EDITOR’S NOTE: Ken Burger is executive sports editor for The Post and Courier. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer on Feb. 2 and is documenting his journey in this weekly series of columns.
Radical prostate surgery can be very humbling. One minute you’re wisecracking with the nurses, the next thing you know you’re pushing on a drug-dispensing button like a junkie.
That’s when you discover you have more tubes sticking out of you than you have places for tubes to stick out of, so they created a few extra ones.
When you finally arise from your hospital bed and try to walk the distance of the hallway, you look like one of those old men you swore you’d never become. The ones shuffling down the hall, holding on to a rolling metal hat rack that carries medications and serves as a staff to hold you upright in your latest condition that can only be described as pitiful.
While you still believe you’re the same person who checked into the hospital 24 short hours earlier, you’ve actually been demoted to the rank of guinea pig.
Not only are you trying out the latest gadgets and gizmos they’ve contrived to make recovery better, medical personnel still cling to old- fashioned methods that worked so well for them in the past.
Hospitals are still places where they wake you up every hour during the night to check your vital signs and take blood. Then they pop into your room the next morning at sunrise to cheerfully ask how you slept.
And yet, when it’s all over and the pre-pays are satisfied and the doctor disappears to Scottsdale for the weekend, they discharge you back into the real world as if nothing happened at all.
But a lot happened.
And you feel it.
Truth is, you don’t know when you leave the hospital if you’re cured of this awful disease or not. Cancer is a creepy, crawly thing that likes to hide in small places for surprise attacks at a later date.
It’s like football coaches tell us all the time, “We won’t know until we see the game film.”
When it comes to cancer, the game film is the pathology report that doesn’t come back for a few days.
When you leave surgery, the doctor always says he got it all. I’m convinced they all say that.
I certainly wanted to believe him. He had his hands inside me for a long time, leaving a big scar down my belly to remind me of it every time I try to stand up or get dressed.
Three days later, he called with the news. Fortunately, it was good. The folks in pathology couldn’t find any traces of cancer left behind.
Have a nice day.
Indeed, have a nice life.
That’s when you take a deep breath and think you’re done. But you’re not done. Not yet.
Your job now is to heal. Which means you must walk, and walk, and walk.
As high-tech as cancer treatment has become, with all its buzzing and whirring machines, the ultimate cure seems to be walking.
You leave surgery stooped over like an old man on his way to the gallows. But slowly you straighten up, hold your head high and keep walking.
The more you walk, they say, the better it will be. But not at the hospital. Two days there is plenty, according to the insurance companies. Wouldn’t want you to start liking the food.
So you rehab at home.
You walk down the driveway. Walk to the mailbox. Walk the dog. Walk the cat. Walk until somebody tells you to stop, or the medical bills stop coming, whichever comes first.
Actually, you’ll know when it’s time to quit walking.
It’s when the greeting cards dry up, the sympathy calls slow down and the neighborhood UPS guy starts to think you’ve lost your real job.
Truth is, you haven’t. You’ve just taken on another one: walking cancer survivor. Good work if you can get it.