LOVING YOUR NEIGHBOR
I went to high school in Rainier and after I graduated, I spent six months at the University of Oregon and then I joined the Navy. I went to boot camp in San Diego and right after that they trained me to be a hospital corpsman. My first duty assignment was in Portsmouth, Virginia and I worked on a medical ward with polio patients and iron lungs.
From there, they sent me back to San Diego to go to the Nuclear Medicine School at the Balboa Naval Hospital and that is where my career began. When I returned to civilian life in 1959, I was hired as the first full-time Nuclear Medicine Tech at Good Samaritan Hospital in Portland. I moved to San Francisco in 1962 and was their first full-time tech at St. Mary’s Hospital. I returned to Good Sam in 1964 and in 1976, I became the first full time tech at Bess Kaiser Hospital in Portland and I worked for Kaiser until I retired in 1999.
I began my Nuclear Medicine training when I was 18 and the field was still in its infancy. I pretty much grew up with the technology that we have today. The scanners when I started cost about $5,000 and were manufactured in a garage in Los Angeles. Everything has changed a great deal since then and I have had a ring side seat. Sometimes I feel like I might have been the Forrest Gump of Nuclear Medicine. In 1964, I took the very first registry exam that was offered for Nuclear Medicine techs and my registry number is 0027. Does any of that make me special? Not really. I think it probably just means that I am old.
Over the years, I made a strong commitment to taking care of my patients as people rather than “diseases with people faces”. My primary responsibility was to obtain a clinically useful study but my personal goal was to take care of patients just like you would take care of your friends and family. Most of my patients had major medical problems and I chatted with them while I did their procedures. I used to talk about birds, flowers, public gardens, books, movies, the sex life of the lacewing fly or anything else that seemed appropriate at the time.
I used to assist the docs when they did biopsies. I would set-up for the procedure and then hold hands with the patient and tell them some of my dumb stories while the doc took a small sample of bone from the posterior pelvis. My patter served the purpose of relaxing the patient and it also took some of the pressure off the doctor. One day our patient was a particularly nice young woman and when we were all through, she was kind enough to give me a big hug and then she shook hands with the doctor. After she left the lab, he complained that it wasn’t fair that I got the hug and he had done all the work. I of course, explained to him that I was the one that was nice to her and he had been a real pain in the posterior.
I added an out-of-town patient to my schedule late on a Friday afternoon and her mother was with her. My patient was very uncomfortable and I did my best to talk her through the study. Half way through the scan, I sent her to the restroom and her mother asked me how I could possibly have anything left when I got home. I think that if I erred in what I did, it may have been that I didn’t always have enough left when I got home.
Some years later that patient’s mother became one of my patients and she said that I might not remember her daughter but she had also been one of my patients. I asked what her name was and after she told me, I described her daughter in considerable detail and I can still visualize what her scan looked like. I could watch the images on the monitor while I sat on my little blue chair and chatted with the patients.
You might wonder why I stayed with a job that was often gut wrenching. One reason is that it needed to be done and I felt that I could probably do a better job of it than the next person. The other reason is that taking care of people in need seemed to “confound the complexities of my own troubles”. I am not sure if I really know what that means but I read that phrase a few weeks back and it occurs to me that it might possibly have applied to me.
I found that patients that pushed me for information usually had normal scans and the patients that had abnormal scans generally didn’t ask. People who were in trouble seemed to be intuitive about the situation and they functioned on a gut level. For whatever reason, I seemed to be able to communicate with that. I think they knew that in some way, I shared their pain and they accepted me. I met some very wonderful people over the years and I made an attempt to reach out to them but the truth is they were also very supportive of me. They taught me a lot about courage and dignity and that there is only today, and with a little luck, tomorrow.
The patients that I got to know the best were the ones that had to keep coming back because of ongoing difficulties. My standard line was that I never invited anybody back but I was always happy to see a friendly face. I had a patient who was in pretty tough shape and we talked about silent movies while I did his scan. He was quite an interesting fellow and he had made a collection of old movies. When we were all done with the procedure, he told me that I reminded him of the boatman in Greek mythology that ferried the dead across the river Styx to Hades, but that I had made the trip far more bearable. That was a heavy duty compliment but it did tell me that what I did had some real value. I felt very fortunate to have a job that allowed me to make a difference.
Reach out and help people when you can. It doesn’t have be anything major. It may just be a smile or perhaps just taking the time to listen and yes, you can try this at home. The Bible tells us to “Love your neighbor as yourself”. Love and respect your neighbors, your family and also yourself. Some of us aren’t all that easy to love and you may have to work at it. If you can make a difference in your neighbor’s life, you will probably end up with a nicer neighbor and so will he. And also, don’t forget to enjoy the sunsets.