Thursday, April 06, 2006

Is it a sin to call in sick when you're really not?

Because I have a bottle of Becker Vineyards' Viognier here, and a slab of salmon, and a little miniature Dachshund across town that would love to play tug with a sock.

(Nota bene: Becker Vineyards is in a place called Fredricksburg, in Texas, in the Hill Country. It produces a really superior Viognier. You should have some, even if you have to scour your local wine store for it.)

I also have a kitty-cat who hasn't seen me for Two Whole Days, and for whom I just installed a Cat-A-Comb (one of those corner groomer widgets that contains catnip). And I have a bed, which I haven't seen much of lately, and a Chef Boy who's feeling a bit put out that I haven't seen much of *him* lately.

At work, it's Glioma Season. Any nurse will tell you that things like appendicitis, brain tumors, and heart attacks tend to come in waves; this is our Glioma season. Subarachnoid Hemorrhage Season starts in a few weeks, when the thunderstorms and resultant pressure drops start to get *really* nasty...but for now, it's all tumors.

She has a glioma that extends from the bottom of her right frontal lobe, just above her sinuses, to the middle of her frontal lobe, and might have fingers reaching into her temporal and parietal lobes. So far it's skinny and isn't affecting her thought processes, though her balance is a little off. I discharged her on Monday. She'll come back next Monday for a biopsy. There's not a lot we can do besides a confirmatory biopsy and gamma-knife radiation; her tumor is in a really, really nasty spot and a really, really nasty configuration.

"So," she said, "the doctor was just in here telling me that this is probably brain cancer."

"Yep," I replied.

"And it's going to kill me if it is?" she asked.

"If it is, it will." I said.

"Mmmm. I suppose I ought to do all those things I always wanted to do, then," she mused.

"That would probably be a very good idea." I said.

"How long do I have before I...(flapping hands helplessly, crossing eyes, and sticking tongue out of mouth)?"

"Maybe six months. More probably three." I replied.

I wasn't telling her anything she hadn't already heard from the doc, and she isn't the sort of person that appreciates bush-beating.

Unexpectedly, she asked me, "Do you know Trout Fishing In America's version of 'Last Days of Pompeii?'"

Do I. "On the last day of Pompeii/Thought I heard some poor boy say/Oh, wow, man/If I knew then what I know now..."

I giggled. She giggled. One of the lines is about "I woulda filled up on chocolates, cigarettes and booze/given some perfect stranger the blues". We were both thinking about that.

"If I don't show up on Monday," she said, "I'm in France. I'm spending all my money and eating good cheese and chocolate and flirting madly with men two decades younger than I am."

"Rock on," I said. "Have some Camembert for me."

She won't be back for that biopsy.

Down the hall is a woman with three children, in her late twenties; a totally non-average patient for a glio. Hers is large and aggressive and likely to take her body before it takes her mind, yet she's cheerful and happy.

"I can't believe how blessed I've been," she says, after a group of her friends from church leave. "One of my friends told me that I'm the sort of Christian that she wants to be. All of these people have shown me such love and such tenderness. I feel like I've fallen into a whole group of Good Samaritans."

She thanks me for her care and promises to pray for me. She leaves a lovely thank-you note that mentions me by name and lavishes praise on all of us.

"Serious denial" says the PA, whom I'm not real fond of these days.

"Maybe she really *is* blessed" I retort.

And here is where I find the motivation *not* to call in sick, *not* to spend the day with perfectly healthy people, doing perfectly pleasant things. I've met two people who've gotten the worst possible news a person could get, yet they intend to live the hell out of their lives in the twelve or fourteen weeks left to them.

I'm going in tomorrow with the express purpose of living the hell out of the day, no matter how many are given to me thereafter. If I drop dead of an aneurysm at 19:08, at least I'll have had fun. And maybe made a difference.

One thing's for sure: I'll be humming, "And now that I'm a goner/All that lava rushing 'round that corner/Oh, wow, man--I ain't complaining/Only thinking out loud/You know that my life would be different/My love would be different/If I knew then what I know now."


Anonymous said...

I must admit it always surprises me how the people who are the sickest, and in the most dire straights often have the best outlook on life. It makes all of the people who are there either drug seeking, or lonely, that are demanding, rude and unpleasant that much more difficult to take...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this, Jo. I needed to hear this today. We need to be reminded to 'live in the present' every once in awhile, and that attitude is everything. Oh -and the Becker Viognier has been my 'wine of choice' for about a year now...isn't it the greatest!?

threadingwater said...

You're amazing. This column is amazing. Thank you for not calling in sick.

shrimplate said...

No truer words were ever written. "Seize the day" and all. The best thing is that you see fit to share it, even use it to make a difference for others.

Nothing better than the lovely nose of a good viognier.

may said...

isn't it amazing that we can teach and learn all at the same time, at work?

Anonymous said...

Just found you - retired OR supervisor, neurosurgery favorite field. Wonderful post - your attitude is commendable - wish there were more of you