Not about me, at first. My oncology nurse of almost seven years, a person with whom I had much in common and who, quite frankly, probably saved my life back in August of ‘13 when I showed up at my regularly scheduled chemotherapy infusion with an oxygen level of 85. This ultimately led to a week-long stay in Holy Cross Hospital to solve the problem which was that 4.7 litters of fluid had accumulated in my lungs, a not uncommon occurrence for lung cancer patients. It became quite clear after our first few infusions together that we were well suited. To say that I would be looking forward to my infusions because of Ron’s hands-on care and concern — and depth of our relationship might be a bit naïve (let’s face it, I didn’t want to be there at all; certainly not as a patient, although I’d be happy to visit/support a friend, family member of fellow cancer patient). But I will admit to this: I never dreaded it because invariably Ron lifted my spirits through his schtick and excellent intentions.
When I walked into the Infusion Center two Fridays ago and walked over to my barcolounger, I didn’t see Ron so I joked aloud “where’s Ron? Maybe I’ll get some decent service today?” Another nurse (all of whom I know) quickly responded and said “Ron’s not here.” “Oh,” I said, thinking nothing of it. “You mean because it’s Veteran’s Day?” “No,” she said. “He’s gone. He took early retirement.” “Wow,” I said. “Is he OKAY? Is his family OKAY?” I stammered. What few additional inquiries I made to the other nurses about when he left, his last day, what he’s doing now, if he’s moving, etc., were all met with a sincere “I don’t know.”
As I waited for my chemotherapy to be mixed/prepared (as you may or may not know, chemotherapy is not exactly off the shelf. Oh, sure, it’s on a shelf but not ready for prime time until the patient actually arrives and his vitals are taken and then, presumably along with one’s pre-chemotherapy lab work results, communicated to the patient’s oncologist for assessment and if satisfactory on to the on-site pharmacy for the actual preparation), I thought about the effect Ron’s departure would have on his patients. I imagine, they were similar to many of the ones I was having.
When I mentioned this likely effect to another of the oncology nurses, (and you get to know and are treated by all of the nurses staffing the Center, but generally there is one nurse to whom you are assigned), she explained/understood how caring for oncology patients in an Infusion Center is much different than caring for a patient in a hospital where you might see the patient for a few days and then never again. In an Infusion Center, you might see the same patient for years (for me, it will be eight years, come March 2017), she said. As such, she added, you develop relationships, friendships, much more so than a typical patient/acquaintance you have in a hospital experience.
If I were to calculate how many times I’ve seen Ron at The Infusion Center over the past seven-plus years, I would guess upwards of 90. And we talked plenty during those 90 visits, and not always about cancer. In fact, it was almost always about life. It was never morbid, it was always merrier. He was a humorous breath of fresh air in an environment/set of circumstances where the breath — so to speak, can occasionally be stale and hard to take. I don’t want to say/want to think: what about me? But if I were to allow it for one minute, one column, I would say what my brother, Richard often says after he hears a good report from my oncologist about me: “If he’s happy, then I’m happy.” Well, If Ron’s happy then I suppose I’m happy, believe it or not.