I received an email from a friend, who sent me something she felt I needed to hear today. I guess from my response, that I did. She believes that I have a certain strength that comes from a journey I have been on. Sometimes our journeys are more than any one person could possibly seem to bear. Sometimes we bear them anyway, as there is a knowledge that needs to be learned through the living of it. The lessons that life offers can be difficult, but that is where the strength lies. Today, I share a tale of a difficult lesson that I was humbled by a few years ago, but the growth that came from it walks with me still. I apologize for any heart strings that may be rocked here, but will also offer this tale to the ladies who run Mostly Fiction Mondays and their prompt Growing Up.
It was obvious that another one of his headaches was coming on. His face was a mask of pain and concentration, trying to force the knives away. He could not walk. He could barely breathe the pain was so intense. Crisis mode took over, and I scrambled to find a wheel chair. I knew him well enough to know that he would not want to ride in it, but I also knew that without it he would not be able to move anywhere. He forced himself to look up when I returned with the dreaded conveyance, but did not say a word.
“Can I help you get into it?” I asked.
I know he could see the concern dripping off me, but he was in too much pain to fight me.
“No,” he grunted as he heaved himself into the chair with a wince.
“Gimme a second,” he demanded. He needed to regroup before I induced movement that might sweep him away. After a moment, he faintly nodded and gruffly said, “Go.”
The few steps down the hall were excruciating for Brad, but we arrived at Tina’s office. I informed them that we were here and our social worker Tina materialized moments later with one of her big genuine smiles. Her smile faltered when she caught sight of us though.
“What’s wrong?” she queried, instantly looking from me to Brad.
Brad was incapable of communication, so I answered, “Brad has a headache.”
She ushered us into her office and we sat down. Forms lay on her desk, but it was obvious that Brad would not be able to fill in anything in the state that he was in. I hurriedly explained that he had been having headaches that were progressively getting worse for the last month. While Brad normally would have been incensed at my audacity in being so plain, today he heard nothing from the world around him.
“We need to get him to lie down,” Tina said.
I began to tremble with tears in my eyes. “But the forms...,”I began.
Tina dismissed my limp words with a wave saying, “We can worry about the forms later. Brad needs to be lying down right now. Stay here and I will get him a bed.”
I sat, numbly staring at Brad, too afraid to even think about what was going on. Tina materialized moments later and took over control of the wheelchair. She quickly pushed him down the hall to a tiny exam room with a crisp, white sheet on the little bed. I mutely followed along after her, somehow thankful that someone was finally doing something, anything to help us. Brad was incapable, but still held onto pride that he could take care of himself. This was bigger than he could manage though. It was more than I knew what to do with either.
Brad managed to crawl out of the wheelchair and onto the bed. The effort left him gray and shaking with its magnitude. Tina lowered the lights in the room and quietly ushered me out.
She turned to me in the hallway.
“Brad is very sick,” she said. “In the state he is in, he is not able to speak for himself. You are his spokesperson now. You need to fight for his rights to make sure that his needs are being taken care of. He cannot do it himself. You know his history best and you know what he wants and needs.”
Tears freely flowed down my face, as she continued.
“I am going to see if I can contact his doctor and see what we can do for Brad,” she said. My distraught face was all that I could offer as response.
I went back into Brad’s room as Tina left to see what she could accomplish. Brad’s eyes were tightly screwed shut, but I knew that he was very much awake.
“Is it still really bad?” I breathed.
An almost indiscernible nod was my answer. I gently put my hand on his back, but his wince made me quickly pull my hand away. I retreated to the corner of my own pain, and waited for Tina to return with some news.
By the time Tina returned, Brad had shifted slightly, but still remained immobile. She addressed Brad, while looking me in the eye.
“Dr. Y is on holidays, but Dr. V is here, and she is going to come down to see you. I advised her that you are in a lot of pain.” Tina nodded at me when she continued and said, “She is going to arrange for you to get something for the pain.”
Brad grunted in response, as I exclaimed, “oh thank God!”
“A nurse will be in shortly to administer something, and Dr. V will be here as soon as she can,” Tina said. She added, "Try to get some rest now." With that, she quietly slipped out of the room.
True to her word, a uniformed woman entered shortly thereafter. She bustled in with a cart to check Brad’s blood pressure. He winced at her noisy arrival and I quietly noted to her that he was having a very severe headache. Perhaps the terrified look in my eyes, alerted her to the need for a little more care and she continued with her ministrations with a little less severity. Blood pressure done, she left promising to return in a moment. She came back with a needle in tow, as well as Dr. V.
“Hello Brad,” the doctor said as she walked in. She faintly nodded in my direction.
“I understand that you are in some pain?” she queried.
I looked from this all-business doctor with chart in hand, to Brad curled into himself trying to stave off the pain that was assaulting his brain. Could she not see that he was in agony? He was a patient of hers as well. She had administered radiation treatments, and discussed with him the process of it. She had seen him in better days, and was aware that he never admitted to weakness if he didn’t have to. But of course, she might not even know who this poor wraith on the table was. He was just another patient, another number.
She turned to the nurse and gave her instructions for administering medication, then turned to go. She had authorized morphine, and then was releasing him. She nodded again, then quickly slipped out the door. The nurse stepped forward to take control and I watched in shock. The morphine was good, but it did nothing for the underlying reason of what was causing the pain in the first place. Once the morphine wore off, the headaches would just come back again. What would we do then?
With Tina’s pep talk of being Brad’s advocate screaming in my ears, I followed Dr. V out the door. She was casually standing at the nurses’ station talking, when I walked up to her.
“Excuse me,” I broke in. She turned to face me with her generic doctor’s smile. I began to shake, but knew that I had to say my peace.
“Dr. V, Brad is in a lot of pain. I appreciate you taking the time to come and see us, but giving him morphine and sending him home doesn’t really help us. He has been having progressively worse headaches, and they are debilitating. They happen every day, and he can’t even stand when they strike,” I explained. “You can’t send him home like this. The drugs will help, but what do I do when his next headache comes? We have two kids at home. I can’t take care of them and him when he is in agony. “
She faced me, and only saw me for the first time. Her job as doctor was to treat patients, but she did not treat the people behind those numbers. I know that a high enough proportion of cancer patients die and doctors need to give themselves some space so that they can continue to function for all without being bogged down by the emotional strain of it, but I needed her to be human for me today. I needed her to see the man behind the case number and offer us some compassion. We needed help. I needed help to support my husband, who I feared was dying in the next room, as we spoke. This was me begging for something, anything that she could do for us.
My trembling lips finally touched the nerve that I was so desperate to find. She softened then and gave me her full attention.
“His file says that he is scheduled for an MRI,” she noted. “If we can find him a bed, we can get that to happen right away. Let me contact a few people and see what I can do.”
She handed me a Kleenex, as tears sprang forth from my hard fought composure.
“Thank you,” I managed to mumble, as I dabbed at my swollen lids. I struggled to compose myself again before going back in to Brad. If I was successful, there would be a long day ahead of us and I had no time to have a break down. I had to be strong now. I had to make sure that Brad would be taken care of when he could not take care of himself.