Story by Steve Laug
Father Tom sat in his chair late into the evening smoking his pipe and trying to quiet his mind regarding the biopsy that he would undergo at the hospital early the next morning. He sipped a glass of scotch and his pipe – one in each hand. He was quite unfocused on the process of his pipe or his scotch as he worked the fact that he needed a biopsy over in his mind. He realized that he truly had no idea what to expect. Time disappeared quickly as he worked through things. Soon he was mindlessly fiddling with an empty glass, having even crunched the remaining ice cubes. His pipe was also empty and he continued to suck on it. He seemed oblivious to time as it passed. He nodded off, his hand relaxed and the empty glass fell and rolled under the chair. He fell deeper into sleep and the pipe slid out of his mouth and landed in his lap spilling ash all the way down his cardigan and pants. He was sound asleep.
Suddenly, he was awake. He was disoriented and had no idea what time it was. He looked at the clock on the mantle. He jumped up with a start when he realized that it read 8am. His appointment at Vancouver General Hospital was at 9:30 so he would have to get moving. He looked down and saw the pipe upside down on his lap and the glass on the floor. He laughed at himself and picked them up and carried them to the kitchen. He dusted off the ash on his cardigan and pants over the trash bin and tipped the remaining dottle out of the bowl into the bin. He put the glass in the sink. He headed to the shower to try to wake up and clear his head before getting ready to go.
After a quick shower, he dressed, ate a quick breakfast and packed his pipe for his walk to Vancouver General Hospital. Father Tom dawdled a bit on the walk to the hospital because he really did not want to go. He stopped for a coffee at a neighbourhood shop and talked with his favourite barista while she made his coffee. He took it with him, relit his pipe and continued his meandering walk to the hospital. He nursed the coffee and his pipe for most of the walk. He was in no rush to get to the biopsy because he really had no idea what was about to happen to him. The only thing that he was certain of was that he was not looking forward to it. He purposely kept himself ignorant of the process because he knew that it would only create unnecessary worries for him. He had learned that for him there were times when ignorance was the key to a bit of peace.
When he arrived at the hospital he was a few minutes early. He put the empty coffee cup in the bin and his pipe in his pocket. He went to the Information Desk on the first floor near the entrance and checked in. The receptionist sent him to the deep recesses of the basement in the older part of the hospital. She gave him a map starting with a “You are here” spot and mapping out his route. He decided to take the stairs to the basement in order to prolong the walk. At this point he really did not care if he was a few minutes late so he dawdled once more. When he got to the doors to the area where his biopsy would be performed he pushed them open and entered an area of the hospital that he had never visited before in all the years he had been living and working in this parish.
The decor of the place was jarring, maybe even a little frightening as he walked into the sterile area. The walls were covered by many posters proclaiming that there was life after prostate cancer, there were support groups to help cancer survivors walk in the new life they were living post cancer… and on and on went the signs and posters. He must have looked like a deer in the headlights, with his eyes wide open as they passed over each new poster. He shook his head thinking that he was not ready for this sensory overload. It overwhelmed him as he stood there just inside the door for what seem like an eternity. Finally, he roused himself and checked to make sure that his pipe was in his pocket and made his way to check in at the nurses’ station. He was given a dressing room number and two “wonderful” backless gowns. The nurse directed him to use one of the gowns as a house coat on top of the first backless one. He found his “undressing” room and stripped down as directed. He put on the shapeless gowns, left his clothes in the room, locked the door and went to the room for his procedure.
He was greeted by a Samoan nurse who was preparing the room for the biopsy. She showed him where he would lie during the test and then walked him through the process he would be experiencing. She showed him the device that would be used to fire probes into his prostate that would retrieve biopsy plugs of tissue. She said that there would be seven of the probes sent into the prostate. She then cocked the tool and pulled the trigger to show him the sound. To his ears the sound was like a gun shot that echoed in the room and it caught him off guard. She told him he would have to lie absolutely still with no movement (even flinching) if they were to finish without complications. He was not sure that would be even possible. Inside he was shaking and wondering how in the world he would be able to do it. She had him lie on his side facing the wall and wait for the doctor. Her parting comment was that he could stare at the mountain scene on the wall and let it quiet him. He mumbled under his breath that the only thing that would quiet him was if the “gun” had a silencer or better yet if he could have a pipe while they did the biopsy. She left him by himself looking at the wall and worrying.
It was not long before the doctor entered the room. She introduced herself as Dr. Wong – a very Chinese name – with a thick Australian accent. She talked him through the process once again then had him lie quietly while she inserted biopsy stick. She repeated the instruction to lie quietly several times. She counted down the first of seven shots of the stick. It was all he could do not to jump. She continued with the next six rounds and when she finished she told him he could sit up. She asked if he wanted to see the biopsy plugs and he said yes. She magnified them on the computer screen in front of her. She was mildly encouraging but gave him no information on her thoughts about whether there was cancer or not. She took her files and left him in the room. He sat on the edge of the bed long enough to catch his breath. As soon as he could he went back to the “undressing” room and got dressed in his own clothes.
He threw the backless gowns in the laundry basket by his door and checked out at the nurses’ station. The clerk told him that his urologist would let him know the results within the next week. He shook his head thinking to himself that he had never known a urologist in the past and to call one “his” now seemed like a concession that he was not yet willing to make. He could not wait to get outside and put this whole experience behind him. It was one of the most unpleasant experiences of at least his adult life. He hurried out the doors, up the stairs, through the lobby and outdoors. He covered the distance much quicker than when he had entered. He took a deep breath and reached for his pipe. He needed a pipe and a pint. He stood outside the doors and loaded his pipe and lit it. He felt the comfort that came with the familiar rhythm of loading and lighting his pipe begin to quiet the chaos in his mind. He tamped the bowl, relit it and headed to his favourite local to sit on the patio where he could sip a favourite pint and his pipe. He took a deep breath and realized that he was still shaking as he recalled the gunshot sounds of the biopsy stick. He did not think he would ever forget that sound.
It did not take too long to get to his spot. He took a table at the back of the patio, ordered a pint of Guinness and disappeared into the smoke of his pipe. He really did not want to talk with anyone at the moment. What he needed was quiet to process his experience and try to compartmentalize the uncomfortableness of the horrible experience. He was certain that a thick wreath of smoke would discourage most people who would feel the need to come and talk. As the pipe began to smolder and burn he sipped his pint. He found that his shaking began to subside and he was able to put the experience aside – at least for the moment. He felt rather than heard his quiet prayer of surrender and confession of trust in this very unordinary time in his life. Tomorrow would be another day and he would meet its challenges when they came rather than presume he could somehow predict them and deal with them ahead of time. Yes it was good to sit with his pipe and a pint – they were just what he needed. They provided a familiar, safe place for him to move into as he quieted his soul and set aside the experience of the morning. Soon he was sipping on both and relaxing in his corner, lost in a cloud of his own smoke.