Anecdote of the Vole

In Uncategorized on July 1, 2011 at 3:26 pm

 I went downstairs to feed the cat. This statement reveals three good things about me and one bad thing. The good things are: I am alive, I am at home and I am mobile. The bad thing is, we have a cat.

 While I poured food into Dusty’s bowl, a movement in the sink caught my eye. A vole was trapped in the sink. How it got into the sink, I do not know. So far as I know, voles are not famed as climbers. Normally, they are burrowing creatures, to which any height is a great height. The vole might have been prey, dropped in the sink by Dusty when I distracted her by coming downstairs. Rather than waste time puzzling about how the vole got into the sink, I chose to live with the mystery.

 Cats have a perfect ability to focus on what they want when they want it. Dusty purred and ate cat food from her bowl. The scurrying of the vole in the sink did not catch her eye, nor did the sound catch her ear. She was serenely oblivious to my rescue of the vole.

 With a work glove and garden trowel, I eventually tossed, flipped and scraped the vole out of the sink and onto the floor, out the door and across the car port. At the edge of the garden, the vole lay briefly catatonic on its back, and then rolled over, quickly burrowing out of sight under fallen leaves. Meanwhile, Dusty purred and munched. During the rescue mission, I learned only that a man starts to feel undignified when he finds himself in a bathrobe at 7:00 in the morning, on his hands and knees, using a garden trowel to plow a vole across a concrete carport to safety. Any satisfaction I took from the rescue was salted by the vole’s ingratitude.

 When I returned to the old laundry room, Dusty had finished her breakfast and was cleaning her paws and whiskers. She hopped down and sidled over, purring, wanting to be petted. I declined.

 I relate this tedious anecdote of the vole not to claim that I am a sympathetic guy or that I share common cause with loopy, animal-rights, anti-fur-wearer activists (though the thought of the carnage that would be needed to stitch a vole coat or vole stole is enough to make even Michelle Bachman gag). Instead, I ask you to imagine the situation from the point of view of the vole – stranded in a porcelain bowl with nowhere to go but up and no way to get there. This is what I have felt like this week.

 Those who have read my latest posts know that I went to the hospital Monday for an ablation procedure. A CT scan in early May indicated that a new tumor was growing in my right lung next to an old tumor that had been rendered inert by chemo and radiation therapies. A PET scan confirmed the results. The combined docs determined the best way to treat it was to insert a needle into my lung and freeze the tumor with radiation – the ablation. Questions about Blue Cross willingness to pay for the procedure had been resolved to a point we thought we could live with. I checked into the outpatient clinic at 9:30 AM, expecting to get needled around 11:30. I expected to be discharged to go home Monday evening. Still, I packed a bag just in case I had to stay in the hospital overnight. Nothing……..I repeat, NOTHING went as expected.

 We sat around for awhile before a scrubs wearing assistant of some type took us back to a closet at told us there was a hold-up and we’d probably have a long wait before the doc could get me. He spoke to  us a time or two more before he said we could leave if we wanted – just be back in the waiting room by 1:00. So Deirdre and I visited Borders and I got to enjoy the snug scents of Seattle’s Best from the coffee shop for awhile. Need I say that I had not had anything to eat or drink since midnight in prep for anesthesia? We were back in the waiting room at 12:30. At 2:00, the assistant re-emerged and took me back into the closet to insert my IV needle. He spent about 3 minutes stabbing around at a vein in my left arm before I started to go Mike Tyson on him, at which time he undid the tourniquet on my arm and walked out of the room without a word. I seethed for about 5 minutes before an attractive, smiling, young woman, accompanied by a younger, more attractive woman, arrived to take about 30 seconds to neatly and relatively painlessly insert the needle into a vein in my right arm. I returned to the waiting room.

 Around 3:00, Deirdre and I were called to visit with the doc, who apologized for the delay. It turns out the first patient on the dessert cart had needed 6 hours, rather than the expected 2 hours the procedure normally took because…….let’s see, how do I put this politely…….? Let’s just say that had the first patient been flying Delta, the cost of the extra baggage she was hauling would have been more than the price of her original ticket. Also, the doc wanted to make sure we understood what the procedure would involve and that the insurance questions had actually not been resolved. At this point, Deirdre and I, a.k.a. Mr and Mrs Larry the Cable Guy shook our heads and said, “Get ‘er done!” So in short order, Deirdre got to watch over me on a bed in pre-op for who knows how long before they, almost as an afterthought, actually hooked up an IV to my IV needle and administered some sedative and rolled me away.



Do not adjust your set. We control the horizontal. We control the vertical. You are about to enter

The Outer Limits of the Twilight Zone!

Do not believe what you see! Do not trust what you are told. Nothing is as it appears!! Nothing appears to be what it is!!!


I emerged from the la-la-land of anesthesia in time to enjoy being rolled around the catacombs of the hospital to a room on the fourth floor room in the Janeway Tower. The doc had said I would be moved to a specialized unit on the fifth floor of the Reynolds Tower, where they were rigged out with special whatchamacallits to address possible cardio-lung-vascular-vehicular complications from the procedure. By contrast, the room I occupied was Spartan and gadget-free. A tech soon arrived and appliquéd my chest with diode hickeys that had the adhesive strength of Linda Lovelace’s mouth and hooked me up to a device the size of a portable CD player. The room had no wall plug-ins for EKG monitoring, so I was wired to a radio transmitter (for a few hours, radio listeners in Winston could tune in to WBNO, 104.3 on the dial and listen to oldies “Straight from the Heart!”). Nor was my IV run through a pump. Nor did I have a finger clip and hydraulic cuff to constantly monitor my blood pressure, pulse rate and blood oxygen levels.

What gives? I asked, and during the hour or so it took me to reach semi-consciousness, I learned:

1. That a PET scan, in conjunction with a CT scan, indicates “suspicious activity” that an adequately trained specialist can interpret to be cancer with only 97.43% certainty.

2. Partly to confirm that “suspicious activity” is genuinely attributeable to cancer, and partly to insure the needle is touching what Tom Wolfe would term “the right stuff”, the ablationist usually biopsies a few tissue samples, which a pathologist analyses on the spot. My first three samples came up negative, whereby my ablationist reacted like a Texas wildcatter and bored out 17 additional samples. Jett Rink failed to strike oil. All were negative. My regular radiologist visited, looked over things and also shook his head. All involved said, how curious, threw up their hands, and then terminated the procedure.

3. In this incredibly sophisticated, technological age, the spot testing done by the pathologist is not completely reliable. The doc assured us that the pathology report, based on analysis of a “core sample” of tissue, would almost certainly confirm the on-site results. We could expect the pathology report in a couple of days.

So, I was admitted to the hospital overnight solely to make sure I suffered no ill-effects from anesthesia. A kindly medico visited and confirmed this fact, and also said she would issue orders canceling the other set of orders that would have applied had I been ablated and admitted to 5th floor Reynolds as originally anticipated. The sole mission of Janeway would be to give me a pain-free, good night’s sleep.

I soon got to enjoy a Coke and my only hearty meal of the day – a Styrofoam bowl of treacly, luke-warm tomato soup and 3 packs of crackers. Deirdre headed home around 9:00. With the help of a couple of pills, I got to sleep around midnight and, except for a blood-letting at 4:00, I dozed until after 7:00. Between admission to the room and midnight, however, I got to fight off waves of busy-body medicos who arrived bearing machines, bags of tubes and I don’t know what-all, who had not got the Janeway order canceling the Reynolds orders, and needless to say, were puzzled by having to come to Janeway. The conversations followed a pattern:

Me: “What’s that for.”

Medico: “Your collapsed lung.”

Me: “What collapsed lung?”

Medico: “You don’t have a collapsed Lung?”

Me: “Not that I know of.”

Medico: “What the hell….?” At this point the medico would stomp out of the room never to return.

I will spare you the zany, Kafka-like details of the rest of my stay, which left the quintessentially existential question – Why am I here? – unanswered. Highlights of the next few days included: sitting around for most of a day for no reason with precautionary IV needles in both arms that were hooked up to nothing; a luncheon pork chop of a material that had been tested and rejected by the NHL as too hard and too dangerous for use even as a hockey puck; a Tuesday night phone call from a CVS in Statesville inquiring if we were ready to pick up my prescription for pain killers; showing up for a post chest X-ray visit with the doc in Winston and being asked by the assistant who had scheduled the X-ray and the appointment, “Why are you here?”

The whole wacky show, reminiscent of Spider Man on Broadway, culminated with my regularly scheduled with my Hematologist/Oncologist Thursday afternoon who advised that the final, more thorough pathology reports on the “core samples” of tissue indicated that, contrary to the preliminary reports, I do indeed have an active tumor in my lung.

So, I have done the Audie Murphy thing, going “to hell and back,” except I have returned to square one, back where I started, without the reward of a Congressional Medal of Honor or a contract to appear in B westerns despite having so little ability that I could not out-act Victor Mature or Matt Damon. The various and sundry docs are putting their heads together to puzzle over things. I may or may not be rescheduled for ablation, chemo or other therapies or non-therapies. I get to sit around and wait for awhile.

Still, life is good. I got Deirdre, Harry, air to breathe and clean sheets to sleep on. Wednesday afternoon, Deirds and I spun by Harris-Teeter in Winston, where they had Flying Dog beer on special. I bought a six pack of Pale Ale, not only for the Ralph Steadman art on the labels, but also for the particularly fine beer the bottles hold. And, I’ve got a few more bottles to look forward to.

Later, ya’ll. Have a happy Fourth of July! I will.


  1. Wow, I’m just shakin’ my head. It sounds like you were more of a guinea pig than a patient; therefore, you should receive some nice compensation for that.

    Happy 4th!

  2. Never have I gotten so much pleasure from someone else’s pain…except for the time when Kenny Bailey and I had Patty Sue Lindstrom from St. Stephen’s High School out on a houseboat, and she passed out on top of Kenny. Son, I say again…you are one sumbeechin’ great writer. You could turn a series of communal bean pharts at the Nance Hotel into a Broadway-worthy musical comedy.

  3. “I learned only that a man starts to feel undignified when he finds himself in a bathrobe at 7:00 in the morning, on his hands and knees, using a garden trowel to plow a vole across a concrete carport to safety.” Never in the history of literature has a sentence appeared in print even remotely close to this one.

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