There I was, laying on a gurney in the ER at Stormont Vail Hospital in Topeka. What was I doing there? I hadn't been injured and it really wasn't an emergency. I'd been experiencing a bit of "gastric distress" -- feeling bloated and belching a lot. Normally, I'd let such a thing run its course, but we had a special event scheduled for the following day (a "Prairie Women" screening in Lawrence) and I thought a quick trip to the express care clinic might provide some relief and ensure that I not miss the event.
The MD who first examined me had other ideas. After his probing and a number of questions, he was ready to send me on to the emergency room. We'd been told that this might happen, so I was ready to nix that plan.
But when I asked him what organ lay in the part of my abdomen where I was experiencing some slight pain, I decided perhaps he was right. He said that the pain was located over my aorta, the main artery exiting the heart, which immediately brought to mind the possibility of an aortic aneurysm -- not something to ignore. So off to the ER we drove.
I felt quite sheepish walking in to the hospital and on back to the room where I would spend the next three hours. There wasn't anything obviously wrong with me. But I had voluntarily entered the healthcare system, so I got with the program and traded my attire for a hospital gown. After providing some blood and urine for their diagnostic tests, they eventually wheeled me back to the room where the CT (computerized tomography) scans take place. They injected a dye that would provide better contrast, and took the shots they needed to assess the status of my internal organs.
This only took a few minutes and then I was back in the ER cubicle with Laura, my wife, who soon noticed large welts breaking out all over my body -- an allergic reaction to the dye. That was the most exciting thing that happened during my stay in the ER. She dashed out to alert someone, concerned that I might go in to anaphylactic shock if we didn't respond quickly. An injection of Benadryl soon took care of that threat.
Then it was just a matter of waiting for the results of the CT scan and blood tests. As the report was delivered to us by a very young nurse, we learned that most everything appeared normal and that the source of my gastric distress was a mild hiatal hernia. Nothing too significant. However, as they reviewed the CT scan, they also noticed a small growth on one of my kidneys, indicating that we needed to have a urinary specialist take a closer look.
That was on a Friday. The following Monday, we met with the local urologist, who reviewed the CT scan with us, outlining the extent of the growth on my kidney. He described it as being about the size of a golf ball (the same descriptor I'd heard used years earlier in relation to the size of the tumor discovered in my father's lung). We'd first been told that it was a small growth ON the kidney, but now we could see that it was IN the kidney.
By the following Friday, we were in Kansas City meeting with an oncologist at KU Med Center who specializes in surgical treatments for various urological issues. We expected that he would tell us how he would use a robotic procedure to remove the growth (aka, renal cell carcinoma) and repair what remained of the kidney. We were surprised to hear that was not what he recommended.
Calling the CT scan up on his computer screen, he traced the size and location of the growth within the kidney, pointing out that it extends into the core where liquid pools before being expelled.
"I could very well do the robotic procedure and remove the growth," he told us, "but, given its location, there's a good chance there would be leakage and we would have to go back in to do repairs."
He went on to note that my other kidney appears to be in good shape. And because a person only needs one kidney to function normally, he recommended removing the entire kidney -- a fairly simple, straightforward procedure.. There would be no followup treatment necessary -- nothing like the radiation and chemotherapy that my dad had endured with his lung cancer.
I've never been hospitalized before and I haven't had any significant surgery, so this is all a novel experience for me. I'm not feeling any pain or noticing anything that would indicate I'm in need of surgery, actually. It feels a bit surreal as I wait for the day of the surgery to arrive.
At the same time, I feel extremely fortunate that they spotted this growth when they did. In two or three years, as it continued to grow, it could spread beyond this one kidney. And then, who knows what might have developed or what the outcome might have been?
In fact, most of these types of growths are spotted when a patient is being scanned for something completely different. They're slow growing and typically don't yield any symptoms that would draw attention or cause concern.
So the unusual circumstances that prompted me to seek medical assistance in the first place saved me from experiencing something much more difficult in the not-too-distant future. It seems as though I've been graced with a relatively simple surgery that will avert more dire consequences down the road.
The Bigger Picture
As I think about the upcoming surgery and the changes that might be in store for me, I'm also thinking about the conditions we're witnessing in the world now. We've never experienced the type of chaos and confusion that currently confounds us. We're immersed in an uncivil war of words on a daily basis, many of them twittering through the ethers with as much profundity as that name implies -- tweet, tweet. Who knows what's coming next?
"Nattering nabobs of negativism" -- I remember the days when Spiro Agnew, vice president to Richard Nixon, used those words to cast shade on the news media at a time when his commander-in-chief was seeking refuge from the harsh light of investigative journalism. This comes to mind as I hear Donald Trump's continual outbursts against "Fake News" and his derogatory reference to journalists as "the enemy of the American people."
Fortunately, back in the '70s, we had congressional representatives who demonstrated a high level of personal integrity in their quest for truth and justice - senators like Howard Baker and Sam Ervin, who led the Watergate Committee, formally known as the "Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities."
Our republic survived the challenges posed by the illicit practices of a president who emphatically declared he was "not a crook." Our system of checks and balances held up. We watched him board the helicopter and disappear into the history books.
But how will this nation recover from the current conundrum? A self-absorbed, ego-driven president whose legitimacy is suspect continues to speak dishonestly and act outrageously, evade limits on his conflicts of interest and provoke controversy on a daily basis while Congress turns a deaf ear and a blind eye to all transgressions. His administration continues to eviscerate the governmental agencies and institutions intended to serve and protect the common good.
From my perspective, our nation ... our world ... has been afflicted with a cancerous growth that feeds on self-serving, divisive energies unleashed by demagogues and profiteers. Although they're sometimes referred to as "populist" movements, these don't originate with the "common folk" as much as they do with those who seek to sow discord and discontent to achieve their own agendas.
It's as if we have a form of brain cancer causing a rupture in our collective moral consciousness and interfering with the normal functioning of logic and rationality. In many cases, it has also spread to the heart, subduing natural inclinations toward compassion and caring for others.
How do we relate to "the other" - those who come from different cultural traditions or whose skin color is not the same as ours? Do we attempt to understand things from their point of view and become more informed about conditions that have often placed them in perilous situations ... or do we shut our doors in their faces and place them in detention?
The physician who will be performing my surgery is Muslim. His parents came to this country from Pakistan. He has apparently encountered a significant amount of prejudice and hostility regarding his religion and ethnicity.
Although we've only had one brief meeting, which focused on my treatment options, I've come across an article related to a public presentation he gives regarding the way in which his faith has often been demonized. As he's quoted as saying in this article:
“I don’t want people to see me as someone who should be feared. I want people to see me, to love me, to respect me and honor my faith." - Dr. Moben Mirza
Dr. Mirza currently serves as the president of the Kansas Urologic Society, and is widely regarded as one of the most skilled practitioners of robotic surgery techniques in this part of the country. As time allows, he travels throughout the nation giving presentations addressing the roots of the societal cancer that stems from tribal thinking and the distrust that often goes along with it.
Our identity as a nation of immigrants remains valid and, I believe, critical to our future well being. The current backlash against immigrants and minorities being fomented by the current administration appears to be a reactionary response to changing demographics. As time goes on, I trust we will learn to accept these changes ... and even value and appreciate them.
For the time being, however, we remain a nation afflicted with a cancerous growth that's adversely affecting our hearts and minds. We need surgical intervention within our political body to stop the growth and ensure that it doesn't spread any further.
As the party in power at this point in time, the Republicans have a special responsibility in this process. The former leader of the Senate Republicans - a surgeon by profession, Bill Frist has just affirmed that. In an opinion piece he authored in response to assaults on special counsel Robert Mueller and the investigation he leads, Frist writes:
"No matter who is in the White House, we Republicans must stand up for the sanctity of our democracy and the rule of law."
Seems pretty reasonable to expect that. As for the rest of us, we must take whatever steps we can -- as individuals and collectively -- to address the dis-ease that's perpetuated by divisive and malignant rhetoric. We must take the time to educate ourselves about those who come from different cultural traditions and engage in constructive dialogue. Our recovery depends upon it.