ELDER MUSIC: 1947 Again
A TGB READER STORY: The Skeleton in My Closet

The Remarkable Medical and Health Professionals I Know

For the past few months I've taken to saying, “If I didn't know I have cancer, I wouldn't know I have cancer. I like it. I made it up myself – unless I read it somewhere and forgot. If so, my apologies to whomever.

The point is I have hardly any cancer symptoms. In fact, after two years of fighting hard to keep my weight up so not to sink into frailty, I've gained an unplanned 10 pounds since September with no effort.

When I mentioned it to my oncologist, he told me to count my blessings and shooed me out of his office.

My real day-to-day health problem is COPD or, more to the point, breathing. But before the end of this month, I will have completed three months of pulmonary rehab and it has made a remarkable difference.

Before rehab, when walking from the bedroom to the kitchen, a distance of about 20 feet, I had to stop once, sometimes twice, to catch my breath. Taking out trash and going to the mailbox required two or three stops each way. And instead of one, it took two or three trips to carry in the groceries from the car.

The boundaries of my life were shrinking dramatically. Stairs required careful planning so not to end up heaving for air. And it wasn't just hills that were out of the question, it was inclines so slight that I'd not noticed them before COPD became my close companion.

Even showers were impossible, the air being too humid for me to breathe so I traded them in for sit-down baths.

When my primary care physician suggested that pulmonary rehab might be helpful, I was skeptical but I didn't have a better idea so I signed up.

On Tuesday and Thursday mornings, I've been spending a couple of hours on a treadmill of one kind or another, upper and lower body exercises, some involving Therabands, and on Tuesdays, such instruction classes as breathing exercises, energy conservation, the correct use of inhalers, nutrition for lung disease, avoiding exacerbations and a whole lot more.

Most of the upper-body exercises are done sitting down and at first I dismissed them altogether. What good could they do for someone who had done 50 pushups a day among other heavy strength training work until cancer brought that to a halt?

How wrong I was and I'm ashamed now at how dismissive I was. It was hard in the beginning but I've advanced more than I would have guessed. The treadmill too. At first, I could do only 10 minutes at .2 miles-per-hour. Last Thursday, I did 45 minutes at 2.4 miles-per-hour.

I'm not scoffing at any of this rehab now. Just a couple of weeks ago I noticed that I don't stop halfway to the kitchen anymore and I don't remember when that started happening.

As long as I don't try to walk at my former New York City speed, I now get to the mailbox and trash bins without stopping for breath, I can carry in most of the groceries in one go and I'm back to taking showers.

I'm not sure, however, that I'll ever do those slight inclines easily and I certainly won't be walking up San Francisco sized hills in this lifetime.

But most of all, it's the nurses, the three R.N.s who have been teaching us old folks with COPD how to make our lives more livable. They are amazing women – smart, informed, caring, hard-working.

On only my second visit, one of them called out “Hi, Ronni” as I walked in and I noticed that they did that with everyone, even with the new ones who had been there only once or twice.

They knew the details of our individual disease, recalled how well we had done at the previous visit, were patient with our questions and like all the medical professionals at OHSU who have helped me over the past two-and-a-half years, never appear to have a bad day.

The focus of all these people - the physicians, nurses, medical assistants, schedulers, therapists, etc. - is the patients' well-being.

I spent nearly 50 years working in media – radio, television, the internet. I loved the work itself but there was always a lot of ego floating around, fierce competition, deadline tensions and acting out.

No one was much thinking about the other guy. At our best, we worried about the work. At our worst, we worried about besting our colleagues.

As far as I can tell, that doesn't happen in the medical community (certainly not in the presence of patients) and after all the time I've spent with these people now, I've come to understand that they are different from those of us who are not in the helper professions.

The medical professionals I've been able to talk with personally all tell me they chose their careers, usually at a young age because they wanted to help people. They want to help people who can't do it for themselves and until I was diagnosed with cancer, I didn't know how selfless and hard-working they are.

I am so deeply grateful for them.


Rehab is amazing, isn't it? We do these tiny things, which hurt and seem impossible, and then we're walking to the kitchen, without stopping, as if it were nothing, all because those wonderful healers knew that we could do it, never lost faith in us, loved us and our struggles.... and life has become better.

Thank you for this post. A good reminder to all of us who are aging.

Fine tribute to dedicated caregivers.

Hi Ronnie,
I am having a minor health problem today and waiting for the physician to call in an antibiotic. The weekend delayed my getting this done as results were not posted. When I read your latest news about the progress you have had with COPD rehab it gave me such a
lift and I felt joy for you. Ronnie you have bravely been through so much and stayed on the job too.
I am a retired Oncology Nurse. Nearly everyone I worked with....Nurses that is... treated patients with kindness and compassion. Alas I cannot say they treated each other to the same degree. Nursing is a profession that reports quite a bit of bullying and not only from colleagues but from physicians too. I decided it must be the high stress environment but there was a component also of "cliques" not welcoming a new colleague or being jealous of another nurse for various reasons. I was a nurse for forty years and loved working with the patients but was happy to retire and leave my chosen profession. Dealing with bullying while trying to care for seriously ill patients was not fun. As acuity of patients increases and more medical and surgical interventions are adopted keeping us alive longer I can only see this escalating . Your three nurses sound to me like they are a team that have chosen to work well together. They are probably very happy with their particular job in Rehab and it shows. This is how it should be.
I hope your progress continues on Ronnie . All the very best.

After open-heart surgery in late 2018, my husband has been attending cardio-rehab every week at the same hospital where he had the surgery. He is so complimentary of the staff at rehab. They take very good care of him and all the others who come. Although he no longer has to wear a monitor while doing the workouts, he can get advice to problems he is having, and they will monitor him this week so as to send a written report to his cardiologist with whom he meets.

He also likes the fact that the rehab has interns from the local college with whom he gets to interact each week. It fills him with confidence about the future when he gets to know these young people.

Yay! you and the amazing med professionals helping you and others! What a joy this was to read.

Do you think those with whom you are working are the kind of people they are because of location?

My experience with doctors has been so different .. and perhaps bec of where I am and the very competitive environment.

My fabulous PCP has now removed two more patients from the person who was my very uncaring oncologist. There was a third except that she died as a result of uncaring 'care'. The PCP has gone so far as to send a letter to the CEO of the hospital (a BIG one) saying this oncologist should retire bec clearly there is no caring any more.

So I will cheer you on and find hope that somewhere here there are others like yours.

So good to hear positive words on those who oversee our well being! Have heard from friends lately about their kind and effective healers.

I was in tears as I finished reading your beautiful testimonial today, Ronni.  It is my hope that those caring for you know about your "TimeGoesBy"  site and will see it also.  It will mean so much to them and I say that as I can see a tan album laying on my bookshelf.  It holds every note, card, or letter I received from patients or their families over the years.
My most active years as an RN were before the internet was available in rural Nevada. When I remember those notes I can see their faces still in my mind's eye.

You mentioned your people often said "they chose the career at a young age".  Likely true for me also.  I spent the first 2 years of life in a county hospital with what was called just anemia. The Dr. in charge finally told my mother there was nothing more he could do and she should just take me home to die, due to the bills.  I weighed less than my birth weight then.  As she was leaving with her 'basket case' in arms, the Nun floor supervisor stopped her to ask if Doctor had discharged her baby. After the "Yes", she said "Oh good!! NOW take her to this doctor." She had written a name down for her.   In the 30's a nurse would never have challenged an MD....apparently not even a Nun. 
Because of that single event I am still alive today. This doctor had learned about a new discovery by a man name George Whipple (sounds familiar, huh?) when he and two colleagues received the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1934 for identifying the intrinsic factor and B12's roll in pernicious anemia.   The story is  complicated history and would make a novella out of my comment.

Now, however, you and I both owe our lives to brilliant medical pioneers. Yours, Dr. Allen O. Whipple, the surgeon known for the pancreatic cancer operation which bears his name, first known as Whipple's triad. It was 1935 !  The story behind his  improvised discovery is interesting to old nurses like me.  We never  fully retire, we just don't empty bedpans anymore. :-)

My own choice of nursing is likely because of the school and county nurses in my life who treated me with such tender care and attention... even though I was a ragged, skinny, sickly kid. I can reel off their names without a second thought.  The care we give and receive always matters....even now or only in print!

Your continuing strong engagement in life—and writing about it for us—is inspiring to the max.

My own physician is a healer in the true sense and has made a difference in my life by placing humanity above “treatment.” When I was widowed six years ago, he spent the entire appointment listening to me, tending to my heartbreak and deferring the annual physical until later on.

I was able to put one foot in front of the other after that, knowing that he cared.


I had to smile as I read about your pulmonary rehab treatment. I don't have COPD, but I just completed 17 sessions of pulmonary rehab for shortness of breath that I'd developed after having been bed-ridden and inactive following an ankle fracture. I would get out of breath while walking for only a couple of minutes, couldn't go shopping, and even walking around my apartment would make me so out of breath I had to lie down for a couple of hours. And my pulmonologist at the time told me there was nothing wrong with my lungs and I should go out and exercise! Fortunately, another pulmonologist got me into pulmonary rehab, and my experience there was marvellous. My experience with the nurses echoes yours. Unfortunately, the hospital that runs the program has cancelled the maintenance program because of inadequate support from insurance companies. They are fighting to get it restored.
I am sending the nurses your column so they can see how much they are appreciated.

It was not until I married an RN did I realize the very real dedication these people have for their profession and the patients they serve. My wife too, started at an early age and was well in to her career when we met. I always thought the "wanting to help people" thing was only something nurses told people when they were asked why the chose nursing. I quickly found out they meant it. God bless all of them.

My cancer caregivers at the Univ. of Colordado Breast Cancer Ctr in Denver were amazing. I'm still seeing the oncologist every six months and I wish every cancer patient could have such a thoughtful, caring doctor. I have often praised my care there, including everyone from the oncologist clear down to the parking attendants. Going back feels almost like visiting family. Everyone deserves such care. Caregivers who can't or won't give it should find another career.

I just thought today after my dr. Appt today how wonderful he and his staff are..he surrounds himself with like people. Being a person first...second being a patient...this is medicine at its best when this happens. I have also experienced such bonding with nurses when I went through chemo......and with my surgeon who did my whipple surgery...the personal care of my oncologist and my cancer psychologist....you have carried me these past three years. I am forever grateful and appreciative.

It's so reassuring to read about so many positive experiences with medical professionals. My history with medical care has been mixed and I worry about the future when I'm likely to be more dependent on good medical care.

Having worked in Human Resources for most of my career, I'm painfully aware that every workplace has its competent and not so competent employees, its cliques and its politics. I get nervous when I walk into a medical facility and feel negative vibes among the staff. Good to know they are (usually) dedicated to their patients even when not so nice to one another!

After reading this post, Maybe I’ll be inspired to clear off all the junk from my like-new treadmill and start walking....right after a nap. I’m also reminded how much I appreciated all of the staff at the hospital where I had bypass surgery 20 years ago, including the orderlies who pushed my gurney.

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