Our day at Johns Hopkins on Friday turned out to be shorter than we expected - they called at the last minute to say not to come until 10. We were very busy (yes, a little "hurry up and wait") until 3 p.m., and we left with only one reservation - that we still didn't have much more information than we left home with.
We met first with Susan Sartorius Mergenthaler, who went through the "routine" with us. We got a potential schedule for what the trial will be like if Robert passed all his tests later in the day. We were able to push the proposed schedule for the first injections off until the first full week in November, allowing Robert to get past his deadline for a cert. petition to be filed in the Supreme Court on November 1 without interruption - and also allowing for our Thanksgiving travel schedule not to delay some of the follow-up tests.
Susan then walked us through every little detail of the "informed consent" document that Robert had to sign before anyone else could carry out their tests. Now we were ready to see Dr. Evan Lipson, who "poked and prodded" to make sure there were no enlarged lymph nodes lurking around in Robert's body. He also asked a million questions about medical history and gave us advice about follow-up care regardless of whether Robert is accepted into the study. Some of his advice we had heard before - sun screen, wide-brimmed hat, regular check-ups with an oncologist (he suggested every four months), dermatologist visits every three months, and in between those visits, check all over Robert's body regularly to see if any spots look suspicious, or look different from last time we saw them.
Here's what was new: Dr. Lipson suggested that if we see something suspicious, we should take a high-quality digital photo of it so that we can compare the baseline with what we see in another month or two. This we can do - it's just a question of getting in the habit ... Also, Hopkins did not do a thorough skin exam with a Wood's lamp, as I expected - we should go to Robert's dermatologist for that, particularly since he has been looking at Robert's spots for the last few years. We will make that appointment as soon as possible.
Next we met Robert Gray, the phlebotomy nurse, who inserted an IV before taking several vials of blood to make sure our Robert is healthy enough to be in the study. After having an EKG, we scurried to get to Radiology in time for the afternoon schedule.
Let me stop for minute and say something about the people in the cancer center. Every receptionist and accounting person we met smiled and was pleasant, gave us time for questions and answered every one. The professionals - the nurses, Susan and Robert, as well as Dr. Lipson - wanted to know who we are as people even before they talked to us about the reason we were there. It did not seem like idle chatter - they really wanted to know about both of us. I have spent plenty of time in other medical institutions and don't remember having such a pleasant experience.
Radiology was - well, efficient! First Robert had to drink 24 ounces of "stuff" for the CT scan. Then we had to wait a little while, and then they took him in for a very quick tour in their fancy machine. Down the hall we went to the MRI section, where we waited a very short time before they were ready for the test. This one took a while - and it was very noisy, even in the corridor where I was waiting but even louder for Robert. I lost track of time, but I think it may have lasted about 45 minutes.
After we got dressed, we waited about 10 minutes for the MRI technicians to make a copy of the study for us. We picked up the disk from the CT scan on our way out.
Our next stop was Bertha's - our favorite Baltimore restaurant. It's a short drive down Broadway from Hopkins to Fells Point - good thing, because it was after 3 and we were pretty hungry by then! Robert was allowed breakfast but no food afterwards, to keep the sugar he had to drink focused on any cancer cells that were active in his body. Although we believe and hope there are none, we don't want to confuse the radiologist reading the CT scan into thinking that metabolic activity in his stomach is some wayward melanoma cells lurking there ...
At Bertha's, of course, we ate mussels! That's what one does there ... well actually, some people were ordering other things. We just couldn't figure that one out ...
Our ride home was longer than it should have been, probably a combination of rush hour traffic leaving Baltimore between 4:30 and 6 but also because an unexpected storm came up through Montgomery County. We weren't home until about 6:30 - yes, a long day, but at least it didn't start at 7 a.m.! And, there was a lovely hour spent at Bertha's ... we hope to be back there soon!
Of course, radiology at the end of the day - and on a Friday - means we got no instant gratification. Susan will call us when she has results. And, we will post the results here as soon as that happens. In the meantime, please call if you have something else to talk about ... we really do like to talk with family and friends, and we particularly want to share whatever's going on with you.