Allyn Shulman is today’s blogger.
After some recent harrowing experiences that lasted for about 6 weeks, and after much consideration, I have decided to share some extremely personal events that have had a huge impact on my life.
As many of you know, I am on a world cruise currently sailing through Asia. I had been feeling pretty sick for the last several weeks with the following symptoms that continued to get worse:
Extreme exhaustion, vaginal discharge causing me to shower 3-4 times a day, bleeding, major cramping, distended tummy, feeling full all the time,
Feeling kind of like I have a UTI but more like pressure, kind of hard to urinate and tenderness below tummy.
After a few incorrect self-diagnoses and self-medication (ie just a hormoneissue, yeast infection etc), I broke down and visited the ship doctor. Wide eyed when I told her all the symptoms, she immediately sent me to an Indonesian gynecological oncologist in Surabaya who did a sonogram (the sonogram was from the top of my tummy) and a pelvic exam. He could see, measure and discuss the 2 1/2 centimeter polyp on my cervix but since the ship was leaving, there was no time to remove it. He was on time, polite and explained everything. His assistant even took a picture of the polyp with a cellphone, blew it up and sent it to me.
Two days later in Singapore, I had an appointment with Dr Jon Wee from the Irene and Jon Clinic for Women. He was willing to see me at a moment’s notice! When does that happen in the US?? He was a gentle, kind, and professional.
He performed a transvaginal ultrasound, which is a camera that goes into the vagina and can look in the uterus. He also removed the polyp on the cervix with no anesthesia. Because of no anesthesia by MY choice, (time crunch) he decided not to take a biopsy as it would be unbearably painful. I was already moaning and he was fearful of piercing the uterine wall as the cervical opening was hard to see. He also said he may not have gotten the whole polyp and there may be either another polyp or a continuation of the cervical one inside the uterus with veins making removal more difficult. He also noted blood in the uterus but more importantly, the lining of the uterus was very thick, 15mm when it should be 5mm. (As an aside, I find modern technology to be amazing! With the vaginal camera, he could look on his computer and make two yellow points which made a line and allowed him to measure the uterine lining!)
The doctors in Asia seemed to be trained differently. He wasn’t in a hurry. He was very kind. He explained everything gently but firmly and told me I need to take care of it immediately as it may be cancer.
His recommendation was an immediate “hysteroscopy, D&C and a biopsy of uterine lining to exclude endometrial pathology eg hyperplasia/cancer.”
Back at the ship, Barry and I begin to analyze the next step. Pack up? Fly home? Find a gynecological oncologist somewhere? The stress is overwhelming and so is the pain. And the symptoms are a constant reminder that something is very wrong.
At this point, I start telling my friends and family because the pain is telling me something horrible is going on. When my late husband found out he had Stage 4 cancer and 6 months to live, he didn’t want anyone to know. I felt differently. This was a time when I desperately needed love and support and kind words from my friends. I don’t feel I live in this world alone. I walk through this beautiful life of ours with my friends and family. I needed them.So I reached out. And the love and support that came back helped me from falling apart. I just tried to take it one moment at a time.
We decided not to have the onboard doctor assist as her primary concern was that I receive paperwork stating I am medically approved to travel. Also Barry is far better than the ship (even with all its resources) at researching and then making things happen.
Here’s the travel schedule we had to work with:
15/Feb Wed Surabaya, Indonesia
16/Feb Thu At Sea
17/Feb Fri Singapore 2:00 PM
18/Feb Sat Singapore 6:00 PM
19/Feb Sun At Sea
20/Feb Mon Saigon 9:00 AM
21/Feb Tue Saigon 4:00 PM
22/Feb Wed Na Trang, Vietnam
23/Feb Thu At Sea
24/Feb Fri Sihanoukville, Cambodia
25/Feb Sat Bangkok, Thailand 11:00 AM26/Feb Sun Bangkok 3:00 PM
We started brainstorming as we’re only in different places for 2 days at a time. We started reaching out to different resources. We communicated with our concierge doctor. It was Friday in Vegas (Saturday in Asia) and Monday was a holiday so he couldn’t start helping until Tuesday. So one option was to wait on the ship 5 days twiddling our thumbs while I am doubled over. We reject that option.
We are researching and reaching out to friends the world over. We have a wonderful close friend Mike Ross who lives near Sihanoukville, Cambodia, our stop in a few days. Barry called and Mike told us that even his family has no medical procedures done in Cambodia. However, he told us of a world-renowned hospital in Bangkok called Bumrungrad International hospital where his family always goes.
We research the hospital and are both impressed. The doctors come from all over the world with excellent training. Mike explained that because it is an international hospital, they are used to doing telecommunication interviews by computer or phone. So I call the hospital and I’m told an appointment will be made.
Coincidentally, Mike happened to be visiting Bangkok that day, staying a block from the hospital!! He offered to stroll over to the hospital Woman’s Division and make sure I get a telecommunications interview.
About 20 minutes later, he texted that he secured a video appointment with a gynecological oncologist for the following day. Oh, being the generous guy that he is, he also paid for the intake interview so there would be no glitches.
Then I get an email from the hospital. They work so fast, that they had set up an appointment for a few days later based upon my phone call. So I call again and get that sorted out.
I send all my previous tests to the doctor at Bumrungrad Hospital and the following day, I had the interview. She agreed with the former doctor’s analysis and said she could do the operation ASAP. Barry and I had already discussed the fact that the hospital may need more than two days so we decided we should fly from our next stop Saigon, Vietnam to Bangkok. We made an appointment for PreOp the next day at 4PM.
Of course, Barry jumps into motion making all the arrangements. Flight. Hotel. Transportation. Barry is completely amazing. Sometimes I call it “overthinking” which drives me crazy but he helped me rethink how to move forward every time the circumstances changed. One minute we were getting ready to fly home; the next, he said wait a minute, I have an idea. And a new plan begins to unfold. I am convinced that had we flown home, we would still be trying to get an appointment!!
The next morning, we dock in Saigon, jump on a 9am shuttle to town and grab a taxi to the airport. Although our plan added lots of extra time, I ended up being 20 min late. When I arrived completely uptight with my chest pounding, they calmly said no problem, put their hands together and bowed. Already I felt at ease. And that is how the entire experience went.
Asian medicine is handled SO MUCH BETTER than the US. No wonder people travel all over the world to go to Bumrungrad Hospital. Barry researched and told me people come here from 190 of the world’s countries and there are only 195!!
At the nurse’s station, they explained that my preop required 5 different steps, each in a different room or building, but it was very easy to navigate. Walking to my first station, I was looking for signs when a nice man came, bowed and asked if he could help. He walked me to the first station. More bowing. Kindness. No big rush. Personal. Then I went from station to station. Same warm caring no-rush attitude. It was as if medicine is a service industry where they care and answer with kindness when you ask a question. You never get the brush off. Maybe they make less money but have more doctors and therefore more time for each patient.
The last stop before I went back to the nurse’s station was the doctor who would authorize the surgery. That was probably an hour wait, with the nurses coming many times, offering water, tea etc explaining that the doctor must wait for the EKG, blood test results, chest X-ray, BP and other reports etc. About an hour later, I saw the doctor who apologized that the results took so long. He interviewed me extensively and went over all the tests, causing me much concern. MY BP was 153/83 when it’s usually 120/80. He said the EKG showed one side of my heart beat slower that the other and at some point I should have that checked. But he did clear me for surgery the following day. Back to nurse’s station for instructions and I was finished at about 8.
The next day was surgery day. Mind you, in three days, I had 1) a consultation, 2) preop and 3) surgery. Amazing.
I was in the hospital from 9am to about 8pm. I was to show up 9am for a 1pm surgery. They put me in bed with TV and dim lights and made me comfy. The surgeon came over and slowly answered every question in a non-rushed manner. She caressed my arm and said it will all be okay. These very small acts of kindness are so utterly important. It is difficult to conveyhow different my experience was compared to Western medicine.
Then a nurse inserted a few pills all the way up my vagina to dilate the cervix. About 2 hrs in, the pain steadily increased like giving birth. It felt so painful I nearly passed out. Finally, in fetal position, I finally asked for and was given pain meds. For those who know me well, I don’t want meds if I don’t really need them. Well, I had passed that point. As soon as I asked, they were administered.
After being put under, the doctor removed the rest of the polyp outside my cervix and also the one inside. The doc said it was extremely difficult to remove. The polyp was connected by 8 roots; she called them “stalks” and each was embedded with things attached to it.
She also did a biopsy and a D&C in order to test everything. The operation was supposed to be 20-30 min but it was well over 1 1/2 hours. The pain was so bad when I came to, that they gave me pain meds that knocked me out for another hour or more. I didn’t even know that until Barry told me later.
Poor sweet Barry had to wait many hours and then tried to strong 💪🏻 arm the surgeon into saying it wasn’t cancer. Skillful cross-examiner that he is, he couldn’t get it out of her! She kept repeating she couldn’t know until the results were in.
Incredibly, she gives me a Sat appointment to get ALL the results. So Monday I have a consultation online. Tuesday I have pre–op, Wednesday I have surgery and then Saturday morning I will be given the RESULTS as to whether or not I have cancer by a gynecological oncologist who is willing to work on Saturday.
In THREE days from my surgery, I will be told whether or not I have cancer because it can be done and in Asia it IS done. On a Saturday afternoon.
On Friday, I spoke to my Singapore doctor who did the first polyp removal. It was benign as is statistically likely. Furthermore he said that my pap was perfect and I had no precancerous areas in my cervex. Remember, however, that was not the prime area of concern.
Saturday arrives. We are so nervous we are out of our minds!! At 2:12pm, I walked into the doctor’s office for a 2:15pm appointment. Barry was outside holding the door when the dr rushed over, took my arm and said three beautiful words: NO HAVE CANCER. Barry hadn’t even walked in yet.
Evidently, I had a huge polyp outside the cervix that grew inside and it had 8 gigantic roots which the dr called “stalks” that the dr explained had something spun all around each one. That’s why the 20 min operation was 1 1/2 hrs. No cancer in the cervix, uterus or endometrial lining.
My amazement was that medical care can be completely different than what we experience in the United States. The greed, arrogance and desire for more and more money has infiltrated our system. What I experienced was professionalism, competence, kindness, compassion and all that took less than a week.
Did I mention, the entire Bangkok experience from consultations, workup, operation and pathology was $4,800!
I’m here to say if I needed a serious operation, I would have it in Bangkok. At Bumrungrad Hospital.
NO HAVE CANCER!!!