Esophageal Cancer 101
During my three-hour wait in the surgical waiting area, I argued on my cell phone with my 93-year-old father, vented to family and friends about a physician’s partner being a ‘no show’ for the surgery due to an office mix-up, gave a Rabbi the cold shoulder, and stood united with my family praying for a man we all loved.
Playing the cancer card
The argument with my father stemmed from an avoided confrontation about his treatment of family and more specifically, his treatment of my husband’s ordeal. No get-well card, no words of endearment, no ‘I wish you the best’ or ‘thinking of you’ came our way during the month before the surgery. His behavior had nothing to do with his mental ability; I knew this because each time I phoned him he started the conversation with, “How’s Michael” and then went on to talk about the cold spell in Chicago, where he resides, or what book he was reading. What I failed to realize then was how his reaction was just an extension of a life-long habit of removing himself from other people’s difficulties and pain.
Being in a vulnerable state-of-mind, I was stressed beyond words and looking back on this incident, I understand just how fragile Michael’s illness left me; touch me the wrong way and I might explode, respond inaccurately or carelessly and I might pounce on you, turn your back on my husband and I’ll try and understand your reasons, but I’ll never feel the same about our friendship. There wasn’t anyone who I came in contact with who was above reproach for doing or not doing what I thought was the “right thing under these circumstances.” There was no one immune to my anger, my impatience, and my sadness.
Gods and surgeons share their powers
My husband’s procedure, a transhiatal esophagectomy involved two incisions; abdominal and neck, and usually two surgeons. The physician who was a ‘no show’ is a gifted surgeon, so you can imagine my shock when a nurse wheeled my husband toward the surgical area in the presence of only one surgeon. I remember watching the nurse get smaller and smaller as she made her way down the long corridor toward the double doors leading to the OR. I turned to my best friend and said, “We’re missing a surgeon here. What’s going on?” She put her hand on my shoulder and in a quiet voice whispered, “He’ll show up, don’t worry. He’s probably taking a short cut to the OR.” Her soothing voice allowed me to calm down, but I only half believed her. It was too late for my husband to back out now. I no longer had any control over the situation—it was in God’s hands.
The unwelcome guest
Meeting a rabbi in a surgical waiting room isn’t the best way to greet a member of the clergy. If I had requested to see the hospital rabbi, this meeting might have had a different outcome. When a middle-aged man approached me and introduced himself as a member of the clergy before saying, “I finally found you” my first thought was something went wrong in surgery. I felt the color drain out of my face and I asked him why he was looking for me. “That’s my job,” he replied. “I make rounds on Wednesday.” I told him thank you, but we have a rabbi. He extended his hand and gave me his card, just in case, before he turned around and left us to our surprised and confused thoughts about the intrusiveness of his visit.
United we stand
After two hours of waiting, my daughter-in-law suggested we try and eat something in the cafeteria. When we stood up to leave, our timing was impeccable; we pushed our chairs back, stood in unison—a choreographed dance to perfection. We were united, fighting for a cause, praying for the man we all loved, hoping for the best possible outcome for this complicated surgery. We knew that the next time we saw Michael, he’d be intubated, loaded with morphine, and breathing with deep mechanical yelps, lying on a hospital bed surrounded with intrusive connections: catheters, tubes, wires, and drains. We’d take turns visiting him, stroking his head and softly call out his name.