Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Archive for the day “January 30, 2013”

Closure – I’m Sorry That It Took This Long


I am grateful to anyone who is charged with having to take care of me as a patient.  It is not that I am a bad patient to deal with, quite the contrary.  Hardly a peep is ever heard out of me.  Complaints are never made about discomfort or pain.  While hospitalized, I do not hit the nurse “call” button multiple times in an hour.  But, there in lies the issue.  Nurses and technicians do have hearts.  They do care about their patients.  And I am certain that they are not happy when a patient lets themselves get so far into a level of pain and discomfort before asking for assistance. 

But a lot of good writing about my gratitude for my caregivers does here.  Spoiler alert – except for a couple of years ago, it had been two decades since I had seen the two caregivers that saved my life, literally, saved my life.  There was one thing that I did not do in my excitedness to be finished with my treatments – say “thank you” to Noreen and Brenda, my radiation tech and my oncology nurse.  These two individuals deal with one of the most horrible illnesses known to man, often resulting in death.  But they also have successes, of which I am one.  But did they know that?

So two years ago, my twentieth year in remission, or some consider cured of my Hodgkin’s Disease, I set out to find the two women responsible for saving my life.  The odds were against me, as I only remembered their first names, but at least that was a start.  I found Noreen no longer at the hospital I was treated with radiation, but rather at another hospital in another network, still in the same field, just no longer directly as a technician, more in line with computer support for the newer technology.

Brenda was a bit more challenging to find.  She had retired, and no one from the doctor’s office would release any information to me.  So, I left them my name and phone number and an explanation of who I was (imagine, I had survived longer than any of their employees stayed working there).  A phone call from a nurse who had worked with Brenda had called me with good news.  Though retired, Brenda was still involved with cancer support, just in the hospital environment.  She was serving as emotional support, and did this three days a week.

I was set.  I tried to remember what it was like the last time that I had seen each of them.  I definitely remembered what they looked like.  Wow.  I had pushed those memories so far back because all I wanted to do was forget them once I was done.  But as I thought about it, not only owing my life to them, they cared for me.  They cared about me.  Together, they were the reasons that I stayed in that network for my treatments.

It was the following week, and I was headed to Allentown for physical therapy.  Both women were approximately ten minutes away, in each direction.  Since the hospital where Noreen was closest to where I was doing physical therapy, I stopped to see her first.  I arrived at the reception area of the radiation therapy department.  I clearly caught the receptionist off guard the way that I requested to see Noreen.  I was refusing to give my name (I don’t know why), just told the woman to tell Noreen that a former patient of hers has come by to see her.

Noreen came through the double doors, and less the white lab coat, I knew it was her.  She looked like she had seen a ghost.  I asked her if she remembered me and she did.  Actually it was due to the unusual circumstance of the first day of my radiation treatments, the linear accelerator broke down with me on the table.  Immediate flashbacks to Bill Bixby on the television swelling and turning green into the incredible Hulk.

We spent the next twenty minutes or so catching up.  She told me of her new work with her old field and then went on to tell me all the advances that had been made in raditation therapy since my day.  And then she heard what I had been through with the heart bypass surgery, and all of the other long term side effects I was diagnosed with from my treatments.  And tears fell from her eyes.  “We had no idea.  We had no idea what would happen to you and other patients with you.  We just knew it worked.”  I told her that I had no regrets, and how good my life had finally become.  And then I did what I should have done twenty years before that, I told her “thank you.”  We hugged, and then parted ways.  If I was going to get to see Brenda, I needed to hurry as it was getting late.

The office that Brenda has worked in when she treated me was still standing, but the oncology practice had moved across the street, to a wing built onto the hospital.  I got turned around quite a few times, but found my way to the cancer floor.  I was led by the recepetionist back through an office, weaving through cubicles.  The last cubicle on the right was occupied by an elderly woman with a perfectly frosted hair style, no chance of mistaken identity, this was Brenda.  I knocked on her cubicle wall and she turned around.

There was that motherly comforting smile that got me through nine months worth of Fridays and treatments.  Brenda was now volunteering to work with cancer patients with personal issues.  She was perfect for that role.  She asked how I had made out all of these years.  Eventually we got to “family” and told her how I wish I had followed her advice when I was younger, but I did have my family after all, with two beautiful daughters who I had adopted.  I told her that I am now seen at Memorial Sloan Kettering in the Survivorship Program to follow up my long term needs.

Since I was in the hospital visiting, I asked Brenda if John (my counselor when I was going through treatments) was still working in the hospital, and he was.  So Brenda took me downstairs to yet another reception area.  I saw a lot of familiar faces and then out came the gentlest giant of a man, John.  I did not get to spend much time with him like I did with Brenda and Noreen, but I did get to ask him about the first counselor I saw before I began my chemo.  Her name was Illona, another great mother figure to me.  Sadly, John informed me that she had past away several years ago, in the cruelest of ironies, from cancer.

One final thing to do before I ended this overwhelmingly emotional visit.  I thanked each and every one of them for giving me the life, in spite of the late side effects I deal with, that I truly love and cherish.  I do not know if I will ever see them again, but I made sure they knew, that they did cure this patient and I was appreciative and thankful for that.

Noreen, Brenda, John, and Illona, thank you.

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The Bully At Work


I always cringe when I hear the comment that bullying is “just a phase all kids go through.”  But my belief, what you do not deal with as a child, so shall you deal with as an adult.  If you are unfortunate enough to talk with an adult who was bullied as a child, it is sad what you will hear.  “They have no idea what that has done to me in the adult life I lead.”  My life proves such an example.  While I credit my being bullied with my high tolerance for pain, the toughness to endure surgeries and treatments of life threatening illnesses, my inability to “quit” anything, there is a dark side that I do my best to conceal because it is not how I want people to see me.

The problem with school bullies is that they grow up to be adult bullies.  And while the public physical abuse outside of the home may subside, the dominating behavior is brought into the workplace.  It is not bad enough, that competition can force aggressive behavior between employees, but then certain environmental circumstances are used as kindling to start fires between co-workers at the hands of management.  For instance, an employee is habitually absent due to a chronic and debilitating illness.  A supervisor often finds himself scrambling to find people to do the work that risks not being done and is therefore inconvenienced.  With no legal recourse to make that employee pay for her selfishness, the manager instead subliminally encourages discourse through other subordinate who in turn are being punished with the extra expectations.  The absent employee is now getting abuse from both hourly worker and manager.

And if you are unfortunate enough to work for a large company, then you have the extra ladder rung of Human Resources which no manager wants to go through because HR does not want the legal ramification of harrassment in the workplace.  So the manager instead churns up the activity against the employee, the co-workers fall in suit, until the employee feels they have no other choice but to leave.  I have personally watched three other employees go through this process and have been watching two more currently.  I realize that I am presenting myself as a helpless coward because I am doing nothing on their behalf to help them.  And my reasons are quite simple.

One.  They do not want the help, nor are they asking for the help.  As far as they are/were concerned, nothing was going to happen.  It was shocking to see how oblivious people are to the efforts of sabotage around them.  But second, I have my own issues to deal with in this manner.

Imagine a worker who has been battling a crippling condition that over a dozen different disciplines of medicine have not been able to put their finger on.   What starts out as an act of “cattyness” between two female workers has continued toward the most aggressive and time consuming effort to eliminate her from her job.

Imagine that,  co-workers believe that they have the right to tell a person if they have the right to earn a living and how.  It matters not if the employee has a family to support, a close relative battling a severe illness, or the employee themself, if your co-workers do not want you to work, they possess the power and believe they have the right to dictate your employment.  Do you recall that “phase” that kids go through?  This is what the continuation of that phase looks like.  There is a lot more to this, and I will make that a different post.

But the downside to me having been a victim of bullying, is I do not pick my battles.  I now fight everything, and everyone.  If I even get a whiff that someone is trying to overpower me, I react in the most defensive posture and releasing a tirade of accusations which I can not only back up, but do so without worry of the ramifications  to my employment.  You see, I actually believe that some day, when someone actually sticks up for themselves, the right thing will happen eventually.  But it has to start somewhere, and the best place for that, is where the behavior starts.

The playground bullying and school bus harrassment must stop.  It has been decades since I faced that torment, yet the memories today are as destructive to my well-being as the bruises left behind.  Today, the results of bullying carry much more severe consequences as the efforts to defend against the domination reach extreme levels of resolve too many times resulting in death.

Bullying has been a difficult conversation for Wendy and I to have as parents.  We are both on opposite sides of the experience though we both agree, bullying should not be tolerated.  I have insisted that my daughters do not tolerate any physical or mental abuse from another classmate or friend.  If it is verbal, they have been told to walk away.  If it is threatening, tell a teacher or another grown up right away.  But if it is a physical shot, meant as anything more than a pat on the back for a job well done, they will defend themselves which I will completely stand behind them.  They are learning self-defense tactics for this very reason, because I was bullied, not because they were.

My daughters have been taught to respect everyone, even if they do not like a person, they must still respect their right to be here in this world.  They are never to throw the first punch and I believe in them not to do so.

We are fortunate in our school to have a strongly supported anti-bully program.  And as a school board member if elected this year, bullying in schools will be a major platform for me.  I hear of so many students being abused by classmates, and yet, nothing is done to correct the incidents.  When all else fails within the school, a parent must understand, a child has civil rights.  And if they are being bullied, those civil rights are being violated.

Look at the alternative.  Continued tolerance will lead to only two things.  A victim growing up skewed against society, trusting no one to do what is right, and an agressor who will lead companies by trampling the grown up rights of the youthful victims they began their reign over.

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