As I write this on Thursday, it is late morning. I have just returned from the Oregon Health & Sciences University (OHSU) campus on the banks of the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon.
While there, I was given the last of five, weekly, liquid-iron infusions meant to knock out the anemia that has slowed me down for several months.
It will be a month before there are blood tests to assess the outcome but meanwhile, I have felt a big change in my energy level.
When the anemia was diagnosed, I was lucky to vacuum one room without breathing heavily and needing to sit down for half an hour. About three days ago, I vacuumed the entire house in one go, hardly noticing any exertion.
These infusions took place at the same clinic where, for three months last year, I was treated weekly with chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer. That, combined with the internal bleed that took several months to fix, are what led to the anemia.
One more recent item: Last Monday, at the Marquam Hill campus of OHSU, I underwent an FNA - medical jargon for Fine Needle Aspiration: that is, a biopsy of a lump on my neck.
The lump has been there for a long time – more than a decade. It was small and didn't bother me so I ignored it all that time. Then, in the past few weeks it has changed, enlarging a great deal during the day but returning to its small size overnight.
Whatever the diagnosis from the aspiration, there will undoubtedly be a visit with the physician who ordered the FNA along with a few already-booked appointments over the rest of the year with other doctors who track this and that resulting from the cancer and surgeries.
Overall, since the pancreatic cancer was diagnosed in June 2017, I've met with about two dozen doctors along with many more nurses and other health care aides during uncounted office appointments and 25 days – give or take - in hospital over the past year.
If you have read this far (who can blame anyone who hasn't), let me tell you the reason I have recounted all this. In so much time together, some of these medical people have become friends in a certain kind of way with which I have no experience. They make a big difference in my life; the reason for an appointment aside, I always look forward to our visits, to chatting with them, to getting to know them a bit better each time.
Now, unless or until something goes terribly wrong with my health again, I will be seeing them far less frequently and it struck me hard this morning how much I will miss them.
“Good morning, Ronni,” said the woman who checks me into that infusion lab every time I'm there. “Full name and birthdate?” (She have their rules.)
“Hey, Ronni, it's been awhile,” said the CNA who checked my vitals. “Did you have a good holiday?”
“Yes,” said I, “and how did that cute daughter of yours like the fireworks?” I asked. He had shown me photos of her in the past.
“What's all this bruising on your neck, Ronni?” asked the RN who was hooking the infusion line to the port embedded in my upper chest. I explained about the FNA and she said such lumps are often not important.
Another CNA and a couple of other RNs waved and said “Hi, Ronni,” as they passed by my chair on their way to their patients.
These professionals who have helped and attended me this past year have become as familiar and important to me as the employees I know at the supermarket, the pharmacy, several restaurants I patronize regularly and even the FedEx delivery guy. Part of the rhythm of my days.
It seems to me there are concentric circles of important people in our immediate lives. Most broadly, they start with family and closest confidants; continue to good friends far and near; some neighbors; followed by the merchants and service people we see in our regular rounds who are part of our communities.
(Somewhere in the mix are co-workers but that diminishes a good deal when we retire.)
Because I had the great, good fortune to be so remarkably healthy for 76 years, I hardly ever saw medical professionals and then, not frequently enough to know about their families, children, books and movies, other interests, etc.
So this is a whole new set of people I know and like and with whom I have more personal conversations than I ever will with my closest friends.
I mean, I don't get naked with friends. I don't have detailed conversations with them about the nature of my bowel movements which my OHSU helpers have taught me to do as easily as I discuss the weather with anyone else.
And with a couple of important exceptions whom I cherish, I don't laugh as loudly or as long with friends about the ironies of my newly intimate association with my own death as I do with OHSU companions.
In a manner similar to friends and neighbors but different too, I look forward to seeing them each time. I had no idea this would happen and as my visits to OHSU become fewer (god willing), I will miss them.
Talk about ironies...