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Pet scanned

I celebrated the first full day of my retirement with a PET scan in the morning and a tonsillectomy in the afternoon.

People have asked me over the past several months what my plans were for retirement. I had a few ideas, but none included dealing with tonsil cancer.

A week prior to these procedures, I met Dr. Jameson, my otolaryngologist (today’s challenge is to say “otolaryngologist” three times as fast as you can) and his physician’s assistant, Leslie Smith. I tried to tease Leslie about being the baddie Dr. Smith in the TV series “Lost In Space,” but she was unfamiliar. I guess I’m just old and out of touch.

During that initial visit, Leslie chatted about what was going on with my neck. She then talked me into snorting a small amount of lidocaine. This was not my idea of a fun first date, but I figured that you have to change with the times.

Dr. Jameson then put a fiber optic thingy up my nose to peer down my throat. He and Leslie didn’t see anything unusual. They seemed vaguely disappointed, as if they had failed to find Waldo.

My wife and I were told that this particular cancer has up to an 85% cure rate. That is the best bad news we have ever received.

They ordered a PET scan for me, which I thought was unnecessary. If they had simply asked I would have gladly told them that we have two pets, a cat named Sparkles, and a dog named Bella. My wife said that the scan was still needed because there was some question regarding whether or not our eight Jersey steers are pets. She had me there.

The technician who administered the PET scan started an IV in my forearm and injected a syringeful of fluid into the port. I asked her what was in the syringe.

“This is a radioactive isotope of fluorine,” she replied. “It has a half-life of 110 minutes. It emits positrons as it decays, and their interactions will be recorded by the PET scanner. You’ll be slightly radioactive for a little while. That’s why we won’t be hanging out with you.”

I spent the next hour alone in the exam room, thinking about being radioactive and how that was definitely not part of my retirement plans. On the other hand, maybe I would acquire special spiderman-like powers or become the next Incredible Hulk.

The scan itself was a yawn. Literally. I took a short nap while the tunnel-like machine hummed and slid me back and forth.

It would be several hours before the surgery took place, so my wife and I went to my sister Diann’s house. Diann’s daughter, Erin, who is a registered nurse, had knitted pairs of socks for me and my wife. Each pair included a small tag upon which Erin and written words of encouragement. The socks warmed our hearts and our feet.

They say that a tonsillectomy is much harder on adults than it is on children. They aren’t kidding.

Thanks to modern anesthesiology, I don’t recall a nanosecond of the surgery. One moment I’m being wheeled down the hallway and the next I’m waking up in a recovery room.

My wife was told that the surgery went swimmingly. A tonsil was removed, and biopsies were taken. It would be a few days before we would get the lab results.

How to describe the aftereffects of a tonsillectomy?

Imagine gargling with battery acid and then having a herd of miniature wild donkeys stampede through your throat. It’s sort of like that.

The mere act of swallowing can cause you to wince. Eating is a major undertaking; each mouthful of food is its own challenge. You have to work up your courage and strategize regarding the type and the amount of stuff your throat can handle. Cold Jello and frozen popsicles are your best friends.

But there’s an upside to this situation. I’ve been told that I can have as many root beer floats and strawberry malts as I want.

I did some skydiving back in the early 1990s. You strap on your parachute rig, get into the airplane and ride up to altitude. The door opens; you look down and see your shoes and, 4,000 feet below, the planet. You jump out of the aircraft with the hope and the faith that everything will go as planned.

That, in a nutshell, is the state of my current medical odyssey. I’m depending on the kindness and knowledge and skills of numerous experts, grateful that they will be there for me like a silvery canopy blooming open against a cobalt sky.

— Jerry’s book, Dear County Agent Guy, is available at http://Workman.com and in bookstores nationwide.

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