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(Neil Young reference)

Caregivers (Part I)

I sent some of my last meanderings off to some friends, and other people, believe it or not, actually read this tome from time to time, perhaps to see what foolishness I am getting myself into now, and what struck me in the responses was that people wonder how my wife puts up with me.

I am not saying that she does. 🙂

But when people say that some of the funny stuff is when I describe her positions on certain matters, or her reactions to my positions on certain matters, I realize that when I re-wrote this page, I did not acknowledge the role of caregivers in my existence over the past three years or so, at least not adequately.

That is a gross injustice to my caregivers, for sure, and to yours, too, I am hopeful.

To define caregivers is to include everyone who loves me (or you), in my opinion. It includes the doctors and nurses and x-ray techs and speech therapists and respiratory therapists and floor moppers and food providers and all of the other medical professionals and their associates who tend to us as well.

It includes my family, my wife and my kids, and my brothers and my sisters and my dad and his wife and my in-laws and a lot of the outlaws, too. It includes, too, my neighbors and friends, and my wife’s friends, and the friends of my kids, who all seemed to rally around when it was of critical need, some of whom even showed up at my hospital bed, despite my awareness from their posture and agitation that they would rather be switching places at the veterinarian with their dogs and cats if you know what I mean and I think you do.

I have heard some lamentable stories about some of those we expect to be our caregivers, from unprofessional professionals to spouses who decide that life will be easier on the other side of Cancer Mountain. About some who, even though they mean well, are apparently not up to the task, and about others who do not bolt but who shrink away in avoidance or fear.

I do not take the caregiver’s role lightly, to be sure, I do not take the role for granted. Okay, I take it for granted, if you ask my wife, but I do not take it lightly. Okay, I take it lightly if you ask my wife, but I do not take it for granted AND lightly at the same time. Unless you ask my wife.

I hope she doesn’t consider me out of bounds for citing her here, but one of my cherished friends is fond of remarking that she lost her husband to cancer, that she got cancer and he got lost. That is tragic, although she will tell you that in the long run it served her well and was probably for the best.

I know of another couple separated by necessity while their child battled cancer, and while they waged that agonizing battle that parents face when dealing with the potential death of a child, somewhere inside of them they also had to be wondering about the affects of the absences on their marriage, so that even when their son was happily returned from the hospital and they were reunited, this concern about their relationship suddenly reared up as a magnificent concern for the entire family (I am happy to say that in this very real case, the family has remained intact).

I read over and over about husbands, about males, in particular, (as opposed to females, not as opposed to female husbands) simply not being up to the task of caregiving. I have argued that males are not built for the job, but I know of some dads and husbands and sons and other males who would have and should have won medals for distinctive service in this regard, were such available, and would no doubt turn them down when offered.

At the same time, I read of sisters who disappear. Hell, I read of entire families seeming to disown a cancer-stricken member, inexplicably enough, as if the disease were something they deserved, as if it were something they brought upon themselves. Argue all you want to about the latter, but I believe firmly that cancer is not deserved, even when some of us will concede that we may have ‘earned’ it through some nefarious vice.

Imagine riding a bus to chemotherapy treatments because members of your immediate family do not have time for you and your disease? I shudder at the thought. It brings me to tears, frankly.

(As an aside, one of my caregivers, a golden retriever named Dusty who is old and wise, is in a semi-hyperventilative state by my side, from which he will not move, as thunder and lightening rage across the skies. Personally, I enjoy a good rain, a good storm, as I know that the earth is being replenished and that my water bill is being mildly reduced. Personally, I get some sort of weird sense of peace from the premature darkness and the power of nature. There is an odd sense of comfort in it, as long as I am not IN IT. Even that I once enjoyed, by the way. Dusty, wiser than me, I suppose, wants nothing to do with it. Gun dog he is not. I am fairly certain he would die to protect me, as long as I was not being struck by lightening, in which case there is little he could do but point me out to the Medical Examiner from inside the house and tell him “I told him not to go out there, in so many words.”

Cody, the young and rash golden retriever, on the other hand, is sleeping comfortably somewhere at this very moment, his back to the floor, his feet in the air, perfectly at ease with his world and its attendant noises and flashes from time to time. Aside over.)

There are also, of course, the sordid tales of professional caregivers, those who are purportedly well trained and at least marginally well payed to provide care for us, who fall flat on their faces or even go out of bounds in their detrimental behavior when we need them most to be there for us. Those stories are too numerous to mention and, to be honest, I am not sure how many are true and how many are simply the gripes of people who are going to gripe no matter WHAT care they get (I am biased: my wife is a nurse and a darned good one). I do know that some of the tales are true or there would not be so many of them. For that, a number of doctors and nurses and others should be hanging their heads in perpetual shame.

I will leave those alone. I bring them up only to begin the story of my own caregiving by saying that the care of the professionals who have been involved in my survival has been excellent. I owe some of them my life. To others I owe my sanity. To still others, my abiding love and affection for humanity (except for those times when that particular love and affection teeters on the edge of extinction, not their fault, of course, caused instead by mad bombers and cruel mothers and deranged kids and greedy men in suits).

My professional caregivers have been excellent. I would name my next 55 or 60 children after them if my wife were not so reticent to have 55 or 60 more children and if other women were not so reticent to take her place in that part of the deal. Yes, I’ve asked. Okay, I haven’t asked, but only because I already know the answer: One, maybe, but 60! You’re nuts! Okay, maybe that is a best possible scenario answer. The point is, I have a lot of respect for the professionals who have provided care for me, from beginning to this point where I stand today.

And I do stand today, which is a testament to them. To all of them.

My GP (also known as the General Practitioner or Family Doctor) got the ball rolling of course, and I still consider him a friend as much as my family doctor, but over time my respect for him as a professional has grown exponentially. No, he did not understand my problem to begin with, as documented above somewhere, but once he did, he acted at once and there was no tomfoolery permitted and he was THERE late into the evening, when they did that biopsy, and he was THERE when I wakened from it, sitting on his little stool (he was sitting on the stool, not me — I was in the bed with a sock in my mouth), big ex-football player that he is (with the huge fingers of a former offensive lineman as well, which is why I have STILL not had a proctology exam), and he was THERE to shed a tear and help me fill in the blanks. I could not have asked for anyone else but him, given a choice, to be the guy in the white jacket with the stethoscope, when that news came down.

Only this particular doctor could have recognized my inner strength, understood my toughness. And I do not say that to blow my own horn, but to play the sax for him. He knew me, had seen me for several years coaching his own daughter, knew what I stood for and what I could stand for, and he helped me to deliver the news to myself, if you will, knowing that I would march on, that we would march on.

Obviously, I think highly of him. His only annoying trait is his affection, deep and abiding, for the New York Giants football team. I have not yet cured him of that malady, but work on it each time I see him. And trust me, if I have a problem, he manages to squeeze me in. I am indebted to him for the way he has looked out for me throughout this entire process.

I should include his entire staff, actually. His nurse has a Scottish accent, so she is automatically hot, even if she is older than me (and she may not be, I’m just saying), and the lady that until recently took my blood when I was there never let her tremors affect her aim, which was always greatly appreciated, and all of the young ladies who either did or did not take my money (and for some reason they rarely did, owing, I suspect, to the fact that I had already paid for several college educations since the beginning of my ‘episode’) remembered my name even when I forgot it, and acted like I was a stud (or at least alive).

And they all work for him and represent him in the most admirable fashion. He is kind, and therefore they are kind. He is gentle and efficient and honest and therefore they treat me like I’m a stud when I walk in (or at least alive).

But, I am not going to sing him a love song :). I guess I just did.