Columnist reflects on hospital stay to remove tumor
Note: This article, written by Towne Courier columnist Patrick Murphy, reveals his observations about his hospital stay to remove a cancerous tumor from his stomach and esophagus. The article was published in the Feb. 4, 2007 issue of the Towne Courier.
In 1889, the artist Thomas Eakins was commissioned to paint a huge canvas depicting a surgical theater with an operation underway. The surgical team is dressed in white smocks. No masks. No gloves. The men in the spectator gallery are dressed in street clothes.
Fortunately, times have changed.
The painting is now in the Philadelphia Museum of Fine Arts. I took my grandsons to this museum last year. One grandson, Donovan, was quite taken with the painting. Apparently, it made quite an impression on him. I say this because at the end of my hospital bed – on the wall –was Donovan’s rendition of my operation to remove a cancerous tumor from my stomach and esophagus.
In the drawing, Dr. Divyakant Gandhi , my surgeon, is at the head of the bed holding the tumor triumphantly over his head in one hand, and a scalpel in the other. In the picture, I am tethered to the bed by a number of tubes, wires and machines.
The attending nurse, at the other end of the bed, is also holding a scalpel in one hand and a pennant in the other, and appears to be dressed like a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader.
This can be filed under: ‘It will never happen to me.’
Well, it did.
Fortunately, I was in the right place at the right time. I had missed all the signs, or had attributed the symptoms to something else...everything from altitude sickness to indigestion. So, I ended up at McLaren Greater Lansing Medical Center. Everyone from radiologists and techs, to nurses, surgeons and aides were fantastic. The operation itself was eight hours long – tedious and out of the ordinary. Irish pluck got me through it.
What kept me in the hospital so long was a tiny pinprick leak in my ‘new stomach.’ Finally, after seven barium swallows, the surgeon determined the leak had sealed itself, and it was OK to dine on liquid fluids.
My first food experience after 20 days of chewing ice chips: I asked if I could have a popsicle. The nurse checked with the surgeon, who gave her the OK. Never in my life had a grape popsicle tasted more wonderful. I went through cherry, lime and orange.
There were minor triumphs along the way, such as being able to walk the halls of the wing twice without the assistance of a walker. Being able to climb three stairsteps. Being allowed a cup of ice. Finally I was able to leave my bed, sit in a chair, and trim my own toenails. Little triumphs.
My mother was a nurse for 55 years – almost until the day she died. I remember her in a starched white uniform, and the little white hat with the black velvet stripe, signifying she was a registered nurse. She was one of those ‘angels in white’. Starched white uniforms have gone the way of the Studebaker and Edsel. Now, nurses and aides wear bright-colored smocks with symbols of the season on them.
I made an informal survey as to the needs of the hospital. A wish list. The radiologists wanted two complete x-ray units and rooms. Others wanted more wheelchairs. Everyone wanted more volunteers. Salaries were mentioned...’certainly a country that will pay a soccer player $300 million to kick a ball around the field can afford to pay nurses what they are worth.’
When I finally left the hospital, one of the nurses’ aides, Ms. Emily (a real character in her own right) put me in a wheelchair and spun me around. She pushed me through a phalanx of nurses and aides who gave me ‘high and long high-5s’ as I passed by. That really brought tears. I thanked them for their excellent care and compassion during my long stay.
There are no answers. Seek them lovingly.
Note: Mr. Murphy is recuperating and undergoing radiation therapy and chemotherapy. In his spare time, he is a poet and fly fisherman.