In December 1999, the whole world braced for Y2K. The concern was that old computers that couldn’t be programmed for the 2000s might crash at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2000. Would cities black out? Would planes fall from the sky?
But that anxiety was heightened in a personal way when calamity came crashing down on me — the prospect of cancer.
Like many men, I had listened to my wife pester me about going for a physical. I needed those certain uncomfortable tests for men who are getting older. Reluctantly, I went to the doctor in November. The exam included the PSA blood test for the prostate.
So, who expects that anything will be wrong when the results come? We all think we’re invincible. But when I went for the follow-up visit, I read concern in the doctor’s eyes. My PSA, he said, was elevated. He urged me to see a urologist. A friend who is an anesthesiologist recommended a urologist in Mount Sinai.
I visited the specialist's office and went through the unpleasantries associated with verifying a problem. He had to probe a small gland with a needle in search of errant cells — a needle in the proverbial haystack.
On my next visit, I got the bad news
“You have prostate cancer,” the doctor said. “Your Gleason is a six.”
He was referring to a grading system up to 10 that is used to determine the aggressiveness of cancer. A six is relatively low, but as he spoke, I was wrapped in a haze of shock. I sensed only that a Gleason of six was not a good thing. His darting eyes convinced me of that.
He recommended a prostatectomy, removal of the gland.
Really? I thought, I’m only 63. But I knew that my life might change radically.
“At your age, it can become quite aggressive,” he said.
I had an enemy lodged in my body that I could not and would not tolerate. I could not accept the possibility of a silent war of wait and see.
My friend, the anesthesiologist, had undergone this surgery very recently. He concurred with my urologist that my age dictated an aggressive approach.
I chose to follow that course and found myself on Dec. 23 at Huntington Hospital. My friend would be in the operating room to monitor the surgery.
I woke up that night in the recovery room and saw through a window that it was dark outside. Flakes of snow beat against the window. From down a hallway, I heard cries “Ho, ho, ho!” Then a man in a red suit with a great rotund stomach and a white beard walked by my bed. “Merry Christmas!” he said. Here I was, a Jewish guy feeling the effects of surgery while Santa walked past in the recovery room. It was wonderful.
Before I fell back to sleep, my fuzzy thoughts drifted to the Y2K problem, concerns of planes falling from the sky — and facing a long recovery from surgery whose medical consequences can linger for years.
I admit that I felt sorry for myself in the weeks that followed. My friend called after I'd had a particular bout of self-pity and asked, “Would you have preferred death? You get a chance to see your grandchildren. Stop your moaning!”
I took that to heart. The Y2K scare did not bring catastrophe to the world, and 19 years later, I have had a chance to watch my seven grandchildren grow. My fortune!
Reader Sy Roth lives in Mount Sinai.