Thursday, November 25, 2010

"The Back Room" - 11/25/10

I had the chance to visit with my parents several days this past week. As luck would have it my mother got sick and called warning me to not come. Of course I told her that this would be the perfect time to visit, when she was sick and couldn’t take care of Dad (and she wouldn’t get him sick taking care of him). As your probably aware, chemo treatments lower a patient's immunity and in return improve the odds of catching a bug that might lead to health related complications.

So while at my parents' house there were chances to buy groceries and fix some meals, along with the opportunity to rake about 13 bags of leaves (my arms are still sore even today).

Then I had the chance to take Dad to a chemo treatment. Like I mentioned my mother has been sick this week; my sister-in-law and brother have been doing a lot and I was glad for the chance to help. I’ve known many people over the years that have done chemo and I have been aware of the mechanics. But like I’ve said before, talking about it is different than ‘talking about it’. An emotional connection always enhances an event and that is what I had, another emotional connection.

Let me draw a picture.

My dad has reached the stage in life where a walking stick or walker is needed. He can go for short distances with no problem but for safety he uses one of the devices (or should use one).  So when we arrived he ‘walked’ into the office, signed-in and found a couple of chairs. We chatted while waiting to be called and he greeted a couple people as they entered the lobby (remember my other posts that mentioned how he knows people everywhere?). 

While waiting I took note of how many people arrived for some sort of cancer treatment or testing. This caused me to think, what are we doing to solve this? I’ve read about research and millions in financial support being spent on research, but come on! There were a lot of people in the lobby and this was only one office. I know the people are sick, maybe some even did it to themselves by smoking or consuming other carcinogenic substances, but this was a long, continuous line of patients with hope for a successful treatment.

Of courses my first observation was that each of them is somebody’s dad, brother, grandfather, uncle, aunt, mother or sister. Being me I sat and looked directly in their face trying to generate some empathetic understanding of what I saw on their face. There was even one man that got the official indoctrination to the program, it was his first treatment. I am sure that was fear on his wife’s face as she completed the paperwork and he poured himself a cup of coffee while chatting with the people sitting next to him (maybe trying to adjust to his diagnosis).

I watched at least 40 people walk in, get labs done, and then go in for some treatment. My second observation of the day was that less than 15 percent were alone, no one came with them for the doctor visit; 45 percent had one person with them (their wife or husband). It seemed so lonely for the two groups of office visitors.

Then they called Dad back for stats and labs. Up he stood, I placed the walker in front of him and off we went.  After a short hall-walk he sat down, did the stat review, stood again and then walked back out to the lobby for another wait. Once there we found a couple chairs (not together) and he started talking to a stranger. I sat checking for text and read email; then he was called back for the treatment.

We walked into the ‘back room’ (it was the infusion area where chemo and other drugs are administered) - he sat down again and I returned to the lobby. It was there I continued my observations and questions as to why more advancements in the fight against cancer have not taken place or been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Is it because enough money is not invested in research by the government or private sector? Is it because the medical industry generates jobs and income, a cure would not be as profitable?  Or is it impossible to cure cancer at the level of medical care our society has developed?

Why no cure?

I digress.

People continued to process through the lobby. People come-in, do labs, step into the back room and people go out. Now the majority of the people did not walk out on their own power (so to speak). They were holding on to walking-sticks of some fashion, walkers (the steel kind with 4-legs and a handle to hold onto), or they were sitting in a wheel-chair. This was no club-med, although it was a type of ‘club-medical'; a club of despair and one that I silently grieved for while sitting among them.

The patients that had family or friends with them were a different type (at least my perception of them was different). For the most part the patients sat quietly, talking on occasion. The family members on the other hand were much more talkative and animated. I heard conversations dealing with college football, politics, work, and on occasion talk about the smaller children that were sitting with them. I figured the kids were young and had no one to keep them when the parents or grandparents came in for the treatment.

Were the people accompanying the sick trying to make the visit seem normal?  Were they trying to distract the ill from the reality of the situation? Maybe the supporting family or friends were trying to distract themselves?

For me the reality of the situation was that I had allowed myself to not be callus of the situation. I had pulled the one last, raw nerve out of my chest again, allowing it to lay bare and experience this moment.

But I was distracted from my observation assignment by several people that were there for a treatment. 

I always say, “Sit with a troubled person and you will learn his woes.”

This is when my heart cracked open like an egg. There was a lady who sat with as scarf wrapped and covering her head that had been balded (probably from treatment). She never said a word, I learned very little from her (but my imagination developed). Then there were two more ladies that arrived together, both with a scarf wrapped around their head. They were smiling when I saw them get out of a vehicle in the parking lot and enter the lobby, but after they sat down their domineer changed (maybe they became quiet out of respect for the others in the room, maybe it was something else). There were numerous people that arrived in wheelchairs and people who appeared to be sons, daughters, or grown grandchildren pushing them. I talked with many of them, or I should say that each talked with me and I learned a portion of their woes. But how much can you learn of a life’s story before the person heads to the ‘back room’?

Several times, before heading to the ‘back room’ my dad was greeted with a “Hey Mr. Bryant!” After the second or third time I started to feel like I was with a rock star. Sitting in the lobby 3 people came over and sat with him, catching-up on different things. While standing in line to leave 2 more came over and talked with him. While I was proud that he is a liked person my single nerve got brushed by the fact that I was looking at the end of something special. But in each instance I pulled the nerve back in and continued my mission of observation.

Another thing I noticed; during all the greetings no one asked the question that is most often part of a normal greeting between friends, family and even strangers – “What’s going on?”

After we got home Dad talked with me about what happened in the ‘back room’. He didn’t mention needles, blood pressure checks, or how bad he felt. He told me some stories about people that were in the room. If you remember from one of my previous posts he takes a sack of snacks with him. This time I had the privilege of carrying the sack of goodies for him into the room. It contained a soda, some crackers, a bag of grapes, a sandwich, and couple other things that I don’t remember.

He shared with me that a lady sat quietly in the ‘back room’ (maybe the lady I noticed in the lobby) and he never heard her say a word until he offered her some grapes. Knowing that chemo patients are supposed to protect against others with germ he was careful to offer the grapes to her out of the bag. She smiled, took several and thanked him.

There was a man sitting behind him who was also quiet but as time passed they struck-up a conversation and dad learned that he had no wife or children, but that he did have 3 sisters. Dad thought that maybe he would be alone on Thanksgiving so he asked the man if he would like to come over to the house and eat with the family. The man told him that he expected one of his sisters would bring him something to eat, and that he appreciated it. But he did not take Dad up on his offer so we’ll pray that someone will love the man today.

I asked my dad what he thinks about the people that go there. He told me the people are nice, but that they have cancer and need to get well. He told me that he likes to make friends with the people there and if it makes him feel good to know that some of the people are not doing good and that they take his crackers and snacks. He is ministering in his own way.

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the United States; a day where our nation celebrates our freedom to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. We celebrate our opportunities and blessings. Please enjoy your day and consider helping someone that may not have it as good as yourself – there is always someone. Maybe you will only get a smile, maybe not even that. But charity is not about getting it’s about giving and a moment of your time can mean so much to many people.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

11/18/10 - "Avoidance"

I’ve been holding off on this entry until some information was delivered. In my last post I mentioned pain (the title) and how pain in the bones was the only mention the doctor had offered when we first visited him a few weeks ago. I also mentioned that chemo had started and the fourth week, the break between week3 and the first week of the next treatment cycle, and Dad received a drug injection that was meant to boost his immune system (and could be painful).

Well either he is suffering pain from cancer in the bones, or the injection. The doc is leaning towards the injection and with some comments from a long-time friend who is a RN I’m going with the injection theory too (and praying that we’re all right). It’s just too coincidental that the injection was received and his pain intensified.

So, in the last two days my Mother has talked with the doctor and last night Dad received a prescription for an additional dose of his pain medication. This means that he is receiving 2 tablets every 6 hours, prior he only had 3 doses which left him with a window of pain during the evening hours (he was holding off taking the last dose until he got closer to bedtime). I spoke with him Thursday evening and he felt somewhat relieved of the pain but seemed to be hesitant to claim ‘victory’ over the pain at that time. In fact he has been to so many doctors’ appointments and is receiving so many different prescriptions that it can be confusing for him and even my Mother sometimes.  I’m sure most people have seen this, an elderly couple flung into the middle of a quagmire of appointments, prescriptions, combinations of morning drugs, lunch time doses and evening pill combinations. It can be nothing but daunting, even for a younger person.

Throw in a caregivers life of washing clothes, cleaning house, scheduling and driving to appointments, coordinating all the pill combinations, cooking food, helping the sick person get out of bed, back into bed, answering every beckon call for help eating, walking, brushing teeth, combing hair, changing socks and television channels, answering the telephone and then explaining (and re-explaining) all that is going on – and you have a harrowing experience for the person that is ill and the protector-caregiver.

Caregivers do all of this with varying degrees of thankfulness. My Dad is thankful but at times can be a little testy.  Impatience seems to be a trait my Dad has fined-tuned. He is quick to comment, while waiting for my Mother of an angel to deliver. This is not meant to come across as he is unappreciative. I can only imagine a grown man that has developed skills and abilities then experience pain that makes it hard for him to walk or even sit. My Dad is a man that has always taken care of himself, went where he wanted to go and got there with no help. While kids have dazed into cash register trying to figure-out which button to push to charge him for coffee he was able to calculate the cost, tax and the exact amount of change. Now he is dependent on his wife and family to help with most everything. This would make any person frustrated and impatient.

Oh, my stranger that visits me occasionally just sat down next to me, put a hand on my shoulder and said, “Don’t cry. Suck it up and don’t let that tear run down your face.” But I’m beside myself and its 3.00am; I will do what I want. Fluid is sitting on my eyebrows and pooling at the top of my cheeks preparing to roll over and down my face. But it’s ok; I will not allow callousness to harden my heart so that I can selfishly be comfortable.

This reminds me of something that happened Wednesday. Some of you may have read my tweets where I mentioned my hard drive took a hit and had to be replaced. Well, the guy that did the work for me is really nice. I’ve talked with him several times and he has impressed me with his attention to details, courteousness, and willingness to explain things. He took my laptop in to work on it and had it ready for me in the afternoon. While the last steps of the work were completing on the machine we had the chance to talk.

If you have read my other posts you know that I might be writing about this but I’ve not reached the point where I can “talk” about it, I can only “talk” about it logically so this computer guy was safe from hearing about my challenges. Maybe.

During our conversation something was said and I mentioned that I was trying to plan a trip to visit my parents and we talked about the length of the drive and possible dates. He asked, “How old is your Dad?” I answered and he said something that almost took me out of commission on the spot.

 He told me that his Dad passed away on October 30th. I looked at him and asked, “This October 30th?”  He said, “Yea.”  I immediately considered how hard it was to say, “Yea.” It was hard to hear it!!

Wednesday was only November 17th, that is only 18 days.  I thought, “Oh my God, could I stand there? Then it hit me, one day I would be in that position." I felt that nerve from my previous posts that is exposed and sticking out of my chest being twisted and pulled. My stranger saying, “Give it to me. This isn’t going to hurt that much. You better get used to it Andy, just consider this practice.”

So of course I could imagine me outside me. I was standing in front of me, only it wasn’t me. I’m sure that was moisture pooling up in his eyes, but maybe it was moisture pooling up in my eyes. I wanted to reach out, but my stranger twisted the nerve extending from my heart and said, “No, No, No; I’ve got a hold of you.”
 I wanted to hug the guy but I didn’t. I should have but I think my fear was….well I don’t know what my fear was and I wished that I had hugged him.

Some people say, death is a natural part of life and I agree. But it is not something that we have to callus over, or darken our heart so we can get past it. An it’s obvious that we cannot run from it.

I’m sure that was red in his eyes, the kind of red that comes just before a cry. I felt we were on fragile ground, something that I’ve tried to avoid (and maybe he has too). At that moment I backed away thinking I didn't want to draw him into something that neither of us was ready for. .

He may read this, I’m not sure. But if I can muster my courage I will go find him tomorrow and give him the hug for the moment I protected, and cheated him out of. But as I write these brave words I’m thinking ‘maybe not’. But I know my intentions (and I’ve just told a multitude of people that will read this), we’ll see what behavior I can muster in a few hours.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

11/14/10 - "Pain"

Friday night I went to practice with a Christmas choir, practice went well. While driving home I thought “Call and check on Dad.” My Mom answered and said they were just sitting around watching something on the tube and that they had already finished dinner. After we went through what I call the 'regulars' (you know, "How's work, the family, traffic, etc.) I asked 'How's Daddy!" (I've called him that all my life) 

I got an answer that I did not expect, and for that matter an answer I did not want. 

Life was about to flush right down the toilet, again.

Mother mentioned his pain. I said "What pain?" She reminded me that he always has some pain and I said, "I remember."

She said, "It's gotten worse. Since they gave him the shot that’s supposed to improve his white blood count after the chemo treatment the pain has intensified."

We discussed the fact that the shot could cause pain and she told me that “...the doctor increased his pain meds to deal with it.”

I immediately thought, “Hmmm, the pain is worse and the doctor increased the medication. In the first appointment the only thing he mentioned in regard to pain was “If it spreads into the bones there will be intense pain, but I will treat you for the pain; your quality of life is most important."

It was at that very moment that the stranger that rode with me on my visit to my parents a month ago stuck his head around the corner and said, “Could be cancer.” 

(To my reader, can you feel my lungs lurching out at you, screaming at this moment???)

I didn't mention this to Mother, mostly because I couldn't breathe or speak at that moment.

Seconds passed and I made some comment that would keep her talking while I tried to get my emotions together. My thoughts went into overdrive. What do I say? How can I help her feel better? At that particular moment I was not a good listener, I have no idea what she said during that brief lapse of time.

I assured her the pain had to be from the injection, that if he didn’t have increased pain before the shot the pain could not be from the shot. But she stuck to her concerns; she was dwelling on the idea that it was new cancer, that something had changed and it was not good.

Of course the stranger said, “Andy, you know that it might just be a coincidence.” Then he screamed “NOT”.

My Mother talked a few more minutes and I could only come up with things like, “Let’s see what the doctor says”, “You need to try and relax", and "Get a good night’s sleep.”

I said, "I love you", she answered back "I love you too" and we ended our conversation.

Saturday morning I got up and my first thought was about our conversation. What could I have done differently? Should I have told her she was wrong? Of course not, she’s a grown woman and this is her man, the man she has loved and lived with for more than 50 years. Maybe I should have used the statement “It’s out of our control; it’s in God’s hands.”

But I didn’t do that. How do I callus my heart, hardened it so I can be strong for my family, set an example for my family that I am not? I thought my mind was set and my heart was prepared as I noted in my last post. But it is obvious that I am not prepared with a deadened, cold, callus, dark heart. I feel as though I love him enough to respect him with my love and pain.

Much like a person that drinks, takes a drug, or for comparison just goes to sleep, when the mind returns to its original state the problems that existed are still there, problems do not just go away. So, I’m not sure I want my heart darkened to the point that reality is not reality. Should illness and imminent death be ignored, trivialized, or minimized so my pain can be ignored or delayed?

I will think about this and have a post another day.

What do you think?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

11/10/10 - "The Way Things Are"

I’ve had several people write and ask what is going on with my Dad so I wanted to post this entry. Dad completed his third week of chemotherapy last week and is supposed to do some lab work in the next few days. He doesn’t seem to be fazed by this, and appears to be getting used to the chemo sessions. Unfortunately each treatment visit is not as short as we were led to expect in the first appointment. His first chemo appointment started at 11.00 and he got home at 6pm., the 2nd appointment started at 11.00 and ended at 4.30pm, the 3rd appointment was not as long as either of them; he mentioned that it lasted about 4 hours.

It seems as if he is getting used to the appointments too. Mother mentioned that in the first appointment he sat in the lobby and talked, probably due to nerves, with anyone that came in the room. She talked with him about not discussing cancer in an open setting until he had a chance to get his ‘feet wet’ so to speak and get to know the people that are visiting in the waiting room. By the third appointment Mother reported to me that it’s as-if he is becoming more comfortable with the visits and treatments.

For each treatment appointment Mother has fixed him a sack-lunch of goodies (crackers, sandwich, a drink, and chips). After the first really long appointment he thought the food was a blessing, but as the appointments have shortened he has gotten to know many people and freely shares his goodies. He told me that a couple people who seemed to have no interest in talking or even eating his food gave into his charm once he shared one special food, cornbread crackers. He said that everyone seemed to loosen-up and talk more openly after tasting his special treats.

This is my Dad, always friendly and looking for a conversation (feel free to read "Father's Day 2010" @, a post on my other blog for more information about my Dad). This is the Dad I know and have considered losing since his diagnoses; a man that has never really known a life without being able to strike-up a conversation with almost anyone. This is the Dad I fear losing, the Dad I do not want to live without and that I have suffered over for more than a month now.

I apologize to my faithful followers for the delay between blog posts; I am now committed to posts every couple days (there’s always something to post). Thanks everyone for your interest in Dad’s progress and my writing.  

Take care!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

11/4/10 - "The Introduction of a Lifetime"

Sorry for the delay between posts, several things took place this past week and I was not near an electric plug to power-up or charge my laptop during the weekend. But the ‘down period’ gave me time to think and consider several things, including the “Introduction of a Lifetime.” I’ve had several friends and relations lose family members to disease and age. The one thing that I’ve heard over and over is, “I’ll work -”, or “I’ll take care of this or that – ,“

“It will keep my mind off of things.”

I found out this past weekend that this is indeed possible. My kids had soccer games to play and I was away from the house attending a tournament, and the other weekend day I was singing with a male choir that I take part in. After our performance we had a 4-hour practice (we’ve been preparing Christmas music). I was tired in the evening, Saturday and Sunday. Along with feeling tired I realized that I was indeed distracted from the immediate concerns of my Dad’s illness.

I slept like a baby both nights and had a terrible headache Sunday and Monday morning (probably from a lack of sleep over the past several weeks).

While watching the kids play soccer I thought about the kids, soccer and realized it all had something to do with cancer.

“Cancer?” you say, “How can kids playing soccer be connected to cancer?”
Well, they were playing in a league where winning is not the emphasis. Instead learning new skills, exercise and teamwork are key considerations. But I’ve learned over the years that the kids always know who ‘outscored’ the other and who has a better win/loss record. Leagues with an emphasis on these things were probably developed by adults who were trying to deemphasize bullying, how to prevent hurting the feelings of younger kids, maybe maintaining control over the interactions of children and emphasizing morals and cultural norms (when  I was a kid you won or loss a game, and you lived with it; but I digress).

I watched both teams run up and down the field, cheering each other on while calling for teammates to make the winning goal. There was no cursing or name calling, but in the end everyone knew who ‘won’. While thinking about this my mind started to wander and my demon stranger showed up again.

He just lightly tapped me on the shoulder, which immediately caused me to think about my Dad, along with my kids and how I will have to break the news of my Dad’s cancer and the prognosis with them.

So, I have a new job – introduce my kids to personal loss, pain and death.

Aw, the purity of children; things are clean and safe for them. Their minds have not been polluted with the world adults have created or corrupted by grown-up wants and desires. They do not recognize or understand the complexity of life until it comes for them, like when a loved one dies. Another way to think about it - children are not born with hate, our world develops that trait; the finest example to mimic – adults.

They don’t consider a swimming pool dangerous, and only “bad looking people” are “bad”. Children don’t recognize danger until something happens, or a parent has to educate them about what is ‘right or wrong’, and what is dangerous.

How many times have you read about an adult sports figure that is great? This sports person can do no wrong when playing. She or he can run faster, hit the ball further, or jump higher. The person is considered to be the ‘elite of the elite’ until someone discovers that steroids or cheating in some other fashion has been taking place. The sports star goes before the judge or court, begs forgiveness, and maybe sheds an apologetic tear.

What do family, friends, journalists and sports-casters say when reporting the personal failure of the star? “I remember when he was young and played for the love of the game.” It was the purity phase of his development, the game mattered.

So, my demon stranger did it again. With little effort he managed to reach into my chest and pull out the nerve, the one lone nerve that has not healed. He pulled the nerve so tight the pain could not be ignored; my eyes moistened up and tears began to roll down my face, again. I watched as the kids ran down the field, screaming at one another in fun and with determination. Pure in heart (pretty much) and not aware of the imminent figure of death standing in the background; death working its tricks and playing with my heart as the end draws near.

The day is coming when I will be forced to conduct the ‘Introduction of a Lifetime’, the day I will introduce death and its complexities to my children.

How will I do this? How will I face my children and offer comfort when I want to be “the little boy” who receives comfort from parents who once protected me?  How will I say the words that will shatter purity and tranquility of a young heart, while deep-down I want to go back and exist in the days when I was pure of heart, lived in tranquility, and life was beautiful?