- Jill Schacter
- My wonderful husband died when I was 44 years old. Being widowed this young happens to less than 3% of married people. Writing through this loss one word at time helps me understand what I've lost and helps me continue to grow. It is how I have gradually recovered from such a severe loss. Research shows that you can benefit from taking just 15 minutes a day to write out your deepest feelings as a way of healing. On the right side of this blog, you'll see a tag for Exercises to Try. If you need some help knowing how to use writing to help heal yourself, I suggest you start there.
Thursday, August 31, 2006
Last August Ken wrote the story of Ferdinand the Cancer Patient in which he described his experiences as a two time stem cell transplant patient. He wrote this, in part, because he was so aghast at the lack of concern for the emotional health of a person going through such grueling treatment.
The other message in "Ferdinand" tells of Ken's great appreciation for the life he had right here in Evanston, and of how much appreciated the community that surrounded us and the simple but profound pleasure to be found in the park right next door to our house, the same park where we'll soon be creating a memorial in his honor.
So, one year later, remember Ferdinand:
The Story of Ferdinand, the Cancer Patient… not a children’s story
(A fictional tale, whose characters are amalgams drawn from 3 different treatment centers.) Inspiration comes from personal experience, and images of Ferdinand the Bull,by by Munro Leaf, and illustrated by Robert Lawson. Imagine sketches of grand characters parading in and out with fancy costumes, pomp, and ceremony.
This is the story of Ferdinand, who tried to mind his own business and smell the flowers. Ferdinand liked to sit in the park, on a bench or under a tree, and experience it all. He smelled the flowers. He watched and enjoyed the people. Everything was well in the park.
One day, Ferdinand did not feel so good. He didn’t have the usual kick in his step. His doctor said it was probably nothing but he should check it out. Ferdinand’s wife was worried, but not too much. She reminded Ferdinand that without a wife to worry, something might be missed. Ferdinand did his best to continue to enjoy the park, and to do the things that he had always done. The first tests showed probably nothing. The second tests were probably nothing. The third tests were more painful, and probably nothing. But days later, there was definitively bad news. Ferdinand had cancer. His life was going to change. But then he would get better, and get back to the park and the flowers.
Ferdinand was brought to a busy place to wait and wait. He waited in rooms with comfy furniture. There were old magazines there. There was a television that had a channel with only pictures of flowers. He was told to sit. Usually, his wife could sit next to him so that they could talk, laugh, and worry together. He was told the wait wouldn’t be long. They were even given discounted passes for car parking. It felt like a good deal. But the waiting was unending. It was more certain than anything. Ferdinand gazed at the tropical fish tanks, and dreamed of the park. He thought about his special little family. He thought about the work that he loved. He thought of the things he loved to do. He thought of his friends. He had a lot of time to sit and think.
Soon, Ferdinand came to recognize the patterns and the people who came to help him. Sometimes, they helped him and let him go back home to his park. Sometimes they kept him at their special place for many weeks, helping him with special treatments. Ferdinand wished he could return to his park. But he knew the people wanted to help him, so he tried as hard as he could. Some days, all Ferdinand wanted was to talk a little with somebody, and to be recognized as one, who was there every day doing his best in his own way. He wanted the people to know that he had a life out there in the park. But the helpers kept coming in, different ones different days and nights. They kept saying Ferdinand looked good. But they didn’t realize that Ferdinand had a lot to say and think about. Ferdinand’s park was too far away, so he had to remember it all by himself.
The helping people came alone or in groups. They had special clothes with matching outfits, gloves, and jackets. They wanted to help Ferdinand by talking, cleaning, poking, and listening to his breathing. They even woke him up in the night to show how much they cared. Just when Ferdinand was imagining how nice it would be to be smelling the flowers in his park, the nice people said that smelling flowers would make Ferdinand sick, so he could not have flowers anywhere nearby. Ferdinand was sad, but he knew that the people were trying to help him. Hopefully, someone would come to visit and tell him about the real flowers and the park. Ferdinand’s own new stories were not very much worth telling.
Ferdinand learned about all of the helping people.
The nurses came. They were young and old; big and small. They did everything. They wrote their names on the bulletin board. They told Ferdinand to rinse his mouth so that he would not get mouth sores. They were in charge of the poles holding bags of poison medicine. The poles beeped and chirped all day and night. At first, Ferdinand thought that he was hearing birds and children in the park. He pushed the nurses’ call button, and then the nurses would come in to adjust the beeps. Sometimes the nurses had good advice for Ferdinand, like how not to throw up his food. They collected and measured every bit of his pee and poop to show how much they cared for him, even more than most dog-owners did for their pets back in Ferdinand’s park. Some even shared their dreams for their own lives. Sometimes the nurses distinguished themselves in their knowledge or their compassion. Some nurses could barely figure out what Ferdinand needed or wanted. They might come to the door and giggle or frown. But Ferdinand learned to tell them what they needed to know about him. Not about his park, but about his pee, poop, pills, and poison bags on the IV pole.
Then came the PT’s, who wanted to go for a walk. They sometimes had ropes and belts strapped to Ferdinand, in case he was so weak that he would stumble. They only knew him as a weak fellow, and they had entire sheets of printed exercises. That was all they needed to know.
Then came the OT’s, with giant rubber bands. And they wanted Ferdinand to pull the rubber bands in his free time. They had big ideas for Ferdinand’s daily goals. It made them feel better.
A minister came now and then to say that god was there if Ferdinand needed him.
Every 4 hours, Ferdinand welcomed the most consistent of all the helpers, the people who take vital signs. They checked pulse oxygen, pulse rate, blood pressure and body temperature. They came every day and every night.
For special fun, there were women, who drew blood from Ferdinand’s body. Certain days they drew from his central line. Other days they stuck his veins directly. Sometimes, there were special blood draws for research blood. These helpers always came at 4:00 in the morning.
Respiratory Therapists came with breathing treatments to inhale. They listened to Ferdinand’s breath and cough. They came 4 times each day, even at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning.
A social worker came to visit sometimes. He could talk about anything. Ferdinand would talk a little, but there was so much to say that he didn’t say very much. Ferdinand couldn’t just jump in like that.
There were lots of cleaners, who usually spoke Spanish. They made sure the bathroom was tidy and would change the towels. They would mind their own business.
Ferdinand never forgot the food service workers, even though he couldn’t taste or enjoy what they brought him. They offered him a sense of control because he could make choices. Too bad none of it tasted good.
And where would Ferdinand be without all of the people doing special tests on him? They took him to lie down on machines of all types. They ensured that no part of Ferdinand would be a mystery. They knew about all that might be wrong with Ferdinand. They needed to be careful because they knew so much. Ferdinand valued what they did, but often he was left to worry.
And now suddenly the trumpets are blaring!!! The staff are hustling and excited. The Doctors are coming on their rounds! Ferdinand is told not to do anything. The Doctors are Coming! The doctors might be in any minute. They might come in two hours. But we will all wait for them because they will talk to Ferdinand! Finally, the door opens and it is the doctor. With him is a fellow… and a pharmacologist… and a special nurse… But these people are not allowed to talk. The doctor listens with his stethoscope. He asks a question or even two. He says he will come again tomorrow. Ferdinand knows a way to ask him questions so that he will stay a minute or two longer. He likes the information that he imagines he will receive. Ferdinand appreciates the doctor because he seems to understand, even though he does not really say much. Before he knows it, Ferdinand is alone again. The trumpets sound for the next cancer patient down the hall.
Almost all of the helpers ask Ferdinand, “Is there anything I can get you?” If Ferdinand thought about it, there would be lots of things. But he can’t really think about that now because they can’t give what he really wants.
Ferdinand soon will go back to his park. Some people say that he will be better for his experience. They like to say that he will see more or know more than he did before. Ferdinand has changed, it is true. He can’t ride his bike as far. He can’t play as long or with such abandon. He can’t hear as well or see as well. He can cry a little easier now, perhaps. Ferdinand did not need the cancer to appreciate life or people or time. He was happy already. But now he will be appreciative and loving again. And he will love his park like he did before. Hopefully for a long, long time.