Looking Inside My Lungs

According to a couple of demographers (Toshiko Kaneda and Carl Haub), who updated an earlier estimate in 2022, 109 billion of people have lived and died since 190,000 BCE. Counting the additional people alive as of their updated 2022 estimate, the number of people who have ever lived is roughly 117 billion. With relatively few exceptions, each of those who lived and died have been mourned, as if they were among a tiny cluster of people who mattered. For those who mourned them, they were people who mattered. For most of the rest of humanity, they were unknown and unworthy of tears—their lives and deaths were largely irrelevant in the macro sense.  Even in the micro sense, the relevance of most of them diminished with time. We still acknowledge plenty of them, of course: Plato, Albert Einstein, Napoleon Bonaparte, Abraham Lincoln, Leonardo da Vinci, Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī, Julius Caesar, Kahlil Gibran, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Atilla, Emperor Shōwa…there are hundreds more. But those hundreds, or thousands—even if they number in the millions—represent only a miniscule fraction of all who have lived. The relevance of those we recognize from the past were relevant only to a limited extent; their relevance did not embed itself in the psyches of every person living at the same time they lived…and far fewer as time wore on. An argument could be made, I suppose, that one’s great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandmother remains relevant today because, absent her existence, her great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandchild would not have been born. But memories and relevance do not necessarily occupy the same places in the brain. Are any of us relevant today? Will any of us be relevant in one thousand years? Who knows? I do not. I do not know whether my assertions in this paragraph are true. My fingers deliver unverified thoughts to the screen. The reader believes them with peril.


The results of my bronchoscopy on Tuesday were not the stuff of celebration. We spent a long day at the hospital—arriving at 8 and returning home around 4. My procedure was scheduled to “fit me in” whenever the pulmonologist could. I was wheeled into the procedure room right at noon. They claim I was awake (under “moderate sedation”), but I remember nothing between being asked to bite down on a mouth guard that provides a stable entry for the scope and opening my eyes after the procedure. We then waited for the doctor to come in to discuss the findings. He showed us photos taken from the scope inside my right lung. He said the images showed that it was not Keytruda (immuno treatment drug) that was responsible for the concerning images on the PET scan. [Apparently, the purpose of the bronchoscopy was to determine whether Keytruda was to blame.] Instead, he said, “it’s the disease.” He said he could not perform a biopsy because the tangle of blood vessels all around the prospective biopsy area would have immediately filled the lung with blood and I would have to intubated. The doctor’s bedside manner was a smidgeon better than the last time I saw him, but his demeanor made me think he could have been a robot created without the usual robotic levels of compassion and empathy. Of course, my reaction to him might based on the news he delivered, rather than the way he delivered it. What matters is his technical, medical competence; everyone I spoke to about him, even people who once worked for him and said he was arrogant, offered compliments about his expertise. I expect to discuss with my oncologist next week more detail about the results of the bronchoscopy and the  next steps in dealing with the resurgence of the cancer. Tuesday night, I had some of the common side-effects of the procedure: coughing, slight fever, vomiting, and extreme fatigue. With breaks for throwing up early Tuesday evening, etc., I spent 20+ hours between the time I got home on Tuesday and yesterday afternoon sleeping. Still, I know I am much more fortunate than many, many people who deal with such matters. I am deeply unhappy that I am adding more stress to an incredibly stressful time for mi novia. Ach.



About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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5 Responses to Looking Inside My Lungs

  1. Bev, I’ll inquire about Tarceva. Thanks!

  2. bevwigney says:

    Even if you don’t have the EGFR mutation, some people have had good benefits with Tarceva. It’s worth checking into as it has been a good maintenance med for some people – and generally has few side effects (the main being skin rashes).

  3. Bev, I will have to check whether my records show a test for an EGFR mutation; I have a vague recollection that I may have had such a test.

    Meg, thanks for your good wishes. I’m glad your diagnosis was premature!

  4. bevwigney says:

    Some doctors have a very strange bedside manner. I’ve seen just about every kind – good and bad.
    Just tossing this out there. Were you tested for an EGFR mutation to see which meds might work for you? Has your doctor mentioned whether you might be a good candidate for using erlotinib (Tarceva). It’s a daily pill – has some side effects but most people I know who used it didn’t find it that difficult to take. Anyhow, just mentioning it as something that might be worth investigating if Keytruda isn’t giving good results.

  5. Meg says:

    John, In the fall of 2021 I was told I had months to live. I was glad someone had leveled with me, but that diagnosis was ….premature. Wishing you the same.

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