Here I am thinking, believing, writing that I’m Mr. Well-Adjusted cancer patient and all it took was one conversation in a restaurant the other night at the Connection Christmas party to prove that I’m not. It was a casual, festive atmosphere with everybody enjoying food and drink. I was sitting in a booth with my wife, Dina, my co-worker, David, and his mother Sherry, who I had never met before, who was in-town visiting her sons and planning a drive downtown to see the National Christmas Tree. We were all exchanging pleasantries and getting on quite well when I remembered that David’s mother is a nurse. I thought she would be the perfect person to ask about my oncology nurse. But to give the question some context, I thought I had to tell her I had cancer. And when I did, I could barely get the word out. After I stammered I asked, if there was any professional reason/advisory explaining why I haven’t heard back from my long-time (seven years) oncology nurse who, I had learned four weeks earlier at my last infusion when he wasn’t there to tend to me, retired early. He didn’t exactly leave me adrift but a month later, he still hasn’t returned my cellphone message (an email to his Verizon account bounced back and he hasn’t posted anything current on Facebook).
Obviously he’s entitled. Nevertheless, I’m perplexed. We were buddies. We were extremely compatible: sports, humor, from the Northeast, same age, Jewish and both spoke a little Yiddish. Heck, I had even been to his house for a Super Bowl party; plus we’ve been out to lunch a couple of times after my infusion, met locally for a medical follow up (not exactly a house call but he did come to me), and as I may have written in a previous column, he likely saved my life when I showed up at the Infusion Center with an oxygen level of 85. (Subsequent to that reading, he went into high gear making the necessary arrangements to get me transferred to on-site urgent care and ultimately “ambulanced” to Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring where I spent the next week. Though he didn’t visit me; he later explained that he rarely visited patients, he did call to check on me.) The short story is: our relationship went beyond patient-nurse. I wouldn’t say I looked forward to my infusions, but because of him, I didn’t dread them either.
It’s not as if he has to do anything for me or acknowledge me or even stay in contact with me. He has his own life; he’s made a change and presumably, his oncology patients are not part of it. I can understand that. In the medical specialty field, oncology is one of, if not the most, emotionally demanding/ wrenching: patients with whom you’ve developed a relationship often die. I can imagine how there’s only so much loss of life one can take. However, I thought our relationship went beyond that, in spite of the challenging demands that dealing with a “terminal” patient can exact.
Oddly enough, I’m not taking it personally. My feelings are not hurt, really. Until I know more of the circumstances surrounding his retirement (health, family, lifestyle, etc.), I’m not begrudging him at all. Moreover, he doesn’t owe me an explanation. His retiring is not about me. It’s about him and because of that, I want to know why he decided to leave and whether we can still stay in touch. So far, we haven’t; he hasn’t.
There’s no doubt that he’s been an important part of my cancer-patient life, and in a way, I thought — through my personality and survival, important to him also. Perhaps I was, professionally. Personally, I thought so as well. I just haven’t heard any evidence of it in the last month. Still, I will always be grateful for his care and concern.