Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Thank you, Dr. Pohlman

Here's a post a wrote months ago, but never published. I still had a few tweaks to make. Then, the hubbub of a corporate restructuring, holidays, and other major events dominated my time and thoughts in the past few months, and this post remained unfinished as I neglected my blog. Better late than never.

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It was a difficult day at work today. I had to take a half day of vacation because my daughter was sick last night and I got no sleep. When I got to work, a press release made this 25-year employee of Energizer want to consume about 10-lbs of Belgian chocolate (though I settled for a vegan cupcake provided by my boss instead), and a friend called my attention to an article that made me openly weep. As there is little I can control to change illness or corporate direction, I'll focus on the article that made me weep. An oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic wrote a heartfelt article about closure, both for a deceased patient's family and for himself as the patient's doctor. After I read it, I realized that, although I verbally thanked my late husband's medical team, I never formally showed my gratitude.

It is in my control to change this, right now.

First, a little background: After a 5-yr. tug of war with mantle cell lymphoma, my husband succumbed to pneumonia following a donor stem cell transplant in 2010. He was both a patient at the Cleveland Clinic and a 25-yr. employee. When he was first diagnosed, everything we read noted a 3-yr. life expectancy. Martin lived 5, about half of which were pretty much normal.

Thank you, Dr. Brad Pohlman. You will always be my family's ultimate hero. You had enormous patience with our overly detailed updates and endless lists of questions. You couldn't hide your glee when the labs were good, and I will never forget the hug you gave me when it was the beginning of the end. We chose you for your brilliance and medical reputation. It was your engagement in our family's well-being, however, that made us truly grateful we made that choice.

Thank you, Karen Sands, Nurse Coordinator. You scheduled, coached, trained, managed, ran interference for, informed, celebrated with, was outraged with, laughed with, comforted, and generally held proverbial hands with us through everything. You gave us hope, cleaned up messes, and were a constant source of compassion.

Thank you, Dr. Alan Taege. There were a lot of infections in those years, and you knew what to do about them. But, most of all, I cherish the conversations we had in the ICU as things were going badly. You spoke from the heart, and it bolstered my waning confidence in my own decisions. You helped me hold true to the plan Martin and I had, and our motto of "no regrets."

Thank you, Dr. Rendell Ashton. I was a demanding caregiver, yet, you always were patient. You assumed I could keep up with the medical explanations and treated me as a competent partner in my husband's care, never projecting on me the false image of the deluded wife too desperate to see when the jig was up.  And you called me, personally, after the autopsy results were in, which was truly unexpected and most kind.

Thank you, Dr. Ron Sobecks. You always called personally with test results, answered our endless questions, and seemed to be on task 24/7. It was gracious and thoughtful of you to send a note of condolence even though Martin was no longer your patient at the time.

Thank you to all of the phenomenal nurses in ICU, including Megan, Kelly, Mandy, Sasha, Jamie, Margaret, and Jackie, to name a few. Thanks to the nurse who seemed to be sent straight from heaven to guide me through Martin's last moments. Thanks to Joe the Super-Respiratory Man, and to the rest of the crack team of respiratory therapists in ICU. Thanks to the med techs, especially the ones who sneaked me coffee (I won't rat you out, but you know who you are...and you ROCK!).  Thanks to all of the great nurses in the transplant ward who fed our kids graham crackers and cheerfully knew how to make taking 7000 tubes of blood at each admission seem almost fun. Thanks to the nurses in Taussig, who admired Martin's shoes, laughed when he wore a mismatched pair, picked him up when he fell, dealt with chemo drugs and the unfortunate effects of nausea, and kept what could have been dismal times as pleasant as possible. Thanks to Dr. Josh, the resident, who befriended us both and brought a fresh helping of youthful enthusiasm along with his medical skill. And thanks to all of the other oncologists in Hematologic Oncology and Blood Disorders, transplant docs, and infectious disease docs who treated Martin at various times when he was an inpatient, and all of the staff who did their utmost to help a daddy have the most quality time with his three babies as possible in his all-too-short span of life. I wish I could call all of you out by name.

The Cleveland Clinic is one of the top hospitals for cancer care, with the survival statistics to prove it. Medically, it is the place to go. But just as important, Taussig's elite cadre of medical professionals really and truly care. It is not only their jobs, but clearly their personal missions, to save the lives--or at least as much quality of life as possible--for the people in their care. Nothing impersonal or arrogant in these oncologists; the same docs who treat world leaders, Olympic athletes, and celebrities call even their less celebrated patients personally with test results. Until my husband got cancer, I had never known a doctor who ever called personally with test results. Ever.

Someday, when the kids are old enough to stay home by themselves, I will find a way to help in some small way with the important work these heroes do every day, to somehow repay a tiny portion of the personal debt I owe to them. For now, my children and I will continue to say a prayer for them each night as we have for two years, and hope that karma is real. Truly, these people deserve only good things.

And one more thank you to someone I will never be able to call by name. Thank you to the stem cell donor who gave us hope. Your magical stem cells did, in fact, cure Martin's cancer. Sadly, his immune system just wasn't yet ready to fight hard enough when he got pneumonia. You gave us a miracle. Thank you, whoever and wherever you are. My children and I pray for you every night, and always will.

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