Several nights ago my husband complained of chest pain. I was already in pajamas and drinking a glass of red wine, hoping to relax from the crazy confluence of health/caregiver/family events. My first thought was of course, HEART ATTACK. I calmly asked him to point to where it hurt, when he said, "Feel the right side, right near the....round thing; I can't remember the word." So, I felt his right nipple. "Here?" I asked. "No, it hurts on the other side, but be careful 'cause it really hurts if anything touches it." I had relaxed somewhat, thinking OK, NO HEART ATTACK, as I kept my left hand on his right breast and moved my right hand to his left, underneath the t-shirt he was wearing. "Ouch! That's where it hurts."

I had breast cancer almost 17 years ago, so I'm accustomed to doing self exams in the shower. I also remember all too well the surgeon who had me examine three rubber disembodied breasts with 1) benign and no lumps; 2) pea-sized hard lumps that could be malignant and 3) dense or fibrous breasts. What I felt on my husband were pea-sized hard lumps and surrounding swelling. He looked at me and asked what it was. I had a sip of wine and said, "I'm not a doctor, hon, but I'll call one you know in the morning, okay?" He still looked concerned, so I suggested, "How about some ice cream and cookies? You get in your pajamas and I'll get the ice cream." Instant positive reaction.

This is not the first time he has been unable to verbalize pain. From the look and feel of his breast, he's been in discomfort for weeks probably. New thing I need to remember to ask. He fell asleep after the ice cream, but woke me up several times, asking if it was time to go to the doctor. Much like a small child, his sense of time is immediate or distorted.

I called the doctor's office first thing Monday morning and I'll spare you the ridiculous details. Suffice it to say, I didn't get things straightened out until late Tuesday afternoon; was able to get an emergency visit squeezed in today because of two things: we are both NOT NEW PATIENTS and I explained he's got Alzheimer's and wasn't able to tell me that he's been in PAIN for several weeks. And so, the odd but hopefully happy ending, for now, is that because I'm in a clinical trial and my husband said PAIN, the doctor himself called to make sure it wasn't CHEST PAIN. We're scheduled to go to get mammograms and ultrasounds together next week. A first time for everything.