Under The Knife

 So surgery is coming up Nov 3 and they will remove my left kidney and the tube (ureter) connecting that kidney to my bladder. I’m thankful to have Seattle Cancer Care/Fred Hutchinson/UW Medical Center about an hour drive from my home in Anacortes, WA. And I’ve got a great doc doing the surgery and planning my “defense” by the name of Sarah Psutka, MD. In addition to being a physician/surgeon she’s also a researcher and professor at UW Medical School. I liked her approach and watched a lot of videos of her presentations, so felt like I knew her and was happy to have her leading my “team.” Since I knew a lot about her, I thought she might like to learn something about me, the patient, so what follows is a kind of introduction that expresses my philosophy about the whole journey on which I’ve now embarked. Amazingly she actually read it and has commented several times about how much she appreciated it.

I deeply appreciate everyone who has reached out (generally I hate that term, but it applies here) to be me and expressed their love and promised their prayers. So, for what it’s worth, here’s my philosophy about this entire thing, as written for Dr. Psutka.

“I’ve watched a lot of your videos and I like your general approach to things … I’m not sure we’ll have time for this conversation, but maybe you’d like to know something about the patient and my general approach.

“We lived in Panama on a small coffee farm for 18 years. As we got older and because our kids were both in western Washington, we decided to sell our place in Panama and move to Washington. So, we’ve had a year of nonstop, major stress. My retirement job has been lecturing around the world on cruise ships. In March, just as I was preparing to get on the bus for SeaTac, I started uncontrollably shaking and could hardly move. Fearing a stroke, we called 911. They had to restart my heart 2 times in the ambulance, and 3 times in intensive care. They put in pacemaker. While I was in the hospital my wife Nikki came to visit me, slipped and fell in the hallway in front of my room and broker her leg. So, a LOT of major stress. Then in the blood workups there were things they didn’t like, which led to the discovery that I had urothelial cancer, so the hits keep on coming and here we are.

“In my active working career, I was pastor of churches for 35 years and ended up with many parishioners in various stages of cancer. And I’ve always felt a lot of compassion for folks like you who must be the bearer of bad news time and time again, fighting an enemy that usually wins. When I was a pastor one of my elders was the director of nursing at a big hospital. She got me scrubbed into surgery for a day for a remarkable experience of being right there and watching amazing procedures, everything from a c-“section and hernia repair to cornea replacement and two ureteroscopy procedures, which sure didn’t help my anticipation of my own ureteroscopy.

“I also participated in an American Cancer Society “internship” for clergy where we were admitted to the hospital like regular patients, and then spent two days listening to the top cancer specialists. They talked about treatments, their own struggles and frustrations, some facts and treatment scenarios, survival expectancies and how we could deal better with our parishioners in cancer situations.

“My own philosophy of life and death is summed up in a story about Saint Francis. He was out hoeing his garden, and someone interrupted him to ask, “What would you do if you knew you were going to die?” (Not that we all don’t know that we are going to die) and his response was “Finish hoeing my garden.”

“My first church was an all-black congregation in a Puerto Rican neighborhood of the South Bronx (“Fort Apache”) in 1968. Having worked at Cook County you might appreciate this. I knew a lot of people, gang members, street kids, etc., but when I went out at night in the housing projects, I always wore a clerical collar hoping not to be mistaken for a cop. Anyone white in the projects at night was just assumed to be a cop, and they were shooting cops back then. There were times when I never thought I’d leave the South Bronx alive. I didn’t mind dying for the cause, by I didn’t want to die because someone mistook me for a cop. And now here I am almost 60 years later

“The Heidelberg Catechism, although written in 1563, still sums up my approach. The question is, ‘What is your only comfort in life and in death?’

“The answer for me, ‘That I am not my own but belong body and soul in life and in death to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Heavenly Father. In fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit assures me of eternal life and makes me whole-heartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.’

“You can take the boy out of the Bronx, but you can’t take the Bronx out of the boy, so I still love a good fight, So bring it on!”

8 thoughts on “Under The Knife

  1. Prayers for a speedy recovery Richard. We met in 2014 when you helped tour guiding with Jackie. I bought your book and, although we loved Boquete, we ended up retiring in Taos, New Mexico. You are an inspiration to all! Keep us updated on your progress.

  2. All the best on this uncharted journey you are now on, Richard! I will be praying for you. (Met you on Jackie’s PRT in May/June 2013!) enjoyed reading this piece.

  3. Thanks David! How interesting … when we decided to return to the States we seriously considered Taos since I’ve always loved the Sante Fe/Taos area, but there seemed to be too much snow/cold for me in winter and family in WA won out. Thank you for your prayers and good wishes! Richard

  4. I am sure everything will go well for you. Modern medicine is amazing. I do have one hint for you. When you do get home after the operation, make sure you have a large fluffy pillow with you at all times. You will be sore for a little bit and it is very helpful to be able to hold that pillow against your abdomen if you need to cough or sneeze. Also it will come in very handy with keeping tender areas protected from the dogs.

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