Blog by Steve Laug
The urologist had given him a month to make a decision about how he wanted to address the prostate cancer. He had given a prescription for a book for Father Tom to read to help him in the decision making process. Father Tom had read it and had also called several old friends who had already walked this road to see what they had to say about the process and which procedure they had chosen. He met with a radiologist to discuss what a radiation treatment would look like. He had learned more than he ever wanted to know about the disease and how it could be addressed. He had learned about laparoscopic surgery, radiation, implanting radiated seeds into the prostate and finally radical prostatectomy. Each one came with all of the usual medical disclaimers regarding success of that method over other ones. Each spelled out the likelihood of a return of the cancer and percentages of success. All had long lasting impact on his life after cancer. All in all it was “great news”!
He had taken a time off work to think through his decision and then called the urologist and let him know that he was going with the radical prostatectomy. It seemed to be the best solution to his mind. The receptionist made an appointment for him to come in for a consultation with the doctor. When the day came for his appointment he was resigned to go through with his decision. He loaded his pipe with his favourite Virginia, walked to his favourite coffee shop and ordered his usual Americano and took his usual route walking to the doctor’s office. He was a creature of habit and rarely varied from his normal pattern. Besides, with all the changes that lay ahead of him he needed a sense of stability that the routines of his day brought to him in this season.
He arrived at the doctor’s office early and sat outside and finished his coffee and his pipe. He had to admit he was not looking forward to this meeting with the doctor but it had to be. He tapped out his pipe on his palm, dumped the ash in the bin and put the pipe in his pocket. He took the stairs up to the third floor office and went in to the reception area. His “favourite” receptionist was working and she asked him to sit down and she went over the surgical forms with him. She explained each form as they went through them and had him sign in the appropriate place. The only form he was slightly stunned by was one where he surrendered the right for his survivors to pursue liability against the surgeon, the anesthesiologist and the hospital should he die during the procedure. He signed even that one and felt a finality descend over him.
It did not take long for the surgeon to call him in. He sat through the consultation with the doctor and asked the questions that were on his mind. The doctor wanted to do a scope of the cancer in the prostate to see more clearly the affected areas so with little ado that is what happened. It was a bit unexpected and uncomfortable to be sure but what could he do. As the procedure happened the doctor invited him to have a look at the screen to see what he was looking at. The good news was that the cancer seemed to be contained in the prostate and had not spread. The doctor was optimistic when he told Father Tom that the timing of the surgery was perfect.
He cleaned up after the procedure and the doctor walked out with him to the waiting room. The surgery was scheduled for the following Monday morning – one week away. He shook Father Tom’s hand and mentioned that between now and then he would meet with a medical historian to go over his surgical risk and also with the anesthesiologist. Father Tom took out his pipe and absentmindedly fiddled with it while the doctor was talking. The doctor saw it and made a passing comment that he would need to stop smoking a couple days before the surgery. Of all the things that had happened on that eventful day that final passing comment bugged the good father the most.
Tom stood in the hallway and loaded his pipe, totally unaware of the stares and comments that were leveled at him by people walking by. He had more on his mind than their pettiness. He stuck his pipe in his mouth and got on the elevator. When he got to the street he lit his pipe and headed home. Today he did not feel like chatting and just wanted some time in his study to think through what would happen after the surgery. He absentmindedly puffed on his pipe as he walked and soon he was at his front gate. He tapped out the pipe into his flower bed and climbed the steps to his home. He let himself in and went to his study. He reloaded his pipe, fired it up and took out the calendar. He started a list of who he needed to call to inform them of the plans on the agenda.
Once he had it done he made his calls. The first was the Bishop who assured him that they would have someone at the church the next day and he could stay throughout Father Tom’s recovery. He called the head of the Parish Council and let her know where things stood and that the Bishop was sending someone to fill in while he went through surgery and the recovery time. She asked how long and he let her know that he really had no idea – a month, maybe two. He would keep her informed. He put in a call to Anna, his late friend William’s wife. He wanted to let her know about the surgical date coming. They had kept in touch since William’s death a few years back and had become good friends. It seemed right to give her a call but in reality he needed to hear her voice and assurances.
The next five days literally flew by. He had his appointments with all of the specialists and was cleared for the Monday surgery. On Friday he received a call from the urologist himself and was told to be at the University of British Columbia Hospital by 5am to check in. His surgery was scheduled for 7am. He would be in surgery up to 3-4 hours and then recovery until he woke up. His urologist/surgeon had been able to finagle things so that he had a hospital room by himself after surgery. He was the only male scheduled for surgery on a day typically reserved for women. That would give him a few quiet days after the surgery. He hung up the phone and sat in his chair – he had the next two days off so he would have to figure out what he would do. He loaded a pipe realizing that after today he would not have another pipe until after the surgery. He wasn’t sure what he thought of that but he would follow directions.
The weekend was filled with people stopping by the house to wish him well. They filled up the time and he must have explained what was happening to him dozens of times. Sunday afternoon he closed up the house and walked to a neighbourhood restaurant for an early dinner of his favourite Thai food. He jokingly called it his last supper because he would not have anything to eat until post-surgery. As he left the gate to walk to the restaurant Anna appeared, walking toward him on the street. He waited for her and gave her a hug and a greeting. He invited her to join him for dinner and she agreed. They walked to the Thai place. He ordered a bottle of wine and they sipped it while they waited for the meal to be prepared. He talked with Anna about the surgery on Monday, airing some of his fears and concerns. She was a great listener and as he worked through his thoughts with her he found comfort. They ate their meal together and he walked her home. Normally he would have had a pipe on his walk but he was following orders and not smoking. It was not the smoke he craved now but the ritual that gave him that ability to step out of the moment and think. He headed home and got ready for bed. He pre-booked a taxi so he would not need to do it in the morning. The trip to UBC Hospital would come early.
Waking and getting to the hospital was no problem – in fact he wondered if he had slept. With the morning routine completely blown – no coffee, no pipe, no breakfast, no coffee – he was not in the best of moods when he sat down at the admissions desk. The lady at the desk was way to chipper for 5am. He mumbled his answers in response to her interview and was taken back to the pre-op room to get ready for surgery. They had him put on the surgical gown and surgical stockings and “relax” while thy hooked up the intravenous pump. He dozed off while he was waiting and when he woke the nurse came to get him to take him to surgery. He was used to being wheeled on a gurney so he was caught off guard when she told him to follow her. He took his IV hook up and walked with her to surgery. He remembered saying hello to the doctors and laying down on the table and that was it.
The next thing he knew he was waking up in recovery. He could hear the nurses talking about a restaurant they were going to after work and wondering if it was any good. He surprised them by answering that it was one of his favourite places and asking if they would bring him their leftovers. They checked his vitals and welcomed him back. They said he would be going to his room shortly. He closed his eyes and heard his surgeon ask how he was doing. The surgeon told him that everything looked very good and he had been able to remove all of the cancer. It had not metastasized into the surrounding tissue or organs so he said it had been a simpler procedure. He gave Father Tom’s shoulder a squeeze and left. Soon Tom was back to sleep and the next thing he knew he was being wheeled to his room. He had no idea of how much time had passed.