Thursday, June 16, 2016

Speak American, would ya!?

Two months after my 18th birthday, a college friend helped me land a job working for a very, very, very rich woman at her sometimes summer home in New York's Adirondack Mountains.

My principal job there was as a houseboy. Yeah. Really. Myself and another 18-year old worked seven days a week; both of us in the morning, alternating afternoon and evening shifts the rest of the time. The two of us were part of a very large staff, most of whom traveled with the woman to her homes throughout the world.

The staff was comprised of other people from Scotland, as well as England, France, Ireland, Germany and Norway. When we all sat down for supper, an interpreter was needed to help the conversation flow. Well, we didn't have one, but, at least back then, my French was pretty good, so the job often fell to me. The fact that I had only been in the country for about four years, also meant I was used to working hard to have people understand what I was saying.

On the plus side, everyone tried to talk at the same time and no one really cared what anyone else had to say, so I didn't have to be too accurate in my interpretations.

I got to thinking about this the other day when I realized that having cancer meant understanding the language of medicine as it applied to my disease. Multiple myeloma was my own particular dialect.

There are so many terms and names that I have had to develop an at least passing understanding of, so that I might converse with the medical staff in a manner helpful to us all.

First off... I had never heard of multiple myeloma until I had it. As I've said here before, cancer is an almost universal disease with very few families untouched by it's reach. Still, only one per cent of cancer sufferers have multiple myeloma, so there was work to be done before I even knew what it was I was suffering from.

Then there was all the new medicines I was given, over a dozen of them, some of them designed to help me tolerate some of the others. The biggest challenge was in ordering refills. Normally, faced with a situation like that, I would approach the glass the item I needed was kept behind and point. Not an option in this case, obviously. I did learn that most of them had common names, or “other” names, which were easier to use, which is what I did. I also learned to order refills by the number on the bottle. Dead simple.

As part of the stem cell transplant process, I was treated with a number of chemotherapy solutions. Since they were each designed to kill my immune system, I was less worried with what the names were than what, exactly, kill my immune system meant. Well, it meant... kill my immune system. Rather than worry about the names, each time one came up as a topic of discussion, I just asked, “Will this one make my hair fall out?” Eventually, the answer became yes.

Then there was the apheresis machine which took the blood out of my system, removed the healthy white cells and then put it all back. Well, put the healthy cells where we needed them and put the rest of the blood back in my system.

And the Hickman line, which was surgically placed into a large vein near/in my neck and was used to draw blood and give fluids or medications. It came to be one of my favorite things (though impossible to work into the song) because it saved me from having countless numbers of IVs put in. Since there were times when I had upwards of five lines attached at one time, you can, perhaps, see why I loved it.

The surgery to put that line in was the only actual operation I've had and it provided one of the unintentionally funnier moments of the entire journey. As I was recovering from the mild anesthetic, I heard someone say, “Great. You really killed that one.” Though I quickly realized it was a surgeon talking to a would-be surgeon who was learning the process, it did give me the chance to make suggestions on improving operating theater verbiage.

The bottom line, I guess, is that I have become fluent in speaking cancer, or at least the multiple myeloma dialect. Wow. My mother was always touting what I could have been if I'd only applied myself. Well, she should see me now.

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere