Monday, February 2, 2009

Personal Aside: The Joys of the Octogenary III—Bone Marrow Test Next…but-but Wait!


Infectious Diseases and…

“You have had a week of intermittent fever,” said Infectious Diseases. “Chills and then the sweats. You’ve been in this hospital for four days. Now we go to Phase 2. You’re anemic. And have since you came down with bacteria in the blood—which, so far as the bacteria in the blood is concerned, is all gone. In fact, barring the anemia, all blood tests have come out negative. We must find what this damned thing you have is. But you’re right: No need to stay here when all we can do is pile more blankets on your bed when you’re cold and take them off when you’re hot. With the lousy `heart healthy’ food and all, no salt, no sugar…”

“I tasted it. Yes. So we’re ready to discharge you but before we do, I’ll have the hematologist come in once more…”

“Yes, the Blood Man. He’ll probably want a Bone Marrow at his office next week. That’s the next step. You won’t need to have the Bone Marrow here. At his office. No need to keep you here since you’re kicking to get out. Before I got I’ve got to give you a once-over.”

You did that yesterday.

“De rigeur. Deep breath. Again. Again. Again. Open your mouth. Say `ah.’ Again. Look up. Up at the light. Hmmmmm. Okay.”

The Bone Marrow which could tell among other things whether it’s leukemia?
“Yes,” said Infectious Diseases, “but there may be other things not so draconian. But yes, possibly leukemia. The hematologist will tell you about that—knows more about it than I.”
How long do leukemia patients live?

“Well,” said Infectious Diseases, “I’m Infectious Diseases not a Hematologist but that depends. Some live for years. Depends on the variant of leukemia. How old are you again?”

“ Others have less time. If it’s leukemia I wouldn’t extend your subscription to The Wall Street Journal for more than a year at a time.”
Also, I have a patch of itches on my back.

“You what?”

A kind of growing itch on my back. My wife looked at it when she was here and said it looks like a rash.

“Let me see it.”


“Hmmmm. How long have you had this?”

Three days or so.

“Looks like a heat rash of some type. I’m going to call Morry [principal doctor, an internist] and get him to take you off some of your meds. May be allergy. Well—that’s about it. Sorry we haven’t done better by you, subjecting you to all these tests and this dreadful food and all….but you understand they were necessary before we get to the Bone Marrow. The hematologist will be in to see you next. I bumped into him a few minutes ago. He’ll look you over and when he’s finished it’s over for this week. I’ll tell your nurse to start processing your papers. You should be out of here in say two hours. Stay here for now. I’m calling Morry and I’ll be back.”

[A few minutes later Infectious Diseases sticks his head in my door].
“Okay. I talked to Morry and we’re officially worried about the rash. You’re off [names a drug]. Scrub it for now. Okay, the hematologist is next.”

Does Bone Marrow hurt?

“Can. Tell `em to be sure to give you enough pain deadener right there—in your hip. If they do it, nothing to it. It begins to feel warm and when you go in with their Bone Marrow needle you can’t feel a thing. They stab you and withdraw the needle with what they want. In-office procedure. Might sting a bit when you get home. Be sure not to take any aspirin before –he’ll tell you all about it. Okay? `Bye.”

I reflect from my hospital bed: Damn. My father said: stay away from all cancer probes. You can bet your bottom dollar they’ll find something. You might live a normal life with it but not knowing you have it. When they find something…and they always do…you’ll have a far different life. His eternally repeated maxim: Kid, don’t pay `em for bad news.

…the Blood Man...Leading to…

[A gentle tapping. Door opens].

“How are you, I’m Dr. [name withheld] the hematologist.”
“Your blood placets are very low. See here? [Shows numbers]. Very low. You’re anemic. We have to figure out why. None of your other tests show anything abnormal. Your old trouble—bacteria in the blood—for which we treated you a few months ago, absolutely fine. We thought at first that was the trouble, that the bacteria had returned. It hasn’t. Well then you may ask: what IS it? Well, the next stage will be in my office where next Wednesday we’ll meet for Bone Marrow.”

Does it hurt?

“Naw. Nothing to it. We give you a deadened then you don’t feel the stab at all. Maybe a sting when it wears off. Don’t take any aspirin the night or morning before.”

Will you be looking for leukemia?

[Cheerily]. “You betcha! But not just that. . We’ll be looking for lymphoma or haemoglobinopathies. Lots of other stuff. I have a guy who’s 87 whose had leukemia for five years. Let me give you a once-over.”

You did that once before. Yesterday. You know, my father always said: Don’t ever, ever let them examine you for THAT. Don’t pay `em for bad news. They’re bound to find it. Everybody has it, you know: you die without knowing it. He died of a heart attack. He may have had cancer but they never probed and he was happy in ignorance. Happy he wasn’t dying of cancer.

“Infantile reaction if you don’t mind my saying so. Breathe deep.Your father had a preternatural fear of cancer. Many people had back then. Even now. Breathe deep again. Well, your father was of a different generation. He believed evidently that everybody has cancer after a certain age and that no nosy doctor should disturb it. Open your mouth. That’s all medieval stuff. There are many people alive today who wouldn’t be alive if we hadn’t had a look. Say `ah.’ Again. Again. What’s this?”

“This rash on your neck.”

Just developed in the last two days or so. Goes back around my shoulders, see?

“Let’s see. Hmmmmm. That’s either a heat rash or an allergy to--.”

Not to the food. I haven’t eaten that much since I got here.

“Very interesting rash. Has Infectious Diseases seen it?”
Yes. I’m now off [prescription drug].
“Good. These rashes are sometimes mystery things. Okay, I’ll see you in my office in Rolling Meadows at 10 a.m. Appointment already made.”

…the Blood Man’s Office.

[When we got home, wife said she felt rotten. She had always been taking my temperature. Now she took her own. Her temp: 101.2].

“I have the flu,” she said. “I’m going to take it easy.”
Do that. Now let me try to take care of you. Let me be YOUR nurse.
“Oh, spare me that.”

While she fought her cold from her room, in my room, I started to feel better….except for the rash. I found my mother’s old wooden back-scratcher. While she tossed and turned with her fever and I had my fever, I worked the back scratcher, raking up and down my back. Felt good.

Next day she was little better.

“You better go out for lunch,” she said. “I’ve got to lie low.”

I did. Went to The Original House of Pancakes (why are all pancake houses named Original?). Felt so good that I went afterward to Barnes & Noble where I bought two books I had long wanted—“Presidential Command,” by Peter Rodman who had just authored at age 63 his memoirs of having worked as a close associate to Kissinger, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush 41 and Bush 43. Wrote the book and then he died. From LEUKEMIA. Had a Bone Marrow and was gone in 18 months. A marvelous book examining the management styles of the presidents with revelatory insights.

…The other book is a real rib-tickler, “The Man Who Owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch” by Michael Wolff, media writer for “Vanity Fair.” This is, believe it or not, an AUTHORIZED book. It says so many things about Murdoch and his dealings I don’t know what else could be covered were it an un-authorized book. A book about Murdoch, his spatting children, his ex-wives, his Asian third wife who is 38 years younger than he, his 100-year-old mother, Dame Elisabeth in Australia…

…how Murdoch’s grandfather smuggled into his Aussie newspaper the real story of how Churchill goofed up the Battle of Gallipoli with the French in World War I (1915-16), blowing thousands of lives in a futile attempt to take Constantinople, the seat of the Ottoman Empire—which made Murdoch’s grandfather a huge celebrity in Australia and led to Churchill’s abdication from the cabinet.…Murdoch’s grandfather now buying a string of newspapers, leaving them to his son Sir Keith who at the age of 53 married a gorgeous 22-year-old socialite, Dame Elisabeth who says that she can’t bear to look at Rupert’s wife number three.

“Don’t get me started on her,” said 100-year-old Dame Elisabeth, puffing a cigarette, as she cruised her mansion in a svelte scooter.
Two days later I was happily reading both simultaneously in my room when my wife came in sniffling.

“Know what?” she said, “It’s WEDNESDAY! Four in the afternoon! We’re both so sick we’ve missed your date with the Bone Marrow. You were due there this morning at 10.”

I was feeling remarkably well (she was now sicker than I) and somehow relieved…thankful…I had missed the Bone Marrow. Thank God. Now at least I have a few more days to live without knowing the official bad news. Don’t pay `em for bad news. But I had to call the hematologist and be contrite.

“You see, I said on the phone, my wife is now quite ill with the flu and I had to take care of her and so I missed the appointment.

“Uh-huh,” said the hematologist’s receptionist. “We’ve been waiting for you this morning. Doctor was pacing. Next time when you can’t make it give us a call.”

It wasn’t that I couldn’t make it, I FORGOT.
“Next time you forget give us a call.”

What’s that?

“I said next time you forget tell us you can’t make it.”

“Doctor says he really wants to see you soon so I’m going to make another appointment for two days from now—Friday. Do you have a pencil?”

Yes, ma’am.

“Friday at 10 a.m. At our Rolling Meadows office. Now…we’ll be COUNTING on you…that is doctor will be COUNTING on you to make it…or to call telling us you cannot. Put it down now where you can find it. Don’t forget.”

“I understand. If I forget this date I’ll call you and tell you ahead of time.”

[She still doesn’t get it]. “Thank you. See you Friday\ at 10.”

Back to my two books and my sick wife.

For the rest of Wednesday, all Thursday and Friday morning, my father’s words were on my mind: “Listen, kid. Once they go probing for cancer, they’ll find it.”

On the way both of us feel well. Driving to the doctor’s office both of us say the rosary. It was Friday which means the Sorrowful.

As I walked in, I was absorbed on Father’s advice: Don’t pay `em for bad news. Now I am going to do just that.
I sign in.

“Mr. Roeser, you remembered.”

I remembered to come, yes. And if I hadn’t remembered I would have called to say I forgot.

“We appreciate that, sir. Now go to the examining room three doors down.”

I do that. Nurse comes in.

“First,” says the nurse, “he wants me to take some blood.”
Is this the--?

“…the Bone Marrow? No, just the preliminary. Roll up your sleeve. Make a fist.”

Three minutes later the hematologist walked in.

“I’ve got the most interesting thing to tell you!”

“Your blood is normal! Isn’t that great?”

You mean--?

“The blood we just took. Put it through the analyzer and the answer comes out in 14 seconds. Everything we were worried about at the hospital has cleared up. So—and I know you’ll be sorry to hear this—the Bone Marrow is canceled: you don’t need it. How about that?”

On the way home, I told my wife: You know, I’m very glad I goofed and missed the Wednesday appointment. I would have had the Bone Marrow. And you know what my father always said…
“`Don’t pay `em for bad news.’”

Two hours later I am back reading about Murdoch. At age 77 this outie Aussie, though a billionaire, is never accepted. Not even now after he buys the cream of the establishment: The Wall Street Journal. The sophisticates and liberals howl. That’s why I love him. What a survivor.

Just what I want to be.

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