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(Guy Clarke reference)

Caregivers Part 2: The Cancer Cowboys

GP had to turn me over to the authorities eventually. I was guilty of cancer, after all. He did his best, and he would play a major role all along the way, but it was time to hand it over to the boys (and girls) in the long white coats (some longer than others): The Cancer Cowboys.

You’ve read something of my treatment and all of that, so let me just say this: once we had a diagnosis, they took the time to give me the time to watch a football game (probably, in reality, their way of saying, he** yeah, then the ambulance doesn’t have to hurry!) and then I went off in the ambulance to the BIG hospital. The one where my wife works, incidentally. I felt like I was in good hands. And that is probably a really good thing, since she planned it that way. (Note to self: don’t have this much life insurance while married to a nurse.)

But I must say this: if you have to be in an ambulance, you want to be the driver. I do not mean that I had a bad driver (I did not care at the moment). I mean that I would rather drive an ambulance and play with the siren than be the guy in the back with the glazed but gaping eyes, IV hanging out and two people leaning over to make sure he doesn’t die en route.

Personal choice. I’m just saying. Give it some thought if you ever get the choice. If you cannot drive, at least yell “Shotgun!” before someone else does.

I couldn’t yell “Shotgun!”. I had a sock in my mouth.

I was stuck in the back. I was the guy with the glazed and gaping eyes.

My team had won, by the way, so maybe that explained the glazed and gaping eyes.

In any event, at the hospital, I met the Cancer Cowboys. I cannot promise you that all of them stood before me at once, not there, not at the beginning. They may have. I have memories of that, but my memories are suspect. I was there, I think, to assure them that I could survive what they were going to do to me. And to wean me of certain minor vices I had :). But enough of that. Envision this, because eventually it was true, and I’m pretty sure it was true right up front: there were SEVEN people standing around my bed, in various lengths of white coat. We know what that means, of course: the longer your coat, the longer you’ve been in the business. That is, a guy with a LOOONG coat, he is the boss. A lady with a SHOOOORT coat, she is a student being trained not to mess up before finals.

In between, you have the residents and the interns and whatever they choose to call themselves (or whatever others choose to call them, depending on coat length, I suppose). Didn’t matter to me. I was enamored by the idea of Silverado being played out right before my eyes.

I had all of these gunslingers standing around my bed, having a look at me, all of them smiling and nodding, some of them pulling out their pistols and spinning them in the air, one lady taking a clean shot at the Monet ripoff hanging over my head. This was good stuff!

The Cancer Cowboys. Some of them would leave. The main, they would stay. I would never even learn the names of some of the cameo players, and still have a hard time remembering the names of some of the stars, although I can mention some unique identifier to my wife and she is apt to know who I am talking about. But I will always remember the Sheriff, and I will always remember the Deputy Sheriff. They saved my life.

I had a little problem, as you have read. These guys spent nearly 15 hours working that problem into a solution. And that is just the time they spent doing the fun stuff. It does not account for the planning and the coordination. It does not account for post-surgery care and selecting the right people to handle the next stages of my recovery and salvation. These guys, they are the kind of persistent and driven people of whom Butch asks of Sundance, “Who are these guys?”

Cancer Cowboys.

Cutting edge kinds of guys. One, the Sheriff, was mild and meek, a gentle guy whose feelings I sometimes feared I would hurt with my bravado and bluntness. The Deputy Sheriff, on the other hand, he would gamble with life, as long as it was mine. Between them, they made me laugh. And they made me want to make them laugh.

I succeeded, I think, from time to time. I know they did, in more ways than one.

The Sheriff is still the Sheriff. Whenever anybody else wants to do something, I want to pass it by him first. He has moved on, of course, and I am now in the hands of OncoMan, for the most part, not a bad thing, to be sure, for he is part of the cast of uncles and aunts that were gathered around me from time to time during the worst of the tornado. But I still, really, seek the Sheriff’s assurances. I do.

I don’t get them, but I do seek them.

In the mean time, there were others then.

The meal lady knew what was ahead of me, even if I didn’t, and always brought me extras of the stuff she thought I could eat. She knew before I did that I was getting a last chance to eat. So in came the pudding and the brownies, and on request, that last piece of steak I decided not to eat. She looked out for me, and I did not know that she was looking out for me. Not then.

The gurney guys were great. I don’t exactly know why, but for some reason, in the two week preliminary round, I went on more gurney rides than a MASH extra. I have a story to tell about a doctor, by the way, and must leap ahead to do so: When I went back this year for the lobectomy, I had occasion to visit another part of the hospital, I don’t even remember where now…another CAT scan, something like that, maybe. And when I was done with the test, I was left out in a waiting area, sort of like that general pre-Op area you hang out in sometimes, you know?

And I waited, and I waited, and I finally decided that no one was coming to give me a ride back to my room on the other side of the hospital. I should tell you that by this time I’d had both a lobectomy and a second surgery to try to rid me of MSSA, a staph infection, along with the accompanying indignities to both body and mind.

So, patient fellow that I am, I decided to unstrap myself from the gurney and walk myself and my IV pole back to my room, several miles away. Seriously: in another building connected by a single interior bridge type of structure. One lung slightly less robust and complete than it used to be.

I was in the midst of this when a nurse discovered me hard at work and began to scold me. She was an Asian lady, and probably very good at what she does, whatever that is, but when she got excited, which she was at that moment, she and I had a failure to communicate. To be precise, I didn’t know what she was saying, and she didn’t believe I was going to do what I said I was going to do. But I kept on doing it.

She continued to scold for a few moments, but then decided that wasn’t working and ran into the OR (that’s right…I was in for some minor something or other, now that I think about it, removal of this, replacement of that, who cares, took a minute.) Out comes the doc, and he is a lot calmer and kinder and asks what I am doing and I tell him, and I tell him why, and I can see the smoke coming from his ears. He suggests that he will FIND the person who is supposed to take me back to my room, or he will PERSONALLY take me there himself.

That sounds like a plan, although I don’t really believe him. I mean, I think he will find the gurney girl, but not that he will push me up and out and on to my room if he cannot find her.

Five minutes later, he comes out, checks my gear, and wheels me to my room!

Truth. Later, the lady who is responsible for making sure patients don’t get p*ssed off enough to write nasty letters to the Directors or the newspaper comes to see me and says she has a basket for me, and I say it will do me no good, and would she please direct it to the doctor and his staff, and she promises to do that, with my compliments to him.

Again, I digress :).

But that is how my treatment has been. From beginning until now.

I cannot stress enough how much hope and humor and determination have carried me through this. And I cannot stress enough how lucky I have been to have the greatest care possible, probably because my Chief Caregiver happens to be both my wife and a nurse.

I want to go on in saluting my professional caregivers, but I have to say this now before I forget it: I know there are bad doctors, incommunicative doctors; I know there are b*tches for nurses out there, cruel ones (heck, I had one of those, at least). But, I am always skeptical when the first words out of someone’s mouth have to do with poor care and bad doctors and nurses. And that is not a bias at this point. Again, I know that some of them are not top flight. On the other hand, if I hear or read someone who is just consistently whining and not changing anything, I figure eventually that they like the treatment they are getting because it allows them to whine.

I hope that doesn’t sound cruel. I really do sympathize with those who are getting poor care. In fact, my wife has been called on, on more than several occasions, to be an expert witness for attorneys trying cases for people who have ostensibly received poor care. I know all about it when I see it.

Pay attention: when I got out of the ICU after my 15 hour surgery and four days of induced unconsciousness, they took me to a bed somewhere and the nurse left me SUSPENDED OVER THE BED like some guy in the movie Coma, for at least a couple of hours, and needless to say, when my wife walked in on that pretty scene, things got rather hot and heavy in CancerLand. (Honestly, that lady is no longer working at that hospital. I swear that to you. They do tend to clean up their messes if they can.)

I guess I just don’t like whining. A lady commented to me this evening: It is alright to sit on the pity pot, as long as you don’t stay on so long that you get hemorrhoids.

I like that. :).

I have had excellent care. The Cancer Cowboys were great. I let them know, as soon as I was able, that pain was something I was allergic to, and one of them, a youngster (he played soccer once, so we were buddies right away) told me that his job was to eliminate my pain, not to produce pain. I f found that profound at the time, although everything tends to sound profound when you are bumped up on morphine, I would think. How do you think Lewis Carroll WROTE Alice in Wonderland?

(That’s not fair. Carroll was a mathemetician before he was a writer, and he just dug logic and illogic. We can talk about Poe at another time.)

The thing is, he was taking stitches out of my face at the time (not Lewis Carroll, but the young resident/intern, whatever he was, the former soccer player). He was carefully removing them from my face as he was talking and I really felt little more than ever-so-slight pinches as he did so, despite my initial concern that pulling staples out of my face and neck was going to be cause for serious injury to both of us, first me and then him.

That was the care I received.

And when, early on, when I first got out of the ICU and still had the trach, the seven were standing around my bed, I would sneeze and mucous would fly across the room (I covered my mouth, of course, and not my neck) they would simply dodge it and move on, although, I must say, they learned after a day or two to simply keep certain alleyways open for me.

Later, one of my premier caregivers, my son Ryan, came to visit with a couple of his friends and they found this particular story the best part of their trip to the hospital :).

it is true that one nurse who came to visit me in those early days, the most beautiful Asian woman I have ever seen, as porcelain as the dolls you used to see, just an exquisite woman, so that I half expected her to have those crochet needles or chopsticks or whatever in her hair, just undeniably beautiful, when she got hit by one of my errant ‘sneezes’, she was visibly shaken and became upset with me as if I had MEANT to hit her with it, and we had a squabble over that, her scolding me and me talking back with a sock in my mouth, and I never saw her again. Probably good for both of us.

There are always episodes like that, but that is not an indictment of the whole system or the entirety of the medical profession. I like to think that they have some pretty tough jobs. They don’t just see ME in my state of illness and woe. They see hundreds of ME every year! They have heard it all, seen it all, fought it all.

And, mostly, done it admirably and kindly and professionally. So I like to make them laugh :). In the case of the Sheriff, the ENT who ran the show and who was listed as one of the top 100 doctors in the country as recently as two years ago (and acted like he didn’t know anything about it when I brought it to his attention) it is enough to break that stone face into a smile. I have done that. I feel that is a major accomplishment :).

There is more to say about these special people, but you need a break :).

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