John Alan Turner

Writer, Theologian, Consultant, Speaker, Teacher

Let Me Explain

To all my friends who may (or may not) have noticed me acting a little more strangely than normal (which is saying something), I should explain. For the past few months I've been experiencing a lot of discomfort in my throat. At first I thought it was just a common cold or perhaps strep, but it never went away. And it felt different. It was more painful than simply irritating -- more of an ache than a burn. Some nights the pain would wake me up. It left me with terrible "cottonmouth", and it kept getting progressively worse. One Sunday I was speaking at a church and thought I might actually have to stop mid-sermon. It was that bad.

So, I made an appointment with an ENT near my house, thinking it may be nodes or tonsillitis or something along those lines -- perhaps even my own overactive imagination. The doctor was very kind and reassuring until she looked in there. Her voice barely betrayed her when she said, "I'm PRETTY sure it's not cancer, but I'd like to go ahead and just rule that out."

Yes. Yes, let's do that.

So, we ran tubes up my nose and down my throat into my esophagus -- not what I had in mind for that day. Samples were taken. Lab tests were performed. I waited the requisite 48-72 hours. And I got that terrible phone call, "The doctor would like you to come in to discuss the results of your tests." I know the phone call went on for a few minutes after that, but -- honestly -- it all turned to white noise then.

I went in the next day and got a long explanation of what all was connected and what was disconnected, which symptoms were most concerning, and which symptoms were probably nothing. I saw charts and diagrams and heard about medications that have lots of Xs and Ls and Zs in them. In the end, what I got was the most frustrating diagnosis imaginable: inconclusive. Something was definitely wrong. Something strange was occurring in the cellular structure, the cell walls near the top of my esophagus showed something irregular. But they just couldn't get a consistent read on what precisely was going on.

So...more tests and more probing. And the introduction of meds -- anti-inflammatory and anti-reflux. And the promise that on the next visit -- once the meds have had a chance to work their magic -- we'll figure it out.

On my next visit, however, things had actually gotten worse. I was more swollen. So swollen, in fact, that they couldn't get the endoscopy down where it needed to go, and I could see that everyone was a little alarmed at this. We tried everything, but that little probe with a camera on it wouldn't go down far enough. They told me they were taking extra precautions because they know I make my living talking to people. They wanted to make absolutely sure.

So...more tests. More probing. Stronger meds.

As I said, it's been a few months now, and I'm a little tired of living in this vague unknowing-ness. And I've held off from telling many people simply because I wanted to be able to tell you all something other than, "My throat hurts. The doctors don't know what it is. It could be esophageal cancer, and, if so, I'll probably die sometime in the next five years. But it's probably not that. But it might be. They can't tell."

Those of you who know me well know that I am a terribly private person who struggles to know how to live in community. Social media provides me with the opportunity to do a little bit of that while maintaining firm boundaries -- perhaps drawn too tightly at times. But I am posting this here and now because I am going back to the doctor this afternoon. More tests. More probing. More samples taken. More blood drawn. And then the awful 48-72 hour wait.

Some of you have been through this. For you it's old hat. For me, I've never been hospitalized. I've never broken a bone. I've hardly ever been sick in my life. I am probably making a big deal out of nothing, but I may also be really sick. We. Just. Don't. Know.

If you are a praying sort of person, I would appreciate that. Specifically, you might pray for me to stay the heck away from googling this stuff and scaring myself further. I am looking for ways to distract myself over the course of the next couple of days. No cat videos please.