Tag Archives: Father Tom Life in Ordinary Time

Father Tom – the decision is made


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.

 

 

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Father Tom – The urologist’s call brought an end to ordinary time


Blog by Steve Laug

Days passed quickly  following the horrendous experience of the biopsy and soon became weeks. Father Tom blissfully moved ahead, almost forgetting the experience and even beginning to be hopeful that the biopsy would come back negative. His days were filled with his work – weddings, funerals, homilies and the normal life of a priest. It was easy in the busyness to not think about the news of the biopsy that would come. He filled in the spaces between the work and sleep with his pipe and some good tobacco and enjoyed the ordinary rhythm of his life as it marched forward. He loved his work and the pattern that it provided for his days and weeks. He loved the time in the study and he loved the time with his people. It was a good life and he enjoyed it so it was easy to fill his waking moments with the work.

On Tuesday morning, he was in his study when suddenly his weekly rhythm was interrupted and things abruptly changed. He was working on his homily for the following Sunday and as always had a pipe in his mouth with a wreath of smoke encircling his head. He was reading and writing his reflections when the ringing of the phone jarred him into the present. He murmured his usual dislike of the intrusiveness of the phone and picked it up after a half-dozen rings. The woman on the other side of the phone confirmed with him that she was speaking with Father Tom and then identified herself as the clerk for the urologist’s office. She said that she had his test results. He expected that to be followed with some niceties and typical telephone banter but there was none. She went straight to the point. “You have cancer,” she said. He could have dropped the phone with the abruptness of her comment. The words struck him hard at the core of his being. He felt like he had been punched in the stomach. The fear and dread that had been held at bay for weeks broke free in those few moments. He was not prepared for this news. He was stunned and just sat there. She repeated her news and asked him what he wanted to do. She repeated herself in case he missed it. He mumbled out that he had no idea. She set an appointment for the next week for him to meet with the doctor to talk through his options and hung up the phone.

He sat there stunned, immovable and silent. He still held the phone at his ear oblivious to the beeping sound that told him the conversation was over. He did not seem to notice the noise, or maybe it just did not matter at this moment. He sat there for a long time in shocked silence. Finally he shook himself and laid down the phone. He stared into space with her words ringing in his head – “You have cancer”. He could not believe what had just happened and how it had been done. He was too stunned to even get mad. He shook himself back into the moment and sucked on the pipe in his mouth. It had long since gone out but it did not matter. The quietness in his soul was consumed in the swirl of chaos. The quiet of the study was gone. In its place was a huge cloud of uncertainty whirling around stirring up what had once been peaceful. He shook himself once more and relit his pipe. He slowly pulled the smoke into his mouth, savouring the taste of his favourite tobacco. He quietly let the ritual of lighting, puffing and sipping his pipe restore a bit of sanity to an insane moment. He knew that once he was calm he could think through what was going to happen next but that seemed far from his reach.

As expected the rhythm and cadence of the pipe brought with it the ability to distance himself from the moment for Father Tom. It allowed him to move to a place of quiet where he could objectively view what lay in front of him. It had always worked that way in his life and he counted on it to deliver that for him once more. He sat quietly puffing on his pipe and sipped his cold tea every so often in the process. He did not move other than to puff and sip his pipe and tea. Time felt like it stood still. Birds sang outside his window. The phone had long since stopped it annoying beeping and the receiver lay on its side on his desk. His notes and books were in disarray on the desk top and his chair was pushed back from the desk. He sat, oblivious to his surroundings and the passage of time. He disappeared into the quiet space the pipe created in his own soul.

As the quiet settled over him, he stood up, repacked his pipe, stuffed a tin of tobacco in his pocket and headed out the door. He needed to walk and clear his head. He knew that the appointment with the urologist would give him a clear picture of what lay ahead and what he could expect so he decided not to spend a lot of time guessing and processing the “what if’s”. He chose rather to think through the new course that his life would take with the diagnosis of prostate cancer and begin to move toward a place of acceptance. What it meant for him would somehow become clear soon enough but his acceptance of the new direction was another matter. He could not change his life back to the pre-cancer rhythms and patterns so he had to move ahead. He needed to accept the powerlessness of his new status and trust that the history of his life of faith would carry him to a place of surrender to God who was greater than himself and was truly his friend. He was not sure how to get there at the moment so a walk and time alone would help create space for him to move toward a sense of the acceptance, the assurance he needed and ultimately at least the beginnings of surrender.

He walked for a long time with no seeming direction to his walk. His internal compass had taken over and he ended up at Stanley Park. He walked along the sea wall as far as Brockton Point and sat on a bench. He reloaded his pipe and fired up the bowl as he sat looking at the sculpted, lone figure of the woman in a wetsuit sitting on a rock in the midst of the waves breaking against her pedestal. The sculptor had somehow been able to capture a calm serenity in her expression that was unchanged by the waves that broke around her. Even though she was bronze – her expression appeared unmoved by the circumstance of her setting. The artist had captured a heart of confidence and trust that had survived the years of incessant pounding waves in calm and storm since its placement in 1972. The statue was weathered but unmoved. It sat resolutely on its pedestal in the water.

As he sat contemplating the statue off the point a lot of correlations to his present predicament went through his mind. Sitting in a wreath of pipe smoke he began to connect the dots. Just as the sculptor knew the resting place of her work, he believed in a maker who knew his days as well. Just as the sculptor had carved her own resolution into the face of her statue, he knew that his life had been sculpted through the ordinary time of his life in preparation for the struggles that lay ahead of him. He began so slow down the cadence of his pipe and a sense of resolve began to displace the chaos as he continued to observe.

He had no idea how much time had passed but knew he had come to some peace with his next challenge while sitting in the shadow of the statue. He quietly breathed the words of the Serenity Prayer as he prepared to move on.

God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
and Wisdom to know the difference.

He stood, tamped his pipe, relit it and began the walk around the point. He knew that he had made some progress in his thinking because he was hungry. He checked his watch and saw that it was already late in the afternoon. He had eaten nothing all day. He knew there was a great restaurant at lodge in the centre of the park. He had enjoyed eating there in the past. The food was good and the setting relaxing. It would not take too long to walk there and he could enjoy a good meal and a good pint. He also knew that the bus stop for a quicker trip home was not far from the restaurant. He could relax with a good meal and bus home afterward. He made his way to the door, found a quiet seat on the patio looking over the park and ordered his dinner and a pint. It was good food and did not disappoint him. He finished the meal, paid the bill and loaded another pipe. He went out the door and walked to the bus stop. While he waited for the  bus he enjoyed his pipe.

It did not take too long to get home and when he arrived he saw that Mrs. Conti had been there and left a note for him. She had put some food that she had prepared in the refrigerator. He figured he would eat it the next day. She was very kind to him and understanding of his idiosyncrasies. She also mentioned in her note that the urologist had called to change the appointment to the next morning. He needed to be at the office on Broadway near Vancouver General Hospital by 10am the next day. He poured himself a scotch, reloaded his pipe and went into the parlour to sit and enjoy the pipe and drink. He sat in his chair and sipped on both the drink and the pipe. It was good to be able to be free of the initial paralysis caused the news and face it head on. He resolved that he would not spend a lot of time worrying about the morning’s appointment. It was good enough to know that tomorrow he would get informed about what was next on the agenda. He finished his drink and his pipe and laid them aside. He made his way up the stairs to bed and actually fell quickly to sleep.

He woke in the morning and did his morning ritual – prayers, coffee and pipe before his shower. He finished those and dressed for the urology appointment. He filled another pipe went out the front door. He lit it before heading down the steps and quickly made his way to the street to walk to the appointment. It would not take too long to get there so he could grab a coffee on his way there. He was ready to learn about this new chapter of his life and move to accepting what it would mean for him. It would have been too much to say that the unknown did not scare him or make him nervous; however he was ready to enter this part of life knowing that the work he had done on the previous day had given him a sense of serenity. He stopped by and visited his favourite barrista and got his usual Americano Misto. He paused outside the door to relight his pipe and continued down Broadway to the Doctor’s office. He sat on the bus bench outside the door of the medical centre and finished both the coffee and the pipe. He had plenty of time before his appointment and to be honest, though he wanted to know he still did not want to rush.

When he finished he put the coffee cup in the trash and his pipe in his pocket and caught the elevator to the third floor to meet “his urologist”. When he came through the door the clerk he had spoken to asked him to sign in and take a seat. It was not long before the doctor came out to get him. He was a little man dressed in scrubs with a grin on his face. It was the kind of face that showed he walked through life bemused. Together they walked back to an examination room. He took a seat and the Doctor closed the door. He was far less abrupt than his clerk. Father Tom told him of the shocking phone call and the Doctor chuckled and said it was hard to get good help. He then walked Tom through the options ahead of him. Really there were two choices – one was radiation of the cancer cells in his prostate with relative success and the other was a radical prostectomy – cutting into his abdomen and removing the cancerous gland. Ultimately the choice was his to make but the Doctor said he personally leaned to the surgical solution as he had seen excellent results with little or no recurrence of the cancer. He told Father Tom that he would give him a month to think over the options and talk with people. Once he made up his mind on the option for him he could call and they would proceed. He prescribed a book called “Life with Prostate Cancer” and gave him a range of dates to book his follow-up appointment. He ended the visit with the encouraging words “I can fix this for you. This is what I am very good at. Talk with you soon.” With those words he left the room and the appointment was over.

Tom left the examination room and made the next appointment at the desk on his way out. He wanted to get this over with and was already leaning toward having the surgery. He figured that it would not hurt to read the book the doctor has spoken about and call some of his friends who had already gone through this. They would help give him an informed perspective on what was ahead for him. He took the elevator downstairs to the drug store and bought the book that had been recommended. Even the title reminded him of the horrid posters in the biopsy area at the hospital – Life with Prostate Cancer. He glanced through the titles of the chapters and figured it would give him a clear picture of what lay ahead for him. He put the book in his coat pocket and pulled out his pipe. Under the watchful eye of the pharmacist he nodded and went outdoors. He filled his pipe and lit it.

He stood outside on the sidewalk puffing while his pipe began to smolder. He thought about his options for the day. It was only a little after 11am and he had the afternoon ahead of him with no more appointments. He was not far from his favourite tobacconist so he thought would be a good option for him. He made up his mind and started his walk to the shop. As he walked there was a an internal struggle going on inside of him – part was dreading even dealing with the future ahead of him and another part doggedly wanted to move forward. It was the proverbial battle denial and facing the truth. He decided to put it aside for a bit, he needed a break before he tried to figure things out and read the book. From the chapter headings he knew that it would clearly spell out the path ahead, but he was not ready for that. He tamped and relit his pipe walked down the hill to the tobacco shop. Perhaps he would find one of the crew there he could speak with… no matter. Time would tell.

Father Tom – Quieting his soul and disappearing into the smoke


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.