in the National Institute of Health (NIH). This place is actually a research facility, where they do trials to find different ways to treat diseases. Although it sounds like they use patients like guinea pigs for experiments, that’s really not the case. They use experimental drugs and other non-orthodox ways of treatment to cure patients. Everyone whom we talked to said the same thing: that NIH was much better than other hospitals, because there the focus was not on money – all the treatments are for free – the focus was on healing the patients and publishing a successful study.

Since September 11th, the attacks on the WTC, NIH has heightened security. We have to get out of the car and walk through a metal detector, they search the car, check our ID, and issue printed visitor stickers for us to stick onto our shirts. But when we got there, we had forgotten our passports, currently our only form of ID. By Amma’s Grace, the supervising policeman on duty decided to let us through just once, but told us not to do it again.

There was a bunch of paperwork to fill out before we went up to meet Martha, the nurse who had been communicating with us, sending us maps and scheduling appointments.

For our doctor’s appointment, we first met Dr Sudarshan, a US born US schooled Indian. He checked Annika out, got her case history, and told us a little about himself. Then we met with more of the team: Dr Sudarshan, Dr Srinivasan (India born India schooled), Dr Pinto, Dr Cartwright, Martha, and some one else. Since we were such a party, we moved from the examination room to a room with four beds in it.

Dr Srinivasan was the main guy. He got the whole case history, we went over our customary pile of “if then”s, then digressed to more social subjects. His parents are devotees of Amma! That in itself was a miracle; we were very relieved.

Annika’s pain medication, we found out, is not available in the US. The doctors said they could order some Advil or something else if we needed it. They also said that she should eat a lot. When she said that she had no appetite, they tentatively offered to give us an appetizer: a derivative of marijuana; Annika declined.

They recommended doing a bunch of scans to get a clearer picture of what was going on in Annika. They wanted to do MRIs of her brain and spinal column, and another CT scan of her chest, abdomen, and pelvic areas, along with blood and urine tests. Unfortunately, the scanning machines were in constant use, so booking slots were not really available. They all promised (and started then itself) to put pressure to get Annika an advanced booking.

On the way back, only 20 minutes away from home, we got a call from them asking us to come back, the Spine MRI was available at 5:45. So back we went. Security had shifted, but they let us through after we explained what had happened. The MRI was performed (it needed intravenous contrast injection, and took a long time, was really hard on Annika). Annika hadn’t had any pain medication that day, and so was in a lot of pain. We called the doctors and let them know, they put in an express order to the pharmacy (which for some computer glitch, didn’t show in the pharmacy), and Dr Sudarshan even came by the MRI room on his way out! NIH actually gives me a feeling much akin to AIMS – helpful, flexible, friendly, and open.

Annika’s CT scan was scheduled for Thursday, the 8th. So we headed back over there, and thought it would be good if her brain MRI could be scheduled the same day, instead of on Friday, as it was. Unfortunately, there was an even more acute shortage of time. We pulled all the strings we knew, and her brain MRI was squeezed in at 1pm, just before her CT at 2pm. The MRI was not as long as before, but still required contrast, and the CT scan also required that she drink a huge bottle of blue-berry flavored barium contrast and have another injection…

Finally all the scans were over. Another miracle, we were able to meet the NIH social worker, a Lieutenant who’s name I’ve forgotten. He recommended that Annika apply for Social Security Income – a stipend from the government – which included Medicaid – the government health insurance. We told him about Amma, and he was quite interested, looked up the web page, and said that he definitely wanted to know more about Her. He also gave Annika and I some compliments, which, for reasons of prudence, I ommit.

We headed home with a heavily punctured Annika, and with advice from all sides to drink and eat and DRINK to flush her system of all the barium…

Friday, the 9th the doctors had a team meeting in NIH and looked over all the scans. They then called us and gave us the information related in the last post, “Anupama’s health – the grimy side.” They told us that they could do a core biopsy, they didn’t think that the tumor was too vascular, and that they felt there was little time to waste. They noted that Annika’s body had “significant metastatic burden,” which means that her body was having a hard time supporting all the growth…

We looked up Medicaid, and at 10:50am I called the local office. They told us that they only accept applications for Medicaid until 11am! But they agreed to wait till 11:15 for us… Uncle Jeff and I scrammed. We got there, filled out the papers, met with a social worker from Nigeria, and by Amma’s Grace alone he approved Annika’s application and gave her coverage from the first of this month! Uncle Jeff was amazed – according to him it usually takes months to get it done, here for us Amma did it in just a few hours!

Saturday, the 10th and Sunday, the 11th have been grateful days of rest. Our family friend Timothy came with his wife Stacia, son Ben and dog Rosa. They arrived Saturday night, and are staying downstairs on their way to a relatives place in the south part of North Carolina. Rosa, the dog, was ours as a pup – we trained her. When we went to India, Tim agreed to keep her. Now, 8 years later, she still remembers us, but knows she has other responsibilities – to care for Ben, etc. She is a wonderful dog.

We spoke to Amma on Saturday. She didn’t give us any direction, but it was enormous solace to hear Her voice. She told us that She was thinking of us…
Aum Amriteshwaryai Namah

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