Why is my neck asymmetrical?

I remember reading somewhere that you should not worry about things because ninety per cent of the things you worry about won't happen in any case. The book or maybe it was a song went on to say things that warrant worrying will happen to you when you least expect it, possibly on a slow Tuesday afternoon when all you are thinking is the location on your body where you would like to attach a third arm if you were given the option. Well for me it wasn't a Tuesday but a Saturday night at the Mexican eatery Chi Chi's on Route 1 in Alexandria, Virginia. I was at dinner with my brother Siddharth and his wife Elizabeth on my last night in America. We were talking about important stuff like why Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe would never have worked as a couple and how their breakup was really the best thing for the two of them. Talking about Russell Crowe must have reminded me about my own looks and how I could never attract Meg Ryan and this painful train of thought took me back in time to five weeks ago when I had been staring in the mirror in my home in India and had noticed an unusual swelling on the left side of my neck.

"Hey, is the left side of my neck swollen?" I asked rudely interrupting the Hollywood gossip at the table.

My brother the cardiologist and his wife the ICU nurse peered at the neck in question and then looked at each other, nodding in agreement.

"Yes, oh my God, it does look swollen!" Elizabeth exclaimed.

My brother leant across the table and felt the side of my neck and then asked the three questions that were repeated about a zillion times in the next few weeks by different doctors, specialists and the occasional cab driver. The questions in order of priority were:

"How long have you had it?"
"Has it grown bigger or smaller?"
"Is it painful?"

If the world only contained women and the first man showed up I think he would have been asked the same questions too about a part much further south of his neck. His answers would have been more interesting. Mine on the other hand were boring and always the same. "About five weeks, about the same size and no, not painful."

The following day we were to have lunch with my uncle, also a cardiologist and his wife, also an ex-nurse. This time the examination got a little more intimate. My uncle took me to a separate room, felt the under my armpits and then asked me to lie down and pull my pants down. I had to keep reminding myself that I was not ten years old and that my uncle was not Michael Jackson or worse still a priest! The consensus amongst my set of medically proficient relatives was that I should stay behind and get myself checked out.

So the next day I was taken by Elizabeth to my brother's clinic in what was to be one of many, many trips for the two of us to a dizzying array of specialists. I don't know how Elizabeth managed to keep cheerful through it all because I know I would have lost my patience very early in the process. But it was a blessing for me that she was there through all the days of craziness. Along with my brother's outwardly calm relaxed approach it was the perfect environment I could have hoped to have to deal with my experience.

The day started slowly at the Nachnani clinic where my uncle and brother earn the gas to keep their Lexuses running. A few needles, a couple of electrodes, an odd bottle of blood and I was done. Have you noticed that color of blood is always darker than what you remember? Maybe it's just me. Next, I was shepherded off to the next specialist, a connoisseur of infectious diseases. This turned to be a South Indian gentleman, Dr. Rama, undoubtedly an Americanisation of Dr. Venkatmanigopalkrishnan Sivaramagopalan. Dr. Rama I had been told was a typical smart South Indian. And five minutes after talking to him I could confirm the rumor. After his nurse had put another half a dozen holes in my arm, the good doctor showed up and very methodically asked me the Top Three questions. The questions were the same but his manner of asking gave them a sense of careful thought and logic. I could see Dr. Rama retiring and become a detective without missing a beat. Before letting me go, Dr. Rama casually suggested that a MRI would be a good idea. And as I should have expected by now, my uncle and brother had already scheduled me for one. I don't want to even digress into how long it would take a normal person with no cardiologist relatives to make the same progress I had made in a couple of hours. Anyone dealing with the American healthcare system of oppression and greed would know that I had just been saved about at least four to six months of bureaucracy!

As promised my next treat for the day was a MRI. If you have had one before you will know that the last thing you want to hear from your MRI technician is that the MRI would take about an hour and a half. If you have not had one then imagine having to lie down on your back on a flat plate that is then pushed into a cylinder which is big enough that your nose doesn't actually scrape the roof as you slide in, but not much bigger than that. So you have to lie still staring at the white inner surface of this cylinder that is about four to five inches away from your face. Then just as you think that this cannot get worse, the machine starts working making a sound similar to a jackhammer in a construction site. I recently took a breathing class and needed every little technique I had learnt in the class to stop from screaming to be let out. Of course you are handed a button called the "panic button" for such a contingency. So the word "panic" is introduced to the situation pretty much in the first five minutes. I used the breathing techniques and then tried to remember all the bikes I had ridden on to distract my mind and am quite happy to say managed to get through the hour and a half. I actually fell asleep a couple of times too thus ruining a set of photographs for the technician. I must say I didn't feel too much sympathy for her photographs at that point of time.