Being a sonographer is hard work. I’m not referring to the amount of studying we have to do, or all the diseases and cancers we need to know like the back of our hand… but the emotional weight we carry everyday.
As a sonographer, if a patient comes in by order of their doctor for something as simple as abdominal pain- we are the first to find out if they have a cancerous mass on their liver, or their ovaries, or if it is just a simple cyst. For the patients who come to us for something minor, and leaves with a major issue unknowingly (until they speak to their doctor), is a weight that is unimaginable.
It goes like this:
The worried, and curious young patient stares up at you in the dark room while you quietly study their organs on a screen. The beeping of the machine isn’t a distraction enough. They are scared. You are measuring any questionable pathology, and double checking, triple checking, quadruple checking every organ just to make sure you didn’t miss something that could potentially kill your patient- had you not have been more careful. When their scan comes to an end, they ask, “Can you tell me if you saw something bad?” You reply, “No, I am sorry. I cannot. I would get into trouble. Check in with your doctor, okay?’
You walk out of that room, and into your office where you review the images you just took of this patient’s pancreas. You look again, at where you measured a large pancreatic tumor. You don’t want to say it. But you know it. It’s that nasty, horrible, and just plain scary C-word….
That patient is now gone from the office. They left a little worried, but this will pass because now they are going to enjoy their weekend, before they visit their doctor next week to find out the worst news they could get. This patient will forget what you look like. They will forget your name when you introduced yourself as their sonographer. They will forget the small talk you made in order to keep them calm. They will forget the calm they felt that weekend after a sip or two of a drink, and the company of good friends. Because they now have a deadly disease that will kill them fast.
But you, the sonographer, will never forget that patient. You will never forget their name. Their age. Their face. The small talk. The plans they had that evening. The fact that they only came in for abdominal pain. The pain you felt when you realized. The tears you cried in the office once they left. The hugs the other sonographers shared. The silence that came over the room when we all stared at the patients file. You will never forget them.
This is the job of a sonographer.
And that is how it went when this past week, when I found cancer in my first patient.