“A bowl of oatmeal tried to stare me down—and won.” —John Prine
Just a few days over a year ago last week, a very good physician sat down on a stool in front of me in his office, looked me dead in the eyes and said one of those things that is guaranteed to command you entire attention: “Well, it’s what we thought. You have lung cancer.”
For a very long time for a great many people, hearing those words was tantamount to hearing a judge pronounce a death sentence. I just didn’t have “the C word.” I didn’t have just “the Big C.” I had lung cancer, a malignant lesion in my left lung, and lung cancer is far too often a killer.
Considering that this was being said to a man who had not been a patient in a hospital for any reason since 1978, it seemed pretty surreal.
So after processing that in the millisecond it took to do so, I was just about to ask that good pulmonologist about things like odds and times and to make clear to him that as I had but recently watched my dad, my mom and my wife respectively die in hospital beds and hence, had no intention of doing so myself, when he raised his hand in the universal gesture we have all come to interpret as “wait.”
“That’s the bad news,” he said and then with a smile which radiated comfort, he said, “the good news is, yours hasn’t spread and it’s in almost the perfect place to be cut out.”
“I have a friend who is the best surgeon in the state,” he said. “He stays busy, but I am going to give him a call,” he said, on his way out of the room.
When he returned a remarkably short time later, he handed me a card with a name and address on it. “Be at this address at this time next week,” he said. And then he said, “you are going to be all right—and quit worrying about all the dying crap because you are not going to.”
And so it was that about 10 days later I found myself in the ridiculously wee hours of the morning lying on a gurney in the cavernous pre-op ward in Jackson’s Baptist Hospital. When the surgeon who I had come to learn hails from just up the road a bit from here and was nothing less than a legend among what seemed like the entire staff of Baptist Hospital came in, patted me once on the shoulder and said, “No sweat. I’m fixing to save your life.”
And while I am a literate man, one who has more than a passing familiarity with a great many words, the inane ones that came out of my mouth were, “OK, doc, have at it.”
I awakened (fully, that is) in a room in a bed with a drainage tube in my chest and what was to be a pretty quick realization that morphine and I do not get along—at all. But that was quickly rectified and I was once again glad to have been blessed with an extremely high threshold for pain that made Tylenol sufficient for the remainder of my stay and since.
And I must say, should you ever find yourself in some medical emergency situation, make sure the first three words you say are “Baptist in Jackson.” This isn’t a commercial, but it is an endorsement. Other than the suggestion that they serve actual food instead of not always reasonable facsimiles, I have nothing but the highest praise and appreciation for the physicians, nurses, and auxiliary staffs at Baptist Hospital.
I will go to my grave (not quite yet) remembering the tender voices and caring faces of those truly remarkable human beings—credits all to their professions. (And to Phil, who works the night shift in respiratory therapy with whom I shared many late night chats, you are damn right, my friend, it is mighty hard to beat Kristofferson.)
The well-founded legend who is that surgeon removed the top half of my left lung and with it, every single bit of that cancerous mass. If “I love you” are indeed the most beautiful words in the world, then “I got it all—no chemo, no radiation,” are not far behind.
On a Wednesday morning in October of last year, I walked into a hospital with cancer and on the next Wednesday afternoon—exactly six weeks to the day from its diagnosis—I walked out of that hospital cancer-free. And not just because it is me, I think there is something downright remarkable about that.
Some men believe that they are fortunate in this life.
Other men believe that they are blessed.
I’m inclined to believe that a lot of those men may actually be both, and that I am most certainly one of them.
On my last night in the hospital, my respiratory therapy pal said, “My friend, I have seen a lot of folks come through here, and I’m telling you, the Man Upstairs has got some more for you to do.”
And so, not without poetic bent, I could not help but smile when as they wheel-chaired me out to the car the next day to go home, its radio was playing. The group was Emerson, Lake and Palmer. The song was “Oh, What a Lucky Man.”
Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.