Web Site: Ranch Boy Books
You Don’t Get By Free
H. Steven Robertson (Begin November, 2007)
It was Liver Cancer
(Note: The names have been changed to protect their professional integrity of the health care specialists who served me.)
In the Beginning
When I opened the back door to let the dogs out early this morning, I could smell the rain and hear the small droplets pat pattering on the plastic roof of the washroom. It was quite pleasing, actually. There was something of a reaffirming of health and life in a gentle rain—it was a cleansing and a gracious drop to drink for all of the shrubs and creatures that lived out there. I was glad it was raining.
Right after Thanksgiving 2007, I had experienced horrible stomach cramps that lasted a couple days. Fortunately, the excruciating pain subsided and intermittent pulsating ones replaced them. After several days of thinking they would go away, I finally took myself to the doctor. He did a stool test and some other things but nothing showed positive.
“It’ll go away, I kept thinking, but just before Christmas I was still experiencing quite a bit of discomfort. So rather than being trapped the whole holiday period of days off for health care workers, I went to the doctor again. This time he promptly scheduled me with a GI specialist for the day after Christmas.
The PA who saw me, asked me a plethora of questions, thumped my stomach and listened to my heart and guts through his stethoscope. I’d just had a colonoscopy so that ruled out colon problems and my stool test had ruled out creatures. In addition, my constipation and cramps had eased up, so he felt I’d passed the worst. I was feeling better. It didn’t last.
Although they weren’t as bad as they had been, the cramps continued and the constipation came back. Finally, just before New Year’s Eve, I went back to my doctor who promptly scheduled another visit with the GI specialist. This time I would see the actual physician who regularly handled my colonoscopy work, but it would be five days before I could see him. They were five more uncomfortable days. Dr. Fitzgerald was very concerned. He immediately scheduled me for a CAT scan, an ultra-sound exam and some very extensive blood work. I had these at the Booreland - Groover Clinic on January 8. That would require that I fast from midnight on. Also, I had to drink a barium cocktail—part the night before and another part that morning. Actually, they had that spiced up pretty nicely. It was a great imitation of a banana milkshake.
When I got to the clinic, I was immediately impressed with the professionalism of the personnel. I was led back to a room where 6 vials of blood were sucked from my arm—like I’d been attacked of a bevy of vampires. Little did I know how often I would see these creatures that traveled mostly in the dark halls of the hospital at night in the next few weeks. I learned later that they are known as phlebotomists. Six vials are a lot of blood, or at least it seemed to me to be. Next came a very thorough ultra-sound procedure (no, it didn’t show twins), which covered my entire abdomen area – front and back, including both sides and kidneys. The technician had me hold my breath over and over as she took pictures of my ‘innards’. She was especially concerned with my left kidney.
Finally, I was walked across the hall to the room where the CAT scan machine lived. If you’ve never been in one, just think of your favorite science fiction movie that has a huge, hollow, complicated plastic and metal ‘donut’ filled with electronics, a sliding slab for my body to lie on to as it was moved back into the center of the donut. This structure, predictably, is flanked on both sides with rectangular-solid boxes loaded with multicolored blinking lights. (…Dr. No, I presume…) I was handed a towel to cover myself as I dropped trousers (actually shorts) and lay down on the slab. I was given a little more barium cocktail to drink. Because of the radiation, humans—save me—left the room each time the machine was used. Still resembling a science fiction movie, lights would start blinking in the narrow slit on the inside of the huge metal and plastic ‘donut’, then a whirring noise, increasing in speed began, as the lights began to circle my body. (Da, da, da, da, da….) Then, like the evil wizard in a sci-fi flick, a mechanical voice ordered intermittently that I hold my breath then breathe again as the device made colored photographs of my innards. The table moved in and out to cover my entire stomach and chest areas. Finally it was over, and I was starving. They gave me a cup of coffee as they verified the results. Incidentally, my body weight at this time was slightly over 274 pounds. That was to change—actually for better and for worse.
Prior to this procedure, Dr. Fitzgerald had scheduled an appointment on January 10, to discuss the findings with me. I’ve never been sure whether the Beaches Hospital was built in the correct location or not. My first concern came when on October 13, 2004, I turned down 13th Avenue south in Jacksonville Beach which is the road the hospital is located on. There are several other buildings that house different medical facilities and doctor’s offices occupy the same area. That was the date and in one of the offices on 13th that the urologist announced that I had prostate cancer.
I was very aware of turning down 13th Avenue South again on the 10th. I actually considered opting for another route, but dismissed that as silly. As I waited in the little consultation room with my dear wife, I didn’t like the look on Dr. Fitzgerald’s face when he knocked on the door and entered. After all, it was just a stomachache…
“I’m afraid I don’t have good news. The CAT scan showed spots on your liver and your blood work wasn’t good at all. I’m not sure what everything means yet because these are just the preliminary findings, however, your left kidney seems to be half-full of something. Although we aren’t sure yet what type it is or what is causing it, you definitely tested positive for cancer.”
Did he say Hiroshima, Nagasaki? As far as I was concerned, there was one H. of a mushroom cloud in the room. This was to be the second time I had traveled down 13th Avenue south and heard the cancer word in conjunction with my health. Of all the possible diagnoses, I had just heard the worst. I’m not sure what I felt; numbness maybe—but I think Kathy took it worse than I did. Dr. Fitzgerald suggested we schedule a hospital room for Monday. He needed to see a biopsy of the liver, have more blood work examined, and my urologist wanted to take a look inside of the kidney. They needed to find out what they were dealing with. Oh, boy. Let the games begin. I hadn’t forgotten the prostate biopsy and I knew where the liver was located, too. It wasn’t enough that this stuff was going to happen, it had to occupy my mind until it happened as well.
Need I say my brain worked overtime during the weekend? So Monday morning, Kathy called the hospital and they were able to set me up with a bed post-haste. When we got there and finished the sign in procedure, I was elated to find that I had a room by myself! I couldn’t imagine being trapped next to some moaning sick person who had body odor a hacking, rattling cough and unpleasant relatives that filled up the room. –It happens, you know. As it was, the Beaches Hospital turned out to be a wonderful hospital. I remarked to myself many times as to how proud I was to be a beaches resident for these past 40 years and to have my tax dollars spent so wisely on such a great institution. All rooms were single occupancy. My wonderful wife had taken the week off from work and was there for me throughout, which was no small comfort.
The first thing they did was to plug me in to intravenous feeding (saline drip). The original nurse I had left a little to be desired in the competency department. If I’d offered her a penny for her thoughts, I’d have gotten back change. She went all the way through my vein and came out on the other side. She had to choose another vein on the other side of my arm, and fortunately got it right that time. Unbelievably, this vein problem would prove to happen far too often as time progressed.
I had been instructed to fast starting at midnight Sunday, so as the morning wore on, I started really getting hungry. There must have been a whole flock of vampires in residence here too, because they seemed to need to take blood samples over and over. Around one P.M., Dr. Fitzgerald came in and told me they had me scheduled for my liver biopsy. I was worried about that. My experience with the prostate biopsy was not a favorite time of mine. Around three P.M. they announced they were bringing a wheel chair to take me down to have the procedure done. One’s imagination can go quite wild at times like these. Were Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde awaiting me with body reorganizing surgical implements?
Turned out the physician was brother to another who had once repaired a torn Achilles tendon for me years before. Although it wasn’t as bad as I imagined, it was still no fun. The biopsy was taken in the solar plexus beneath the point where ribs converged in the middle of my belly area—a great spot… He explained the first needle—one about an inch long, followed by a second—at least two inches long, inserted one after another, were the worst parts. They were, and their purpose was to deaden the area for what came next. After that, he used a plastic device reminiscent of a science fiction Ray gun, replete with a very long needle, held right over the same spot. I had a thin needle several inches long projecting out of it and when he pressed the trigger, ‘SNAP’, the hollow needle was popped down into my liver and retrieved full of meat. This he did twice and it was over. Oh, yeah. They took more blood at this time also.
I’ve lost track of the body piercings by now. Hell, I could come out of the hospital looking like an East Indian ascetic if I’d asked for silver and gold inserts each time… They offered to take me back upstairs on the gurney, but I elected a ride on the wheelchair instead. No flies on me.
Soon I was back in the room and able to enjoy another meal, finally. But that was to be short lived. I had to fast again for then next day because my urologist had the exploratory video scope scheduled for the next day, Wednesday. (That which doesn't kill me, makes me stronger. –Nietzsche) Get ready for Superman, ‘cause here I come. Dang, I’d fasted enough for several years of religious events in the past couple weeks.
Nights were punctuated with a blur of comings and goings of personnel who took my temperature, blood pressure and other vital signs. Sometimes they just checked on me or brought me drinks or changed the bag on my i.v. Fortunately, some of the medicine was helping me sleep. Breakfast and coffee time came and went without my participation and it was closing in on lunchtime with the same outcome.
Around one PM an orderly showed up with a gurney and told me my time had come. Several of them did the old fireman’s cross and moved me from the bed to the gurney. At least they were giving me a sedative for this procedure, which involved a tube with a tiny TV camera mounted on the end to be inserted on the only direct opening to the kidneys on the front of my body—need I say more? I didn’t want to think about it. By the way, I had the same i.v. plugged in from the first day. They just kept on changing bags of liquid. Sometimes they would inject something magic into it, which is how they put me under for this event.
This time when I came back around, I was plugged in twice. The new one was a Foley catheter, a very, very large (#16) Foley catheter, which led to a delightful little clear plastic bag suspended under my bed. Yup, you guessed it, this was uncomfortable, but hey, whaddaya do about it? Ya’ deal with it. Sleeping was a great way to do that, when I could. I also brought a lot of books to read, which were recommended by a good friend. And I was able to eat again! Oh boy. Thanks for small miracles. By now, I was experiencing confusing difficulty identifying which of the ‘torture treatments’ I was going through was worse—and they complained about things done to Iraqis. Actually, the Foley catheter zoomed rapidly to the top of the list and as time went on, it established itself in solid first position. Everything about it was uncomfortable and/or painful. Since the exploration was for the fluids seen in the sonogram picture, old blood was found and that was mostly what was being drawn out. The color needed to clear before it was removed—oh man, please hurry!
Now, when I needed to shuffle to the restroom—mostly for #2 false alarms since #1 was plugged into the catheter, I had to push the wheeled stand with my bag of I.V. fluids on it and carry the catheter bag in the other hand. I could have been a zombie in a horror movie—at this point, I probably looked like one as well.
Some time on Tuesday, I met Dr. Geeze. Kathy and I were there in the room when this interesting fellow showed up at the door. He wasn’t dressed in hospital attire , however, and wore a coat and tie instead. He had on plastic rimmed glasses and held a notebook—which turned out to be my hospital history, findings and orders—in his hands whereupon he was continually writing. Dr. Geeze was a big man and his demeanor was very friendly, down to earth, quiet spoken, and disarming. I liked him immediately. I thought he was administration or something. As it would turn out, he would be the one who took over the details of my cancer and chemotherapy. He sat with his legs crossed and asked me questions, all the while referring to and writing in the notebook. I would see him from then on each day I was ensconced in the hospital, and weekly there afterwards.
Now all I needed was a release from my urologist to be let out of the hospital—and the damned catheter removed. Thankfully, the fluids had just about cleared up. These were events for which I anxiously awaited. I was starting to wear down and wanted out of there. Around noon on Thursday, the urologist finally checked the line of the Foley catheter and was pleased with the results. Although I needed to have another scope procedure done, he recognized that I needed to recover some first and Okayed the release. Oh boy! The nurse came in and deflated the end of the Foley catheter and withdrew that—oh, sore, sore. Next she unplugged me from the i.v. I was beginning to feel like a real person again instead of a cyborg.
It was still afternoon before they brought the wheel chair to the door and rolled me down to the exit on the first floor from the third where my room was. Glory, glory, now there was heavenly bliss and devout thankfulness. I was making my escape.
My beautiful wife escorted me to ‘Great White’ (my beloved Ford F-350 crew cab truck) and drove me home. It was my first time in several days to see the outside of the hospital and it was beautiful. I don’t remember much of the next few hours after I crawled in my own wonderful bed replete with fresh sheets as made up by my wonderful wife. Goodness, home at last, home at last! Next stop, appointment with Dr. Geeze on Tuesday—Monday was M.L. King day.
Daughter Summer accompanied Kathy and me on the appointment at 9:15 on Tuesday. Here again, there I go down 13th Avenue South to Dr. Geeze’s office. Of course, right away, I was handed a plethora of paperwork and questions to answer. Everywhere you go you are handed the same papers and questions, over and over. I filled them out. As usual, there was the wait, wait, and wait some more in the little room they took us to. Finally, Dr. Geeze arrived and started outlining my chemical future. I think I should buy stock or something in those companies because they were sure to own a piece of me in the very near future. Good news is the procedures and medicines are vastly new and improved, including not requiring sacrificing my hair for lint (pun intended).
They walked us over to another large room. Imagine a beauty salon, replete with reclining chairs arranged along the walls around a huge oval nurse/technician’s station, which took up the middle area. By each chair, instead of a hair dryer, stood a wheeled stand made to hold the i.v. machines and bags of fluid for the i.v.s. These , I named R2D2 because of their propensity to beep, beep, beep when fluid ran low or other problems occurred. There were also several small rooms that jutted into the walls and I was escorted into one of these, seated in a ‘get-back’ chair, and introduced to my ‘new’ nurse—we’ll call her Rene. She was really on the ball and a pretty neat lady. We asked that she be our technician for the duration and she agreed.
I could tell the vampires were stirring again as Rene drew a huge amount of blood before they plugged me in (to the i.v.) They hadn’t necessarily scheduled me for beginning treatment, however, I said I was ready so they plugged in a baggie of chemicals while she handed over drugs and prescriptions and delivered an astute monolog as to treatment—what to do, what to expect, and answering questions. Boy had I been smart, as I had two of my three darling babies (wife and eldest daughter), both sitting with note pads, astutely taking down everything that was said. And it was a lot! It would take two hours for me to assimilate all the drugs they were giving me. Summer had an appointment so Kathy ran her back to the house to get her car. Rene slipped me a Mickey Finn via the i.v. because I drifted off to cavort with Morpheus and awoke woozy some time later. I’d had my first treatment and slept through most of it. Next stop, next week and another poison session.
The second session of chemo was on January 29th. It went well and was for the most part, uneventful. As usual, I met up again with Morpheus and had a nice nap. Summer, once again, as she had the time being self-employed, acted as my chauffer and guardian.
In between sessions, I noticed that I was tired on a daily basis and took long naps in the afternoons. I was also taking a tablet called Xeloda, which I felt was causing me to feel even worse. I eventually got permission to stop taking that.
Wednesday morning of January 30th, Summer went to the bookstore to get me more books because I’d read everything in sight at the time. I had been scheduled for a PET Scan, which required my drinking a barium “milkshake” which she picked up from the pharmacy as well. By the time she returned, I’d taken a nap and woke up with skewed vision. I was very disoriented.
Thursday morning I had hit an all time low by the time Summer arrived to take me to my appointment. I had no energy, blocked vision and stumbled as I walked. My memory was faulty as well. Although I had an appointment with the urologist, I was in no condition to go so Summer cancelled that for me. I am writing this now only because Summer remembered the chain of events for me. The scan took place around two in the afternoon. Summer had to force me from bed and had her heat turned to maximum in her car, which included a seat heater. I drank the “milkshake” at noon and again at 1:30. They injected me with radium and made me sit for an hour in a little room while it circulated throughout my system. Summer, the darling, sat with me and as a consequence was radioactive as well. I was freezing. Finally they had me lie on the slab that would roll my body into the ‘donut’ hole of the machine. A PET scan is done with the same machine that does the CAT scan with the difference of the radioactive elements. I was freezing when it was over and again, thankful for the great heater in Summer’s little Volkswagen. That night all I wanted was sleep, eschewing even supper. My girls made me eat some ice cream, fortunately, as I had eaten nothing because of the forced fast all day.
The next morning, my wonderful and devoted wife had read all of the details given to her as to when to contact the doctor when certain conditions presented themselves with regard to the patient. With the weekend rapidly approaching, Dr. Geeze suggested that Summer bring me in so he could check me out. They plugged me in after checking my vital signs and gave me a container of i.v. fluid. Then I was allowed to go home. My family reports that I got some of my color back but little else changed. They also tell me they were positive I had problems since I didn’t check my Email…
Still concerned, Kathy called the office number the next day and got one of the ‘on call’
Physicians—apparently an East Indian woman. The woman seemed unconcerned. She told Kathy she couldn’t understand why I should be dizzy. Of course this didn’t make Kathy happy.
Call me Rip Van Winkle, and I’m sure my beard grew, but I wasn’t aware of that nor much else for the next few days. I, in the vernacular of modern teens, “vegged out” for the next three days.
The Reality of Life
The morning of February fifth I awoke from a deep sleep, feeling disoriented and woozy. After a hot shower, which didn’t do much good, Summer drove me to my third session for chemo. I’d been having small headaches and my vision had become strangely disjointed. The right side of my peripheral view was missing. These problems I reported to Dr. Geeze and he was quite concerned about them. He immediately scheduled me for an MRI. Ah, still another new adventure.
I was warned that if I had problems with claustrophobia, it would be horrible for me. But, as a former pro diver and wild kid, that wasn’t one of my problems. The machine itself resembled the CAT Scan machine. There was the slab to lie on which could be raised and lowered and slid into the bowels of the giant creature. Once prone, a cage was closed around my head to hold it steady and from then on it was like being in a science fiction movie. I had to cross my arms across my chest so they would fit into the machine. The table was raised and slid backwards until I could see the bowels of the inner-workings. And then it started. Magnetic Resonance Imaging—just imagine what the words mean with the emphasis on ‘resonance.’ If you remember seeing the science fiction flick “Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ and the deep resonating tones the space ship full of aliens used to communicate with earthlings, you have an idea what it was like. Actually, I quite enjoyed the sensation of sound. Never had I heard sounds that profound in my life. A human voice announced each test and the amount of time it would run. In spite of all, the slab was extremely uncomfortable due to the size of my shoulders and I was impatient for it to end. I bided my time by counting off seconds in my head to make the minutes that each of the series of tests would take. Most were three to seven minutes in length.
Finally this scanning was done and I was able to return home. Not an fifteen minutes had passed when the phone rang. It was Dr. Geeze. “Steve, get yourself to the emergency room at the hospital and check in immediately. Your scan suggestests you have had a series of small strokes!” By this time, my senses had started to numb and I had started to take everything robotically. I no longer felt any control over my destiny. I informed Kathy, packed a bag and we headed for the Emergency room. A new saga began.
In Horizontal Orbit
Some years ago, while pursuing my master’s degree, one of the courses was Sociology and Education. We were assigned a reading list and among others one of the books was titled In Horizontal Orbit. Not only was it a study in institutions, in this particular case, the institution was a hospital. And in those days, hospitals were pretty dehumanizing. Believe it or not, they are vastly improved today and studies like this one were part of the reason for change. There is a tendency for the individual to be come just ‘one more piece of meat’ when ensconced within the walls of a hospital. None the less, I found myself to be in horizontal orbit.
When we got to the hospital, they took us around to a hallway in the back and placed me on a slab in a small room, which was off to the side. As was to be expected, they plugged my arm into an i.v.—don’t cha just love these instruments of torture…? It was early afternoon. Then we waited and watched the activity in the hallway. A team with a portable x-ray machine came by and took some pictures of my innards, and we waited. I was horribly uncomfortable and my wonderful family sat gamely with hubby and dad—waiting. Hours passed with no contact by hospital doctors. We had arrived at the “emergency room” around four that afternoon. It was at least 9 or 10 P.M. before we were even able to see a doctor—and that visit was short but not so sweet. It was after midnight—around 2:30 A.M., over 8 hours later—that we were finally wheeled up to the room and settled in. apparently, many emergencies had continued to supplant my place on the list of patients to be seen. I kissed my family, reluctantly, and stared at the door past the empty room, as they left for home. It would be a strange night of coming and goings of various hospital staff, alternately looking in on me, checking my vitals and, oh God, drawing more blood. It should also be acknowledged that my 240 plus pound, 6’4” frame was not at all suited to the little bed they have in hospitals. (*Note: My body weight had dropped from around 275 to under 232 pounds by the end of the ordeal.) I was also beset with the frequent urgent need to make the trip to the restroom, wheeling along R2D2 that I was plugged in to.
I would see a plethora of physicians, however, Dr. Geeze would appear almost every day in the morning. I had grown quite fond of him and he was a calm, confident source of information for me. Kathy tried to get to the hospital early so she could be there when he showed as well. I saw the urologist, a couple of neurologists, and others I don’t remember. Also, there was the little ‘spider man’ beaches hospital doctor who was East Indian and spoke with a British accent. He would come in, stand by the bed and speak in a monotone, explaining what was happening to me, what they would probably need to do, et al. He would be the one to have the final say as to when I could leave inner sanctum.
The first actual day was Wednesday, February 6. Kathy and Summer were there the whole day but not much happened that could be categorized as eventful. Actually Summer and Taylor, her husband, Kathy and youngest daughter Sunny kept me constant company over the days of my stay. That was no small comfort, I might add. Kathy took an entire week off from her job as teacher for it. The next few days, however, became a miasma of comings and goings. The omnipresent phlebotomists—up to three or four times daily/nightly, nurses checking on me and changing shifts, staff taking blood pressure, heart rate, temperature and O2 count; and delightfully, my beloved family and sometimes friends—albeit, I wasn’t really up for receiving many friends at the time. And then, there were the doctors. You’ve never seen so many doctors from so many different fields of medicine. I actually lost count although my wonderful ladies did keep a record for me. As Wednesday passed into Thursday and after another fitful night in the tiny foreign bed alone with my thoughts, I watched ceiling and walls as they turned from dark to light as the day began. It was my beloved wife’s birthday and she had to spend it with an infirmed husband.
I had Summer pick up a present for her a couple days prior so at least, I was not entirely unprepared. Also, I wrote a little note and drew a small dolphin on the dry erase board on the wall where nurses recorded their names daily and nightly so I would know who was on the shift. Today would also be the day Kathy’s mom and dad would visit. As usual, my day brightened immediately when she poked her sweet, cherubic face around the edge of the door and said good morning.
Kathy assisted me in taking a sponge bath and changing my nasty hospital gown. I also shaved. A bath in the tub, because of, as usual, liability, was out of the question. I felt much better afterward. Strangely, however, my emotions were almost overpowering—a very, very rare thing with me. My days had been filled with negative after negative commentary about my condition and what lay ahead, especially treatment-wise. I was totally in the control of the hospital people and no matter what, my destiny was to, or at least it was, as it seemed at the time. After years of living life on the tough side of things, I emerged with a psychological way to deal with the roughest. I call it “getting in the zone.” It is difficult to explain, but there is a place I can make my mind/being go to when things get tough. It is a place where I try to minimize sensation and feeling, including mental and psychological as well as physical. It is also highly philosophical and tinged with a “wait and see” aspect. To get all wrought out with emotion when I don’t even know if the supposed scenarios are even close to what will actually happen is unwise. Actually, this proved to be one of the most valuable of all the zone aspects as a lot of the horrible stuff never materialized. Still, try and make your mind get quiet….
I’ve had to use my zone many times throughout my life. I was spending more time ‘in the zone’ now than ever before in my life and it was telling. I had my girls around me and Kathy’s parents arrived in the afternoon. Since my kidneys and urinary problems made my trips to the bathroom necessary and frequent, that necessitated my rolling R2D2 past everyone as far as the i.v. would reach and closing the door on the tube. Of course it was family and everyone understood. Also, Kathy’s parents are the best in-laws any man could ever wish for and I love them dearly. I was getting hugs and sympathy and comments of being prayed for. By the time they elected to leave, I was an emotional wreck. My daughters were still hugging me as Kathy escorted the folks out the door and I was choking up big time. My bottom lip even started to quiver and I was trying to “suck it up” as hard as I could. Kathy noticed and mentioned it to me later.
That night as I lay in the dark staring at nothing, I made a resolution. Never in my entire life, which has been filled with adversity and difficulty, have I dealt with things by feeling sorry for my self. Conversely, I charged the problems head on and fought against them. I could feel the resolve taking over my being and it was a good feeling. It was a strong feeling and a secure one. My jaw was set.
Throughout this entire ordeal, I never once was worried about death or the hereafter. Actually, those thoughts were not in my head at all. I did feel a need to stay on ‘board’ for the sake of my wife and kids, as well as other family members. I did, however, worry about the things I was told they were going to do to me. Oh, my goodness—some were the stuff of nightmares.
I was still having difficulty sleeping regardless of the ‘sleep aid’ they gave me each night. The bed was too small, I didn’t have the company of my wife, my brain was alive with the different things that ad happened to me, the things that were going to occur and all of the stuff I’d been told. Plus, this day had been the most difficult of all. I did manage to slip off, at least I think I did but it was to be short lived. Voices, there were loud voices calling to each other as people moved up and down the hall past my room. Then there were the noises of carts and equipment rolling past my door and finally, the clincher, an industrial strength vacuum cleaner was turned on. It was going on 11:30 at night. What in the world could be going on? I rolled R2D2 to the door and looked out. Hospital workers had shampooed the whole hallway past my door and were sucking up the foam in the vacuum. I couldn’t believe it. I buzzed the nurse’s station and she came down to my room.
The nurse apologized profusely for the noise and commotion. She explained that it was a big problem that drew a lot of complaints and said that the hospital administration was aware of it and were trying to come up with a better solution. The problem was that the physicians, technicians and other personnel used the hallways during the day and that there was no way the stripping and re-polishing could take place then. She also said that they had instructed the workers to not talk and/or call down the halls and if she heard any more of that, she would be on top of it. I told her I hoped she didn’t think I was just a complainer and mentioned that it had been a really bad day for me. She understood and an hour or so later, the commotion was done. I’m not sure if I slept much that night or not. Sometimes what seems like sleep is really somnambulism instead.
In the middle of the morning the next day, 4 or 5 nicely dressed individuals came in my room. They handed me a very nice potted plant and said they were representing the hospital. They apologized for my being bothered and hoped that this would help me feel better. I was kind of embarrassed but it was a wonderful gesture and I told them so. Beaches Hospital really is a very nice hospital for a number of reasons. I never had a problem with it, just with being hospitalized in the first place.
The neurologists were concerned about the extent of the cancer. Mostly, however, they were worried about the small strokes I had experienced and the vision problems I was having. Fortunately, my vision was improving. They said this was a good sign because if the symptoms continued, it could be indicative of a possible tumor on the brain. Huh, something else to think about. I was being pumped full of fluids to assuage the strokes but they needed to see if the cancer had gotten into my spinal fluid and thus, to my brain. Of course they told me all this stuff and then I was left with thoughts about it. So, I was told Thursday that on the next day, they would do a spinal tap. Another cystoscopy and uretaroscopy were already scheduled for Friday afternoon and they could do the spinal tap prior to that. Wow, I’d heard of spinal taps and I was not anxious to experience one first hand. Time for my ‘zone’ again—and try not to think of all the stuff until it happened the next day.
And the phlebotomists came and the phlebotomists went and another night crept past and dawned on another day in horizontal orbit. I would be taken down around 2 PM for my spinal tap. When the orderlies came for me, they wheeled my bed and all down to the first floor. I wasn’t looking forward to this. The spinal tap was done in a room that had an x-ray type machine in it. It was used to locate the spot at the base of my spine where there was a space between vertebrates. Actually, they must have improved the procedure because it wasn’t bad. I got a numbing injection and then they stuck in the needle and withdrew the fluid. ‘We were told it would be a couple days before the sample could be viewed and the results made available. It would be late Monday. Since I was also told that we would need to have these results before I could be released, it was killing me!
The cystoscopy was another story. I was rolled into the area where the operation would take place feeling sort of smug. After all, I’d had one of these before and didn’t even remember it, save the Foley catheter afterward. Wow, was I wrong! Next thing I knew I was in twilight land. It was like being in the guts of a dimly lit spacecraft with white and blue uniformed individuals walking past and in and out of the myriad of rooms that led off of the main room. And I was in pain! Oh my God was I in pain. As I found out later, I was not able to breathe on my own after the procedure so they were not able to continue with the sedation. They were not able to give me any medication to help with the pain until I awoke completely. Never, ever have I hurt so badly in my life and I have been through some serious stuff. They told me later that I was yelling—I believe it. I remember some of it. Wow did I hurt, and it seemed to go on forever. Finally, it was back to the room and another Foley catheter to deal with. How much more was I going to have to go through? It was quite evident that I’d be in the ‘zone’ over the weekend. Later, we were told that they found a tumor in urethras -transitional cell carcinoma. This was evidently the origin of the cancer that was in other parts of my body.
The Yellow Brick Road
There were a number of different factors that caused me to end up here in horizontal orbit. The primary event was the several small strokes I’d experienced. There was also the cancer and the need to find the source, and none the least, the kidney and urinary problems. Since there was a lot of bother (frequent need to urinate) and a small amount of pain associated with the draining of the bladder, I was given a prescription to help me with that named pyridium. Wow, that was some drug! It had one very interesting and rather noisome drawback. It turned the urine a heavy golden yellow. This in itself was inconsequential, however, the liquid stains everything it comes in contact with save new porcelain and one must work to clean that.
Every day, I would meet a new nurse. Some, however, would have multiple shifts, day or night, and I would see them several times. One such lady, and one of my favorite nurses was a lady who was from India like so many of the hospital employees. I liked Hannah a bunch. She talked of philosophical subjects occasionally, like Jainism and Buddhism and the life and wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi. I enjoy philosophy and it was fun to hear a person who had lived in a country where these were primary ways of thought talk about them. Hannah was a night nurse.
I was asked to save specimens of my urine to be tested for blood after the catheter was removed from the cystoscopy procedure. For this, I was given a specially formed plastic ‘urinal’ to use. It looked like a white plastic Aladdin’s lamp with a rather large opening on the end. Since I was alone at night, and the bathroom was a few extra steps away, I was taken to leaving the ‘lamp’ on the counter a few feet from my bed. This necessitated, only, my arising, taking a couple steps and retrieving it. It held about a quart and I filled it in no time.
There was no necessity to turn on a light as the glow in the room was sufficient for what I needed to do. The vessel was almost full when I reached out to replace it on the shelf across from my bed. Unfortunately, I underachieved and did not completely rest the bottom on it which resulted in a dull, plastic thud as the lamp hit the floor and a fluid much more vile than a wish granting genie gushed out on the floor of my room. I punched the button on my bed to call the nurse’s station and in no time, Hanna came in my door. Of course not much surprises a seasoned nurse and this didn’t cause her much alarm either; although she had walked through the liquid when she entered the room.
Hannah called housekeeping and a horde of individuals armed with mops and buckets descended on my room. They were rather nonplused when they found that although the liquid came right up, the golden stain did not. The supervisor, whom they had summoned, surmised that the floor would need to be stripped later in order to return it to the pristine condition it was in prior to my gaff. Finally, I was able to turn the lights back off and try to get back to sleep.
The next morning, Hannah came in to check my vital signs before her shift ended. She was a quite jovial person and she grinned down at me. “You know Mr. Robertson, I will think of you every day now that I put on my shoes to come to work.” I asked her why that was to which she replied: “Because my shoes are yellow now. . .”
In addition, I found that now each time I found the necessity to traverse the distance between my bed and my bathroom, I needed only to ‘follow the yellow brick road.” I re-named R2D2 “The Tin Man” to consecrate the occasion.
‘Tis said a man should make his front door. I made mine years ago. I also made our bed, which is a giant, king-sized four-poster. It is so large that when I roll out of it, I am standing up. It is constructed of California redwood and has drawers beneath the mattress. I love our bed. I also remodeled our shower/tub enclosure some years ago and placed the showerhead over seven and a half feet above the floor of the tub. I am very much a conservationist and we compost kitchen waste and do a myriad of other things to that end. When I got my new shower head with a flow restrictor installed, out came my power drill with which, I made short work of the small little hole they provided me with. No thanks. I’ll conserve in other ways but not with the wonderful flow of water in my therapeutic shower. Also, no bending over to get my head wet for big ole’ me. Finally, Kathy and I decided to buy a deluxe comforter that is 100% cotton, polyester filled and king-sized too. All I was thinking about was my door, my bed, my shower and that heavenly comforter. I wanted to go home and I wanted to climb in my bed and snuggle up to my wonderful wife. I wanted to walk down to the beach, feel the breeze in my face and the salt air in my lungs and the sand beneath my bare feet. It seemed like forever that I had experienced these things. Mostly, I wanted out of this depressing place so I could begin to heal.
One good thing was my appetite. I was ravenous by mealtime three times a day. And, hospital food wasn’t that bad. They even came in and took my order for the meals. Saturday night, I got Kathy to go to the Out Back Steak House and sneak in a steak for me. It was out of this world delicious. I think it even helped me get even better. You get thankful for simple pleasures.
Over the weekend, the little hospital doctor came in and reviewed what was projected for me. As he talked, I was reminded of one of those little dolls you used to be able to purchase where you pulled a string of tape out from the back and when it was released, the creature talked until the length of material ran out. His eyes and face remained almost expressionless as his mouth automatically opened and closed, pronouncing the words. I could tell he was very smart. First, they couldn’t release me until the results of the spinal were reviewed and they had not come in yet regardless that the job had been earmarked as urgent.
Then, I was being prescribed a blood thinning substance named Coumadin. It had some rather quirky side affects, none the least was not being able to eat dark green leafy vegetables. There were some other things as well, but the thing that rang my bell immediately was when he told me that I would need to give myself two injections daily and that these would have to be in the stomach. Okay, I heard, shoot myself twice daily in the gut! Oh, boy. He also insisted that a nurse would come in and instruct me on how to give myself these injections. I mentioned that my wife and daughters would more than likely be doing the shooting, but he insisted that I be responsible for myself. (So much for empathy on the other side of the needle.) It was more fun and zonetime. Later, I found that Coumadin was not a very good drug to use.
I had a new nurse that night. When I told her I had not been sleeping well, she mentioned that I was a pretty big fellow. She would double up on my sleep ‘aid’ for me that night. It was to be the best night’s rest I had since arriving.
Monday, I received a visit from m Step mom Marcia and her husband Dean. Mom had come into my life when I was in college. It was to be the greatest shock of her life to realize what it took to prepare a meal for a 6’4”, 240 pound college football player when we came home for Christmas break. A meal consisted of several steaks and enough vegetables and mashed potatoes to fill a small garbage scow. It was good to see them and aside from their having to turn an occasional head while the Tin Man and I traversed the Yellow Brick Road, hospital gowns are a bit drafty in the back as you may know, we had a wonderful visit. They would stay the night at a local hotel and return to Orlando the next day, which was Tuesday, February 12, 2008, seven days following this incarceration.
In the mean time, in his morning visit, Dr. Geeze, while mentioning “Quality of Life”, told me that he had decided to change the Coumadin to Arixtra and that there would only need to be one injection per day nor would I have to be on a special diet. Hey, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. One injection a day is twice as good as two. Also, he mentioned, since tomorrow was just a week after my last chemo-therapy session, I could come to his office tomorrow for my next, regularly scheduled visit and not miss a treatment for that. Oooh boy. Out of the hospital and ‘plug in time’ again. Ironically, that the needles and getting stuck hardly bothered me any more. So, Summer would take me to Dr Geeze’s office the next day and I would resume my chemo treatments.
The spinal tests had come back and were good and I was told I would be released. I happily got dressed in real clothes for the first time in a week. Kathy, Summer and Taylor helped me to gather up my things. There was much more than when I arrived. Then I sat on the bed and we talked while my Indian friend made out the release orders so I could leave. I was quite sure he was making a hand-written copy of the Bhagavad Gita as well because it was taking forever. I wanted out of purgatory!
Finally, an orderly showed up at my door and said it was done. I would be able to leave now, but wait a moment while she found a wheel chair. One thing that is paramount in modern day hospitals is their almost fanatic obsession with avoiding the lawsuit—no bath, no shower, a wheel chair ride out of the hospital, et al. When she returned and parked the chair outside of my door, she mentioned a little apologetically that it was a little small. Small, heck, there was no way my oversized caboose was fitting in that thing—not even half of it. So after searching to no avail for a few more minutes, she returned and asked me how well I was walking. Of course there was nothing wrong with my musculature and I told her so. I was, therefore, allowed to leave the floor under my own power. Heck, I’d have carried someone on my back if I needed to. I had to be guided out because I had no idea where I was. The only time before that I’d come this way was around 2 O’clock in the morning seven days before.
And then there was light—sunlight and a fresh breeze and beach air on my face. I had escaped. Taylor drove his and Summer’s car around for me and I was headed for paradise. And there it was, our home on First Street in Neptune Beach. And it was not long before I slid between the wonderful sheets and the new comforter on our bed that wonderful Kathy had freshly made up in celebration of my return. Although the Yellow Brick Road was long gone, I couldn’t help it as the words, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.” wafted through my head just before I met up with Morpheus for a cavort I had long awaited.
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