(This is the fifth post on my cancer journey.)
"Barring a miracle, I don't think you will make it." I've had to say words like that, but I was talking about someone's marriage -- NOT their life. It must be one of the hardest things medical professionals are required to do. They devote their lives to help people get well. They fight with batteries of tests, treatment options, surgeries and medications. But sometimes they must say the hardest words a patient (and the patient's family) will ever hear.
I knew all those things, but this was my first time to encounter the healthcare system as one of people in the bullseye. I had cancer. Without treatment it could be devastating. Cathy and I had decided on a plan that included surgery. Now it was time to face the system. We couldn't have been more pleased.
It started with our doctor. The credentials on his office walls told us that he had been trained in a world-class teaching hospital. They also told us that he was highly rated in our region of the country. What the certificates couldn't say was that he is one of the docs with the incredible combination of well-honed skills and obviously extreme intelligence, mixed with an air of optimism and a dose of human compassion. When I met him, I immediately liked him. He had come at the recommendation of my family physician whom I consider a friend, but it was our first meeting that told me how glad I was that he would be in charge of this part of my health.
Obviously a doctor is but one part of the large, often intimidating, healthcare system. My surgery would be followed by a day or two in the hospital. My only other hospital stay (that I can remember) began the day I graduated from Basic Combat Training in the U.S. Army. That stay was for a pretty severe case of the flu and it was needed to restore me to health, but it wasn't particularly user friendly. In that stay, those of us on the bottom tier of military rank had to get out of bed each morning at 0600, make our own bed, then get back in it. Not exactly luxury! My hospital stay for cancer surgery, however, was a model of quality care accentuated by creature comforts fit for royalty.
The surgery wing of the hospital had recently been remodeled. Every room in the wing was private and fairly large. The staff was professional, but they were beyond that. They seemed to mirror the optimism I saw in my doctor. They managed my pain, cared for my personal needs and took time to answer my questions. One nurse on a night shift seemed a little "down" when she came to check on me. I mentioned it to her. "Is there some way I can pray for you?" I asked. She shared some needs within her family and I promised to pray. After that she came out of her shell and showed me great kindness. Another nurse had just finished her Nurse Practitioner training at the university where Cathy and I met many years ago. We had a great talk about the school and about her future plans.
One of the "perks" of being on the surgery floor was that we could order food from a large, diverse menu. Various parts of the menu were available 24 hours of the day. I guess they know from experience that surgery can throw your system...and your schedule...off. The food was good and I could order things that sounded good to me. It took me over a week to start getting my appetite back after the surgery.
I am sure that every hospital has its share of complaints from patients and families. My hospital stay, however, filled me with encouragement and hope. They treated me, not as a sick person, but as someone who would get well. I did!