Robert Koch’s Posts

Robert Koch died in June 2012.  He was a co-founder of this Dixie Bones Post. He was the reason the writers chose nom-de-plums (Ansel Head and Ansel Larry) for their ramblings. His co-conspirator, Nelson Head, has moved Robert’s writings from the home page and put them all here in the order they were written.

Also because of Robert’s death, Head has re-organized the theme and purpose of the Dixie Bones Post. Originally it was to show that one’s education, that one’s experiences in life, were the primary reason why someone from the South could be a social part of any group and someone with a German background from the upper mid-west would have “issues” in any but the smallest human circles. Those experiences were incapsulated in the differences between growing up in a barbeque environment as opposed to a liverwurst one. That was the theme Robert followed in the following articles. Of course, it was all in fun.

Now the Dixie Bones Post is mostly about the education of the remaining co-conspirator, and it remains all in fun.

The Art of the Snowball Fight

I woke up this morning to the ever so slight dusting of snow and slush and the universal canceling of schools, church affairs and every other human activity known to man.    Lying in bed and looking out the window I let my mind wonder back to my childhood good old Oshkosh, or as my friend Ansel Head would say, the land of liverwurst.  But I digress.

When winter beset the tundra, a forecast of snow meant just that – SNOW.  Not a dusting or a smattering but real snow measured in feet and not inches.  I lived in a court with four houses and  at the appointed time and the dig out would start.  How long it lasted depended on how many feet of snow had fallen or was falling for that matter.  You see we grew up with a strange outlook on snow – the more you shoveled during the storm the less you shoveled after it and the faster you could get the real goal – the snowball fight.

Now every kid growing up in Oshkosh had an outdoor uniform for cold weather.  You had a warm parka with plenty of pockets, a scarf, ear muffs, a watch cap, wool socks and boots.  You also had two pair of mittens.  One set had fingers and the other just coated with plastic.  That pair for the manufacture of ammunition.  If you were old enough you got to do away with those long straps with pincers on the ends that ran through the arms of your parka to hold your mittens.  This was kind of a rite of passage but I guess you had to be there to appreciate it.

Snowball fights in the north were things of beauty.  A fight might last a few minutes or it could rage for days covering entire city blocks.  Once the fight got bigger than two or three kids teams were formed supplies became necessary.  The first several hours of the fight were usually consumed by packing and storing snow balls.  You would hide your stash behind trees, under porches or between the neighbor’s fence and your garage.  The important thing was that when the snowballs started flying you did not want to be caught short of ammunition.  That usually let to disaster, especially if you were caught out in the open without a friend or two alongside and facing three or four of the opponents who were considered armed and dangerous.

The fights usually started with two sides facing each other and firing off a few salvos.  The rules were simple, if you were hit you were out.  The last kid standing was the winner along with his team.  This meant that after the first exchange the teams scattered throughout the neighborhood and the fight disintegrated to scattered search and destroy missions.   It was here that we learned the valuable skill of laying an ambush.  Once out of the fight you would go to a designated site and await the other casualties as they trickled in.

Snowballs came in different sizes, shapes and varying degrees of hardness.  The warmer it got the slushier the snowball.  But when it got cold those little slush balls became hard and deadly.  Good packing weather meant you had a better chance of making the ammunition on the fly and didn’t have store as much although nothing could replace that hidden cache of little white pellets in a pinch.

And so we grew up looking forward to the snow and the ensuing snowball fights because one thing was sure, at 20 degrees below zero basketballs won’t bounce.  A few other lessons were learned as well.  Snowballs are very capable of taking out a house window.  Snowballs usually cause the car they hit to stop and give chase.  Perhaps, however, the best lesson of all was that a slush ball to the crotch hurts like hell.

 An Alabama Snow? How About a Real Wisconson Winter

While perusing the morning blogs, Ansel Larry stumbled upon Ansel Head’s coloful description of an Alabama snow.  Well written thought Ansel, but Alabama snow?  Isn’t that sort of an oxymoron like military inteligence?  When one speaks of snow, that conjurs up memories of real winters and real winters are something that Ansel Larry can speak of with authority.

Yes, winter is one of the four seasons but in Wisconsin it really is the season.  You see spring usually happens around Memorial Day when the ice finally gives up its grip on the lakes and rivers.  Spring is followed by one day of summer, usually in June on the longest day of the year.  Wisconsiners picked that day because it gives them a full twelve hours to work out their otherwise pasty complextion that exists the rest of the year.  Autum rolls through right after summer and then comes the ten months of winter.

Winter, however, comes in stages and is a complex season to understand.  It tricks you with an early frost in August or September and is then followed by a short indian summer.  But soon enough snow decends upon the landscape and you know that winter has begun.  We are not talking about the inch of snow that Ansel Larry describes; no, we are talking about snow measured in feet.

Snow piled up so high that you can’t see cars at intersections; snow so cold that you walk on top of it and not in it.  Then there are the usual ups and downs of the thermometer but by January the bottom has pretty well fallen out of that as well and the temperature justs seems to sit somewhere between minus 15 and hell having frozen over.  February is real fun – minus a million degrees, winds out of the nowthwest at hurricane force, no sun, no moon, just beer, buron and bratwurst.  However, around Valentines day comes a hint of spring.  Yup, the temperature is finally risen forty degrees to around thirty-two and the basketballs are beginning to bounce again.  Time to take off the parkas, drop the boots and gloves and go for a few round of horse in the driveway.

Winter brings its own entertainment as well.  Sure there is the ubiquitous snow ball fights to which Ansel has already spoken but there is a host of ther delights to please and entertain the hearty.  Neighbors flood their yards and skating rinks are born.  Rinks appear at schools and parks throughout the city and are soon filled with kids playing crack the whip, cayote, or just skating in endless circles listening to the music being piped over the loudspeaker or ducking into the warming house for a hot chocolate.  Games of broom ball or ice hockey abound and penalties are settled the old fashioned way with a good old fight.  Ah winter.

The lakes freeze, the rivers freeze, your parents pipes freeze and car seats become really hard.  There is an unmistakable crunch when you sit behind the wheel and a crack like a gun shot when you close the card door.  Then there is your car that bounces along on square wheels over roads rutted with snow and ice; that is if the engine decides to start.  Heating blocks are the secret weapon of the well prepared winterphile.  The word goes out that the bridge to the lake is open and over night a village of ice shanties appears.  Fishermen are after all sorts of species using rods, reels, tip ups and the spear gun for that occasional sturgeon that eveyone covets.

February blurs into March and while it may creep in like a lamb it usually goes out like a lion with another blast of cold and snow.  Deep in your heart however, you know that the one day of summer is not far off.  Ice shuvs suddenly appear on the lake’s edge, cars start to sink in the lake and the shanty villiages that sprung up over night disappear over night.  Yup, it’s time to think of that polar bear plunge, get the water skis ready and trade in the ice boat for the sail boat.  Because come Memorial Day there’s open water and the snow turns into slush.  Now that’s winter Ansel.

 Ansel Larry Finally Comes Home

In March of 2010 Ansel Larry finally packed away his briefcase and retired from the world of the road warriors.  Mrs. Larry, (aka the Queen) accompanied Ansel on his last journey warily in search of the second family that she was sure existed out there somewhere.

Arriving in Frankfort Kentucky on Sunday evening and pulling up to Ansel’s apartment  Mrs. Larry was certain that this was where Ansel kept his second family to whom he had been faithfully returning each week for the past four years.  You can imagine her surprise when all the apartment turned out to be was an apartment.  Search as she did there was no success in locating the other family.

On Monday morning Ansel had to go to work so he asked Mrs. Larry to go to Mom’s Laundry to pick up his cleaning from the previous week.  Mrs. Larry followed the Garmin down a twisting road along the river and came to the Laundry after several minutes.  You should have seen the look of astonishment when she went into the laundry and announced that she was here to pick up Ansel’s cleaning only to be met with the response, “Are you the other woman?”

Ah Ha she thought, indeed there was skulduggery lurking in this small village afterall.  Gathering her wits Mrs. Larry calmly explained that no she was not the other woman she was, in fact THE woman.  Mom, as Ansel affectionaly called the proprietor, was embarrased beyond belief.  She hastily explained that Ansel had told her the previous week that his replacement was going to be a young lady and that she would be bringing her laundry here in the future.  But as she listened to the Ansel stories that came out from Mom’s mouth Mrs. Larry grudingly had to admit that and maybe there wasn’t a second family out there somewhere afterall.

The week progressed and on Thursday Ansel was given a royal sendoff by his client.  All that was left was to turn in his keys and his ID card and then it was off to the uncharted waters of retirement.  It was funny how one day you are important and the next you are history and on the outside looking in; but then that seems to be the way of the world.

As Ansel and Mrs. Larry traveled back to the grand casa in North Carolina, they began to wonder what life together after nine years of continuous travel would be like.  Mrs. Larry afterall had enjoyed the past five years in her new abode while Ansel had probably spent little more than five months.  Word on the streets was that there were several active pools trying to pick how long they would be before Mrs. Larry asked Ansel what time his next flight was.

It seemed too that Ansel’s friend, Ansel Head, was also concerned about his well being on several fronts.  Ansel Head knew that his brash yankee friend with a somewhat twisted sense of humor and difficulty keeping his outlandish statements to himself would face serious challenges as he attempted to fit into the Southern way of life.  Surely Ansel’s uncanny ability to offend both Southern sence and sensability would produce dire consequences in the coming months.  Ansel worried also that without some form of mental engagement Ansel Larry might truely become known as the loon on the lake.  Little did Ansel Larry know that Ansel Head and Ms. Wolfe would spring an ingenious trap to address at least one of these concerns.

On one afternoon while touring an art gallery in a nearby town Ms. Wolfe spotted a series of flying animals suspended from the galery’s ceiling.  A short conversation with the owner revealed that she had recently lost her source for these creatures and didn’t know from where her next consignment would come.  At that, Ms. Wolfe turned to Ansel Larry and said, “now come on Ansel, you can do that!”  To which Ansel responded “Sure”.  And like that the snare was sprung and Ansel was committed to create a world of flying animals.  It was only later that night after several long shots of Scotch that Ansel woke up in a cold sweat and said, “How can I do that?”.

Now, almost one year to the day from that retirement, Ansel has released the first of what he hopes will be a virtual circus of flying objects.  Yes, it seems, that pigs really do know how to fly.

Ice Fishing and Patience – One of Life’s Little Lessons.

When Ansel Larry was growing up one of his favorite fireside stories was about the old miner and his jackass.  It seems that the two were crossing the desert for days and the jackass kept saying, “Water, master, water” to which the miner would reply, “Patience, jackass, patience”.  Well this exchange would keep up seemingly for ever and finally one frustrated camper would yell out asking when the dumb skit was to be over.  Naturally, the counselors all responded, “Patience, jackass, patience”.  So you ask, what does this story have to do with ice fishing and patience?  Well, remember the old miner and maybe you will learn something.

Fishing is an age old pastime that has provided employment and food to mankind through generations.  I suspect ice fishing is not quite as old but it has provided man with a sanctuary, a place to be alone, read and contemplate the universe while waiting for the tip up to signal that a fish is on the line or to finish his beer.  In short it is an excuse for man to flee his wife or significant in the winter, swap tales with his buddies while generally consuming too much alcohol.

In the Beginning

The Country and Western singer Tim McGraw as a song out called, “Live Like You Are Dying”.  Normally this is just another tune on the radio, background music as you go about your daily routine; then one day, WHAM! the lyrics suddenly become real.  Change my early forties to my early sixties and you will see what I mean.  For those of my readers who may not have heard the song or don’t know the lyrics, it goes like this:

He said

I was in my early forties

With a lot of life before me

And a moment came that stopped him on a dime

I spend most of the next days

Looking at the x-rays

Tallkin’ ’bout the options

And talkin’ ’bout sweet time

I asked him

When it sank in

That this might really be the real end

How’s it hit you

When you get that kind of news?

Man, what would you do?

Well you start a journal and try to capture what your life is really about and how you going to cope in your search for “Foo-Man-Choo” .

It’s February and It’s Eighty – Not a Good Omen

Early in February, the Big C roared into our lives unannounced and uninvtied.  Of course if you think about it, you really don’t send out invitations to diseases as they do show up as unannounced guests anyway.  Now that the shock and anger has worn off I have decided to chronicle this challenge as I wade through it.  What appear in this educational journal will be miscellaneous ramblings, rationalization or maybe just venting of frustrations.  There will be good days and bad days each laid our for all to see.  Join me and together we will see where this road leads and how long we can keep the grim reaper at bay.  With a little Scotch, a little humor, and as the Beatles would say, with a “little help from my friends”, we just might do all right.  Not unfortunately with medical marijuana which remains right up there with booze and sexual intercourse in this liberated State known as North Carolina.  But I digress.

Apparently, this adventure has its start over ten years ago, long before we moved to North Carolina in 2005; nevertheless I pick up the story at the Loon’s Lake.  You really don’t want to read about ten years of wheels up, wheels down, and this is what day and what city?  So I will skip that part and suggest you watch the George Clooney movie “UP” which pretty well sums it up anyway.  Being the tightly organized little German that I am, part of my settling process in North Carolina required setting up a support network of doctors, dentists, and a chiropractor to deal with my various aches and pains.

I selected a general practitioner based upon a neighbor’s recommendation, a dentist based on reputation, and a chiropractor by making a left turn into a parking lot that said Chiropractor of all things.  Working with my GP, I set up a series of base lines against which we could measure any changes.  We did X-Rays, a stress test, a lung scan, and other things.  I think somewhere in there may have been the colonoscopy as well.  Needless to say I was thoroughly examined, poked, and prodded. We agreed upon examinations and tests needed on a six month cycle; and life went on.  What remained to be examined was a lower back pain on my left side that also extended into my thigh.  This was my chiropractor’s challenge.

Over time my cholesterol issues came under control,  my high blood pressure was regulated but never dropped to what I expected after a 30 pound weight loss upon my retirement in 2009.  In retrospect I now wonder if I should not have more aggressively pushed on this issue.  I lost my tooth and  experienced my third cavity of my life.

There was a pain, however, that just would not go away.  It ran down the left side of my back through my crotch and into my thigh.  I began to think that maybe something was pushing on the sciatic nerve that was back there and that pushing might be responsible for the pain.

The Opening Round

This past Monday, February 6th, I had an appointment with my GP for my six month checkup.  We both chuckled over the fact that I had forgotten why I had the appointment but proceeded with the normal poking, probing and listening.  Everything seemed to be in order but it was time to update my blood work so that appointment was scheduled for the next day.  Our discussion then turned to my left hip and the continued discomfort.  We talked about this earlier in our relationship and had said that if we could not figure things out we would go to the next steps of an MRI and some more X-rays.

Well, I thought the time had come and asked the doctor to order up the tests so we might see what was wrong.  I was still thinking that something might be pushing on the sciatic nerve and wanted to put this issue to rest.  The doctor’s office took the lead and the scan and X-ray was scheduled for Wednesday, February 8.  Along with the X-ray would be an MRI of the lower pelvic area to see if we could find anything.

I am a morning person so my tests were scheduled for 8:30.  Linda was out of town so I was up early, had a breakfast sausage and egg biscuit at Biscuit King, and checked in at the hospital a little after 8:00.  This was my first experience with the Lexington Memorial Hospital that had recently become part of the Wake Forrest Baptist Medical Hospital system   It was here I learned the traditional way of identifying yourself that has become so near and dear to my heart.  I was told to bring a photo id so I had my driver’s  license but it was never requested.  Instead I learned the new mantra of name and date of birth.  With that the kingdom doors flung open and I was pointed down the polished hall. First up was the X-ray which took just a matter of minutes.  Next came the MRI and my introduction to what I have come to call the tunnel of love.

Welcome to the Love Tunnel

A nurse led me away from the X-ray department down the corridor toward two large swinging doors.  She pressed her badge to the security pad and the doors swung open revealing a small examination room and a larger room swathed in low lights that contained the machine.  About the only thing missing was soft music playing in the background.  There before me stood the MRI.  It was a large blue and white cylindrical tube with a small hole in the middle and sliding table connected to the front.  Of course your first thought is whether you were actually going to fit into this contraption.

We started in the examination room with the familiar questions and establishing that my birthday was indeed July 30, 1947.  Only later did I figure out that you don’t have a name in the medical system, you have a UPC code and a birth date.  Once the preliminaries were finished I placed my valuables in a locker and confirmed that I had no electrical contraptions or metal in my body.  My personal belongings were securred in a locker and the nurse kept the key for safety since to give it to me would nave negated the questions in the first place.  Then it was off to the big room.

The nurse handed me a pair of ear plugs and explained that the machine would make a variety of noises while I was encased in the tunnel and these would help to keep my discomfort to a minimum.  So, you are about to be shoved into a tunnel about as wide as your shoulders and as tall as your nose and you are supposed to not worry about noise.  All I can remember was telling myself to keep my eyes closed, breath, and think of something, anything to keep my mind occupied.  I will be damned if I am going to press the panic button. Next you lay down on the moving table, a cushion was placed under your knees and then you were asked if you had any last requests.  With that you were rolled into the tunnel and your forty-five minute serenade by various rat-a-tats and other clanging noises began.  Apparently these are electronic magnets resonating against each other and me. About three quarters of the way through this exercise I was pulled from the tunnel and told that I would be put in a little different position for about fifteen minutes so the machine could look at my pelvis.  Ok, I thought, fifteen times sixty is nine hundred so I just started to count – one one hundred, two one hundred……  Before long, the experience was over and I was pulled back out of the tunnel, taken to the exam room to pick up my belongings, and then off to the car.  My day of examinations was over.  Now came the wait for the results.

The Coming Storm

I went home from the hospital and began working on whatever project was currently in the queue.  I figured that within a day or two I would hear from the doctor’s office about the results.  Within a very short time the phone rang and according to my caller ID it was the doctor’s office.  “That was fast”, I thought to myself.

Well on the other end of the line was the doctor’s assistance who said they had the results of the tests.  Yes, I do have some deterioration in the spinal area but the technician who was examining the scans noticed a shadow around my left kidney and the doctor would like a more detailed look.  Notice here that nothing was said about the sciatic nerve which was the main reason we had set up this exercise in the first place.  “Would it be convenient for me to go back to the hospital on Wednesday for a CT-scan?”, she asked.  I said sure and the next day at 8:00 AM I was back at the hospital checking in the admitting office and confirming that my birthday was indeed July 30, 1947.

I was sent down the hall to a small, less than cheerful, waiting room where I was surrounded by outdated magazines and subjected to Fox News on the television.  Since it was still early in the morning there were no other sorry souls with whom I could commiserate so I sat there quietly waiting for the next keeper to arrive.  In a few minutes a nice nurse came and led me down the same corridor to another set of large swinging doors.  Much like the vaunted tunnel of love, the CT-scan sat in the middle of its own space.  Unlike the tunnel of love, this contraption looked more like a large O-ring with its tongue sticking out; and this machine had a voice not unlike Hal.

There were a few minutes of formalities, the normal pat downs and confirmation of my birth date and it was off to the giant O-ring.  Since you were not being squished into a doughnut hole and you could see through this one, there was no anxiety to accompany the experience.  You simply hopped up on the table, had the leg lift inserted under your knees and away you went.  No banging, no rat-a-tat, just the soothing voice of Hal saying, “Hold your breath”.  Would he ever tell you to exhale?  After about 20 seconds or 20 minutes depending upon your perspective the voice came back saying, “Breath Out”.  And so this went for about four iterations and then it was over.  Once again, it was back to the car and back to the farm to await the results.

In the meantime, Linda had returned from her visit with Connie and I briefly filled her in on past several medical excursions.  I said that in my opinion, something was up and that something was not going to be good.  She told me to focus on the positive and we both settled in for the call.  On Thursday morning the call came.  It was the doctor’s receptionist saying that the doctor would like to see me.  I said fine and suggested sometime in the coming week.  She said no and that the doctor had time available at 3:00 PM that afternoon.  I looked at Linda and said, “Well I guess he is going to tell us we have not won the lottery.”

At that moment, I wasn’t sure that I wanted Linda to come to the appointment.  There was something strange going on in my mind, and I was leaning toward taking whatever the news was going to be head on and alone.  Linda went outside to work in the gardens and I went up to my office.  Finally, I headed outside and told Linda that she was welcome to come if she wanted to.  She wanted to and that was that.


Around two-thirty, Linda and I cleaned up and headed into Lexington for our appointment with the doctor.  We arrived; the receptionist said it would be a few minutes.  After that few minutes, we were escorted to one of the examination rooms where we settled in.  I was on the examining table and Linda was standing in the corner.  Shortly the doctor joined us.  I could tell from his expression that he was uncomfortable.  He also had just come from another consultation where he had had to tell a patient that his leg would be amputated; so he had some grounds to be a bit shaky.

He began by explaining that the medical technician who examined the MRI had seen a shadow in an area that should not have any.  He said it was almost by accident that the technician had seen the object since that was not his primary focus.  That shadow prompted the suggestion of the CT Scan.  It was about this point where old blunt Ansel interrupted and said, “What you are telling me then is that I have cancer.”  I was tired of the beating around the bush on the subject and continued, “Well, it is what it is and we will just have to deal with it”.

Linda pointed out that if it was a kidney, it could be removed.  I agreed.  I think that the doctor was a little off guard by the bluntness of our discussion.  The doctor asked whether it would be all right to refer me to an Oncologist who works in the cancer center at Lexington Memorial Hospital and is associated with Wake Forest Baptist Hospital.  Not having a great deal of time to think about it or to research all of the options, I said why not.  The call was placed; the appointment made; and Linda and I passed Go and paid (instead of collected) our two hundred dollars.  We said our goodbyes to the office and headed back to the house.

The drive was mostly quiet but Linda interrupted the silence, “Let’s look on the bright side of things, you no longer have to worry about Alzheimer’s disease.”

There really was only one thing to do at this point: Get out the good stuff, call La Cava for a last minute reservation with our Italian family in Salisbury, and put on the happy face.  While we sat there sipping our libations before leaving for our dinner reservations (how after all could a DWI charge change my life), I slipped off into the main dining room where we keep our collection of elephants.  I picked up a small one, the smallest, and returned to the great room, placing the elephant on a candle on the main coffee table.

“There,” I announced smugly, “the elephant is in the room.” The ice for the evening was broken and even though this was our last evening in the Shang-re-la world were everything is perfect and people do live happily ever after, we crafted a pact not to let the elephant rule our lives. Rather, ours will be one of trying to fulfill the days/months/years left setting our own example with how do deal with it.

Enter Doogie Howser, MD

Now came idle time for two generally educated, somewhat inquisitive individuals armed with time and laptops. Out came the machines, up went the covers, and on went the motors.  Soon Google, Yahoo, and a host of other search bots were tooling the internet looking at every shape, size, and stage of kidney cancer.  Each of us wanted to know the most when we met the Oncologist.

“Did you know that?  Did you see this?” echoed our calls between the up and downstairs.  Pretty soon it became evident that there was too much information to be of any real help without one’s own personal guide; and that would not come until the following Monday. The educational activities ground to a halt.

Since the Monday visit was to be only an introductory and review session, we decided that Linda would head off to work at the Candy Factory, and I would report in after the appointment.

My meeting was set for 3 pm; so I planned to arrive and fill out the new forms with my name, date of birth, and whatever else the group needed. Now Lexington Hospital sits at the back of a circle surrounded by smaller, specialized buildings. Since I saw no signs for Oncology upon arriving, I parked my car and asked directions from the receptionists. I guess she did not understand my northern accent and said, “You wanna go to de Orcology unit at de hospital?”

I said, “Well, let’s just try the doctor’s name.”

“I know dat boy!” she replied. “He’s in dat litl brown buildin at de bottom of de hill.  It’s for cancer patients.”

I crossed my eyes and headed back to the car. The temperature had dropped, the wind was blowing, and it was almost like February. The receptionist greeted  me with a fairly close interpretation of my name saying, “Mr. Kosh.”

The little wise ass sitting on my shoulder wanted to say, “Yes, I am Mr. Osh Kosh.”  But the man of self control sitting on my other shoulder prevailed and said, “Yes, it’s Koch as in the word Cook”.

“Have a seat. You’ll be called in a few minutes.”  Looking around at the other people waiting, I could tell why we cancer patients have our own building.

The nurse came and took me back for my examination. “Shoes off and get on the weight table …… hmm!  Next a nurse will draw some blood. Oh yes, before we start, can I have your name and date of birth?”

While repeating aloud the requested data, I’m was saying to myself, “Keep this up and I’ll bring back Jim Billings who still ranks high in the lore of Oshkosh teenagers.”

Assured that it was me, Countess Dracula entered and pulled three viles of my precious fluid; it reminded me of the old blood letting procedures so much in medical vogue in the not too distant past.

Following the draining, I was directed to the exam room to await the doctor’s entrance.  Sure enough, Doogie Howser walked into the room. He was about the right age, bright eyed and bushy tailed as we used to say. He was tall but had not grown into his lab coat. I felt that I was right back at the airports where I had spent the last ten years being flown by teenagers and waited on by cheerleaders. Summoning a deep breath, I shook the hand of the man who was to become my guide through this issue.

Doogie took a few minutes to tell me about himself, his education, his reasons for choosing Oncology at the Wake Forest Baptist Hospital, and his philosophy toward the practice of medicine. He paused and looked up with the apparent purpose of putting the ball back in my court.

Some people will tell you that I am neither the gentlest nor an indirect cannon in the arsenal, but I can be diplomatic.  I began:

“I am sorry to be meeting you under these circumstances; but we have an apparent issue that needs to be addressed. I am not interested in consoling sermons when the news is bad. If the news is bad, I want it up front so my wife and I can deal with it. I am prepared to work on this challenge as long as we see progress; but when the scale tips, I will not be throwing money after a false cure. My medical papers are in order, my wife knows my position as does our family attorney and GP. In other words, if things start heading south, a new set of horses is not to be added to the wagon.”

With that being said, I asked how he felt working in these conditions. There was a pause, and he finally said, “It is a refreshing way to start off a relationship. I’ve never had such a direct patient before.”

Little did he know.

Zero to Stage Four in ????

Dougie began by reviewing my charts and the results of the recent MRI, CAT Scan and X-rays.  After a few minutes he said that when Kidney cancer gets to Stage 4 – TIME OUT… WHAT HAPPENED TO STAGES ONE, TWO, AND THREE?

Well it turns out that Stage 4 means that the cancer is found in more that one place in the body meaning it is in the blood stream and is basically incurable. Talk about a wet towel in the face, well I had just gotten one.

“Thank you Dr. Houser for your direct response and explanation.  So now what?” I asked.

“Kidney cancer likes to travel to several exotic hideaways in the human body, like the brain and bones,” Doogie replied.

So next up on the agenda would be a short visit back to the tunnel of love for a brain scan and then something called a full body bone density scan. These were scheduled for a few days out.

That evening the phone rang at home and it was the doctor’s office.  Linda joked whether I had behaved during the appointment. And yes there was a problem. It seems that my conversation had so caught the doctor off guard that he forgot to conduct his initial examination and would I be willing to come back the next day.  Somewhat in hysterics I agreed.

Linda wanted to know what I had really said to this nice young doctor.

Radiology, Here I Come Again

Time seemed to be accelerating which was a good thing because too much idle time causes the mind to wonder. At this point with too little information, the temptation was always to end up at a bad place.  Then there was that damned back pain that started the whole process in the first place.  It was still there,  but nobody seemed to want to talk about it.

In a few days it was back to the hospital and my friends in the radiology department.  I was slowly working my way through the entire staff.  I had learned about husbands, wives, and children.  We had discussed illnesses and the New York Yankees.  This time, however, it was time for the brain scan and the bone density scan.

What fun!

Yes, my name had not changed, and my birthday was the same.  I wondered why I just did not get an ID bracelet from the hospital that I could slip on each time I came through the doors.  It seemed to me that would be much more efficient and perhaps save a few bucks at the same time. Too bad that they did not have a frequent visitor program where you can earn points toward future visits.

It was back on the table for another session in the tunnel of love.  This time, however, I was presented with a cage to place over my head.  I rather looked like Hannibal Lecter as I lay there waiting to be slid into the tunnel.  Soon I was ensconced snuggly in the tunnel and my only hope was that I would not develop an itch on my nose.  After what seemed to be an hour, I was pulled back, the mask removed, and that the ordeal was over.

Next up, the density scan, but first I had to drink a God awful, large drink of illumination fluid.

My bone man was a real chatty-Cathy.  He told me that the machine was so precise that it could pick up nicks and breaks from years and years ago.  My knee surgery from over ten years ago showed up during this procedure.  I was impressed.  This scan was rather different that the MRI or CT Scan.  Here you laid out on a table and a large square machine lowers over you making you feel somewhat like a piece of bologna between two slices of bread.  Lights dimmed and the machine begins to hum as it slowly moves from head to toe.  All the while this is going on my new best friend and I were discussing world peace.  After about fifteen minutes, the process was over. I was free to go.

Now all the tests were done, I had been sliced and diced in a myriad of ways and all that remained was the results.  It was time to stay tuned.

The Picture Comes Into Focus

A few days later, we were back at the Oncology department to hear the results of my latest series of tests.  Yes, the MRI revealed that I did have a brain and the good news-there was no sign of cancer in it.  The density scan also returned good news.  My bones were in great shape for a sixty-four year old; and there was no sign that the cancer had attached itself to them as well.

So at last, we had the full picture of what I was facing.  I had a large tumor (11 centimeters) attached to my left kidney. The cancer had broken out of the kidney and was in the blood stream where it found its way to my lungs. Bottom line it was stage 4. That’s the kind of predicament that usually does not have a happy ending.

“Could we put a time frame on it?” I asked.

“No”, Doogie Howser MD replied.

And that was the really frustrating part of this challenge. We are all going to go sometime;  I just happen to know that I am going to go sooner that later. The game plan was now to keep the grim reaper at bay for as long as possible within certain limits of a quality of life.  Welcome to the new normal.

Having established what the problem was, I had to move on to the next phase.  The obvious conclusion was that the kidney had to go and after that we would decide what to do about the lungs.

First, Linda and I had some travels planned. We decided to keep that schedule.  After all, if the tumor has been lying in wait for over ten years a few more weeks was not going to kill me – metaphorically speaking of course.

The Trail of Tears

Now that we had an idea of the scope of the problem, it was time to decide how to share the joy.  A simple post on Facebook or a terse e-mail really was not the best way to handle this.  For some, however, e-mail would prove to be the best method of communication as these were people far away; and I did not see them that often anymore.

Following a rough conversation with Linda’s sister, we decided that a short trip to Northern Virginia was in order.  After that, we would descend upon the breakfast club and from there head down to Florida via Savannah to round out the excursion.  Each stop would be different because each group of people had to be told in our own way.

Friday came, and we were off to Northern Virginia.  We arrived late in the afternoon and settled in for a chat at an early happy hour. That conversation proved to us that sometimes a  face-to-face meeting is the only way to handle a difficult subject.

Linda’s sister and brother-in-law took us to a great Italian restaurant to celebrate the moment.  Linda continued to imbibe. When we went to leave, we noticed that she was not in the car. It seems that my brother-in-law had told her to stay put in the hallway while her sister used the head. And stay put she did.  Even when her sister walked by, Linda stood her ground like a true sentinel.

The next day it was down to Richmond and Connie’s house to see the breakfast club.  Chuck was out of town. The weather was snowy so we did not expect Rebecca to make it either. That would be no problem since a short stop at the farm on the way home was not out of the way.  Bud and Linda came up from Williamsburg . So far it was the usual spur of the moment get together for this group.  There were nibbles before dinner. The dining room was set for a formal affair.

As we sat down, Blunt Bob appeared out of nowhere and announced to the group that he had been diagnosed with cancer.  Needless to say, dinner was an afterthought – a good one, but an afterthought. The mood that night changed quickly from festive to somber. A few tears were shed, probably for the first time as the reality of this situation finally sank in. We all pass out of this life sometime; but for the first time our small group had a different kind of designated leader.

On Sunday, we left for the farm and a short meeting with Rebecca. Chuck was on his way to Haiti so he would not be there. Again, good old Blunt Bob took the reins and announced the issue shortly after our arrival.  As a cancer survivor, Rebecca took the news astonishingly well; although later she called me to make sure I really knew what Stage 4 meant.

Once we were home, we packed for the second stage of the trip to Georgia and Florida.  In Savannah over wine and a steak dinner, we let Lindy know that I have a challenge.  He took the news graciously as I knew he would.  The next day it was off to Florida for several days and a visit with Bob and Dave.  About a minute after arriving, Blunt Bob showed up again and announced that he had some bad news to dispose of so that we could get on with the weekend and enjoy the visit.   That being said, the C-bomb was dropped and the weekend was underway.

Yes, there were probably more polite and gentle ways to share the news; but I felt better just getting it out, dealing with it straight up, and getting on with life.  In the end, I think this close circle of friends understood that this is a time to come together, more for Linda than for me because in the long run this is the support group that she needs to deal with this mess.  Don’t get me wrong, I needed support too; but hers is the abiding need; and the one that has to come first.  Mine?  Well I am the problem, but more on that later.

So what is next?  Did I mention I have another date with the tunnel of love?

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