Friday, July 3, 2009

Do no Harm

I have a friend in Mass General Hospital with a malignant brain tumor. The guy in question is 88. He's a wonderful man. He owns a camping store in the North Station area of Boston. It's the equivalent of the Strand Bookstore of camping stores. Or perhaps the original Filene's basement. The floor looks like it hasn't been washed since Eisenhower was president. But there isn't a better deal to be had for Arcteryx gear in Boston. The staff are mostly men--gear geeks. It's also, like the Strand, a good place for people who don't fit in the regular world to wash up--artists, transsexuals going through their transitioning, and good intelligent people who'd rather work in a camping store and earn 10 bux an hour with no health insurance than put up with the sort of shit I deal with driving a desk.

And my friend is very good to them--sometimes too good. You really have to go out of your way to be dick to get fired--incompetence alone is not enough. He does his own bookkeeping. The funny thing is, he doesn't know a thing about the products he sells. One time when I was in the store asking one of the guys about a particular jacket, I was surprised when he answered my question. He's the only person who works there and doesn't wear the gear the store sells. I don't think he even has a pair of Smartwool socks. (I don't hike, but I live in Boston and so I appreciate Smartwool and Goretex. I get all my wool socks, jackets, back backs, bags and sandals there.)

Anyways, the guy's a good man. And now he's at MGH with no control whatsoever over anything in his life. He's immobilized. And every time I see him he looks worse--because he's 88 and has a malignant brain tumor and they operated on him to try to get it out.

He collapsed several weeks ago and was taken to MGH. They determined he had a mass in his head. The first time I saw him was a few days after the collapse, but before the surgery. He couldn't get from the chair to the bed without help, but he was talking and cracking jokes and his phone was ringing off the hook. His buddies were gonna come by with a pizza later on. He was clearly knocked up, but he was still himself--completely.

The next time I saw him was after his first surgery. He had a big sock, or something over his head. He didn't look happy, but he could still talk and though it was clear he'd had better days he looked pretty darn good for an 88 year old who'd had people hacking at his brain.

Since then he's had two emergency surgeries. I know the first was about fluids in his brain and I assume the second was as well (the draining tube attached to his head gave it away.) At the beginning of the michegas, I had thought--well his days are numbered, but he'll get to walk out of here on his own two feet and get to be himself for a while and get his affairs in order before he has to come back here or go to hospice care.

Now, after two more surprise surgeries, I'm thinking he will not be walking out of MGH and any meaningful conversations I want to have with the guy (well, meaningful monologues at this point since he can barely speak) had better happen soon.

I'm also thinking, brain cancer didn't do this to him. Doctors did this to him. He was much better before they decided to open his skull and have a look-see. He may not have had much time left either way--but wouldn't he have been better off if they hadn't tinkered with him?

What does that Hippocratic oath say again?

No comments: