1928 - Alderson High School - 1968


David Shields 09

Fair warning! This is about me. It may have no universal appeal and or applicability to anybody but me and the limited number of people who harbor some normal or abnormal interest in me. So pause a minute and consider whether you want to waste any more of your time. And then step smartly, onward or backward. Your choice. Perhaps one day Iíll be able to write something else with wider appeal. Or not!

Most folks have now heard on the street that Iíve been seeing a number of doctors both here and in Savannah lately This is true! And theyíve been some of the finest medical experiences Iíve ever had. Make no mistake about that. Every doctor and medical professional Iíve seen both here and in Savannah have been highly professional and competent and caring people. This is why I want to interject this here:

My friend from down in Kingsland and I often make jokes in public about our miseries and our visits to the doctors and tell funnies about how popular our Medicare cards have made us. We're just trying to be cute and funny. Gives us some distinction we so sorely lack. But let me make it clear that nothing about these lighthearted moments have ever been said with genuine malice. We do have major problems in the health care field in the United States, but itís still probably better than anywhere else in the world and my personal sentiments about all those who work in the field can be summed up this way: GOD BLESS THEM EVERYONE! Iíve never encountered but one or two who didnít genuinely didnít give a s**t about me, and I quickly fired them and moved on to somebody else. Those with whom Iíve been dealing for the past many years are the best. So I wanted to get that out of the way. Excuse the digression.

Now for my abbreviated story.

On March 16, 2009, I went up to see my cardiologist in Savannah to have a nuclear scan and general follow-up. This physician has been following me for many years. Iíve had coronary artery disease (CAD) for years. I had open-heart surgery in 1981. Later I had an abdominal aortic artery (AAA) aneurysm repair and had some ablation surgery to control some atrial fibrillation I was having. Long story short, I got a glowing report from this visit in March and was feeling real good about myself. Came home and was fired up to get into something to keep me more occupied.

So I returned to the YMCAís health club where Iíve had a grossly under utilized membership for years and started getting back into an exercise routine. Worked myself up pretty good in a short period of time, about 10 days. Then I thought I was ready to go, push it a little harder. Again, feeling good about things, and contemplating living to 100. But I had developed some shortness of breath and was hurting some in the lower back, left hip and left upper thigh. Wrote it off to these insane thoughts about renewing my workouts. You know how bad you are to lie to yourself sometimes!

Then on Sunday, March 26, 2009 I woke up early. It was Sunday. Noticed some severe edema (swelling, fluid retention) in feet and lower legs and was very short of breath. Thought it must be Congestive Heart Failure (CHF), but where would that have come from? Cardiac output had been surprisingly good on the 16th. Then I developed a severe cough and thought I had caught something in that filthy, stinking motel where we had stayed on the trip to Savannah. In point of fact, I'm persuaded I did. It was truly a rotten motel I'm telling you! Subsequent blood tests have confirmed some pulmonary funk described as ĎLEGIONELLAĎ? Jesus! Legionariesí disease? From a motel in Savannah? Could be. But nobody knows for sure.

All I know is the place stunk to high heaven and was unbelievably dirty and gummy and it was ice cold and you couldn't turn off the air conditioner. And on top of that I had abnormal traces of pigeon and bird poop and mixed feathers and cladosporium herb arum and trichoderma viride and other funks in that lab report. And I got the report in case somebody wants to see it!

Anyway, I kept going to the YMCA. I worked pretty hard through April. Lost a bunch of the fluid: from 240 pounds down to 218 pounds. Was committed to healing thyself sort of thing. But things kept getting worse, especially the pain in the left hip and leg. Cough got better, etc., etc. but by the time my regular appointment came up on May 5, I confessed all my sins to my primary care physician, Dr. Pauline Bellecci, one of the finest of the finest, folks. Believe me. She has confirmed my long held belief that if youíre looking for an Ďoffer you canít refuseí put a little Sicilian doctor on it! She swung into action after ripping me apart for not calling and coming in earlier. Told her I thought I could heal myself. Said she, ďright!Ē And then placed the severed horseís head on the gurney with me!

Long story short, the ensuing chest x-ray looked funky. But look, my chest x-rays have looked funky for 7 to 8 years and Iíve been through this before. Back in 2002 we chased a funky looking chest x-ray all the way trough a bronchoscope and biopsies. Found nothing. My cardiologistís brother, a lung specialist in Savannah, followed me for this for about two years and a couple of additional CT scans. Nothing ever changed, so he released me to be followed prn (as needed). Looked as though it was an old pulmonary infiltrate infection scar or something. It wasnít changing and ďcancer doesnít just sit around unchanging for several years.Ē

Well, I needed him again after this funky chest x-ray. In fact, we all knew from that that anytime I had a chest x-ray in the future alarm bells were going to go off. And they did! Nobody was surprised, at least not those who knew my history, but it had to be checked out donít you know?

Anyway, Dr. Daly has all but gone to specializing in other pulmonary disorders in his practice and left this kind of stuff up to his partners. In fact, heís traveling from Savannah all over South Georgia now, including Douglas and Waycross doing the sleep apnea thing and bringing a rare service to the folks in these parts. Not many of these specialists around in our area outside of Jacksonville and Savannah, so heís a godsend for folks with sleep disorders and the like. Anyway, since I was an old patient of his and his brotherís heart patient, but mostly because he holds Dr. Bellecci in such high regard, he agreed to see me and he did in Douglas on May 12, 2009.

Letís push this through now. I had another bronchoscope and biopsies. Dr. Dalyís colleague, Dr. Mullins, did it this time, on May 18, 2009 and their pathologist did the slides. Everything looked good except one nasty slide. The pathology on it read: ďÖ malignant tumor cells present consistent with non-small cell carcinoma.Ē One slide out of seven. One! Damn! All of this brought on more scans: TB check, x-rays, CT scans, bone scans, sputum cultures, MRI, blood work, and more blood work. Later scans revealed a shadow on the L4 vertebrae and the general opinion this was the source of the hip and leg pain -- something pushing on the nerve endings. This got much better after awhile, incidentally, and has been reduced to a chronic, dull low back pain at the moment, but the chase was on! A PET scan was more than justified now. I had that Tuesday, May 26, 2009. Results came back the next day, today, May 27, 2009. I had meetings with Dr. Daly and Dr. Singh, local oncologist today. (Singh, incidentally, I had seen once already and he is the one who set up the PET scan; and by the way, Dr. Singh made one of the finest first impressions on me of any first time meeting Iíve ever had with a physician in all my life. He told me if a PET scan lights up, itís bad. If itís dark, itís good. I prayed for a ďlights out.Ē It didnít turn out that way.)

Long story shortened here, but it needs to stop. Itís pretty certain that I have lung cancer. It is probably Stage 4, meaning that it has metastasized, probably to the L4 vertebrae and maybe elsewhere. Weíre not absolutely positive yet. Thereís a lot of so-called Ďstagingí to do yet. Weíre going to get a biopsy of the L4. If it were to not be malignant that would be good news and we would probably just remove the small tumor in the upper lobe of the right lung, count our blessings and call myself lucky. If it is malignant, Iím probably looking at chemotherapy with unknown results. Thereís still a lot of mystery hovering around the Big C, folks. And lots and lots of money. God, I wish somebody would find a cure. Iíve lost so many family members and friends to this god-awful disease. And so have you, Iím sure.

Which brings me to my closing, which perhaps represents the universal note, if any, with some applicability to everybody: you are born and then you die -- it is inevitable! Weíll talk more later, I hope!

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