Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Sitting in the Cancer Treatment Waiting Room

If a writer keeps his eyes and ears open he/she can find story material anywhere.

For the past month my wife has been going five days per week to the cancer center forty miles from our home. Her cancer showed up early on the mammogram, and the doctors think that lumpectomy and radiation treatments will probably take care of it. I often accompany her, sitting in the small waiting room provided for family members during the ten or fifteen minutes the patient is under the big X-ray machine.

I see other patients come and go, get to recognize some of them who are scheduled before and after my wife. Some are gaunt, resigned, chronically ill appearing. Others are matter of fact or cheerful. One morning, even before entering the room, I could see a middle-aged woman writhing in agony, standing by one of the chairs, leaning on it for support. As we entered, she staggered into one of the dressing cubicles “Do you need help?” my wife asked. Half reclining on the little bench in the cubicle, she gave a wan smile and said no.

The radiology tech called my wife into the corridor to the treatment room just then; I kept a concerned eye on the half-open curtain where the lady was still reclining but apparently resting. I wondered what kind of malignancy would cause such an event, but I was reluctant to appear nosy. Presently a man entered the waiting room, and the woman said, “In here.” He turned to her and calmly reported that the doctor said he was making good progress. It was he who had the cancer. She got up and they left. My wife and I speculated on a diagnosis of panic attack about her husband's condition.

On another morning, my curiosity was aroused when a young woman who appeared to be six or seven months pregnant came in and sat down. Why would she be getting radiation treatments during pregnancy? I wondered. A few minutes later, the elderly man who is usually ahead of my wife on the schedule came back from his treatment and started a conversation with the girl, apparently his granddaughter. Not wanting to appear nosy, I kept my eyes on the book I was reading, but I couldn't fail to notice the big plastic frame he had set on the floor by his chair. It looked like it would fit snugly over the front half of his head and chest.

The granddaughter, apparently an intern at a nearby law firm, was about to take him with her while she monitored the trial of a young man who was charged with murdering two family members. She had no part in the trial, except to observe her law firm in action. "You have to be sure to sit in the prosecution's side of the balcony,” she cautioned her granddad, “If you take a seat on the defense's side, you'll make me look bad to my boss.”

She got up to go down the hall for a few minutes, and I took the opportunity to ask the elderly man about the plastic wire frame on the floor. “Oh, this is my last day of treatment, and they let me take it home. It fits over me on the X-ray table, reminds me to stay still, and these little holes on each side of the neck show the technician exactly where to direct the beam.

And what will you do with it at home?” I asked.

Gonna put it in my scrap book!”

He had came up here from California to visit his daughter two months ago, got sick here, and found he had cancer of the tongue.

My wife had returned from treatment and was ready to go. But if a writer pays attention to what's going on around him, he can find the beginnings of a story almost anywhere.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Planned Parenthood - Religious Issue or Politics?

Applying common sense, it need not be either one.

The Planned Parenthood organization has been heavily criticized for providing abortions, but the large majority of their clients come, not for abortion, but for help in preventing pregnancy or for counseling on how to have a healthy baby. Critics should recognize that the organization also provides much needed maternal health care to low income families who have no other resource. Mentioning only one aspect of their work is unprofessional.

I have been a family physician for fifty years, and have personally delivered more than one thousand babies. I am pro-life, but also pro-choice. I choose to not do abortions, although I realize that in a few situations, one may be advisable. But if, instead of aborting an unwanted pregnancy, a pregnancy is not begun, the question of abortion does not arise.

Not every couple having sex wants to have another baby, for any of several reasons. If that is the case, it makes sense to try to keep sperm from fertilizing the egg. That way, no pregnancy happens, and there is nothing to abort.

There are several ways to accomplish this. If the man uses a condom every time, the sperm are not free to travel into the woman's uterus. Or if the woman takes “birth control pills” according to the directions, the ovary won't produce eggs, and pregnancy doesn't occur. This type of medicine is also available as an injection every three months, or an implant under the skin that lasts up to five years (but can be removed sooner on request.)

If a husband and wife already have as many children as they want, the passage way from the ovary to the  uterus can be tied off (“tube tie”) or the man's passageways from the testicles can be interrupted (“vasectomy”). Such surgery is fairly simple and permanent, although it can be undone at some expense. Once the operation heals, the sex act is just as pleasurable as it was before. And women and men can decide the size of their families.

Planned Parenthood and allied groups provide badly needed service in preventing unwanted conception, and a healthy outcome when another child is wanted. It's not like the world needs unlimited population growth. Air pollution, overcrowded slums, water shortages, increasing government bureaucracy, crime, and many other modern ills have their roots in a rapidly growing population. Good maternal and child health needs groups like Planned Parenthood. Reducing the number of unwanted conceptions is the most sensible way of reducing the number of abortions. Planned Parenthood's main goal is instructing women of childbearing age how to space their pregnancies and choose the time to have them.

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Character of Debate

In this nation of more than three hundred million citizens, representing a wide range of income, skills and beliefs, it's natural that people's needs will vary over a wide range of political issues. Each candidate has strong opinions and makes statements designed for him to stand out, and attract voters.
Since the outcome of the election will affect most of us for good or ill, debate is appropriate. Deliberate misinformation, insults, and anger are not.
Such attitudes distract people from the real issues and practical solutions. The ranting in the formal debates often amounts to little more than a spitting contest. In addition, they incite fear, hate, and encourage attitudes that harm other citizens.
I recall the time when my Dad was president of the National Council of Churches from 1957 to 1960, when a TV evangelist, Billy James Hargis, accused the Council of being a communist front, and that some ministers were “card-carrying communists”. Hargis challenged Dad to public debate. The evangelist made several additional unproven claims that news media and universities were also involved. Congress argued the matter for three days (April 19th ,1960). Public opinion finally sided overwhelmingly in favor of the Council of Churches.
That wasn't enough for Dad. He had one commanding principle in debates: “The main object in conflict is not to win the victory and eliminate the enemy, but to win the enemy and eliminate the enmity.” When Hargis came to St.Louis, Dad phoned him and and invited him to lunch. The two of them talked for four hours that afternoon and ended with a brief prayer. Afterward, Hargis said, “I promise you now, I will never again say a harsh word about you!” And he never did.
In an interview I had with the aging evangelist in 1997, he remembered the incident well, and told me, “Your Dad was one of the best friends I ever had. [We] would discuss, not argue.”
That approach appears to be mostly lacking in the present presidential campaign, as accusations fly and tempers fray. Such attitude is a disservice to America's voters. The contest still has months to go. Let's hear how to solve the real issues.