Chapter Fourteen: Papa Thomas Visits the Hospital

Unbeknownst to Grandpa Gordon his younger sister, Virginia  and their mother Lilian had a private conversation. She had volunteered to stay with her mother while dad was taken care of. Since they did not have any children and she was between jobs they agreed that she was the logical choice of the three daughters. Neither one of them broached the reason for Virginia and Ken not having any children. Now just did not seem to be a good time (for the curious reader, Ken had a low sperm count). So the next day her husband Ken as was agreed upon would take the train back to Chicago by himself.

All during this conversation the newlyweds were finally consummating their relationship. As can be expected, with this being their first time, it was short and sweet. There was so much built-up anticipation that they both climaxed almost immediately. They considered trying again, but with their family being in the next room and on the first floor, they actually felt a little self conscious about making love. So they just fell asleep in each others arms.

Bright and early Monday Morning, after eating a light breakfast of cereal, toast and coffee Grandpa Gordon took Papa Thomas to the hospital in their Buick.

Since Papa Thomas served in the US Marines for two years, from 1907 to 1909 he qualified to utilize the Veteran Administration’s facilities . So Grandpa Gordon took him back to their favorite VA Hospital.  When they arrived at the VA emergency room entrance a young candy striper named Melanie helped Papa Thomas into a wheelchair and rolled him to the front desk, as Grandpa Gordon parked the car. Of course, head nurse Annabelle was there, she always seemed to be there. Nurse Annabelle greeted him with a questioning look of recognition on her face. He noticed her confused look and said yes I had been here two years ago for my sons leg wound. She nodded with a I thought so look and asked what she could do for him?

Papa Thomas  said, “I have been in quite a bit of pain, especially in my stomach for the last several months. I just seem to ache all over.  I have no appetite and have lost 50 pounds during this time. I just don’t have any energy and I am tired all the time, he added for good measure.

Nurse Annabelle took his vitals and wrote them on his new chart. Then she pushed him in his wheelchair to the exam room number six. She helped him up onto the exam table. Once he was comfortable she told Papa Thomas that the doctor would be in momentarily.

After a few minutes Dr. John Pemberton came into the room. He inroduced hiself to Papa Thomas  while he washed his hands. He briefly looked at Papa Thomas’ chart and asked what brought him to the hospital? Papa Thomas relayed all the details he had given previously to Nurse Annabelle. As he spook the doctor nodded his head several times. After he had finished with his story, the doctor had him lay down on the table so he could examine him. He poked and prodded his abdomen and palpated his chest and back. During this time he asked Papa Thomas if it hurt where he touched him. “Each and every time you touched me it hurt” said Papa Thomas, who was still grimacing in pain.

After Dr. Pembrton finished his exam, which took all told about ten minutes. Dr. Pemberton then told Papa Thomas that they were going to first take an abdominal x-ray, and then they would do a US on his abdomen as well. When he said this, he had a worried look on his face. He then said, “I don’t want to scare you, but you had to have felt the hard spot in your stomach as it got progressively larger. The scans are more of a formality, but they will also help to tell if the tumor has spread anywhere. The only definitive way to diagnose the tumor is to do surgery on you and to remove it. Once we get it out, the pathologist will look at the cells under a microscope to see if the cells in the tumor are cancerous or not. But I have to tell you, based on the timeline you have discussed with me, I am fairly certain that the tumor is cancerous. Once we take the tumor out, we have a fairly new treatment involving radiation that has helped to kill the cancerous cells in the surrounding tissue of many other patients. The reason this treatment is necessary is that most cancer cells do not just limit themselves to the tumor. The cancer cells can also spread from the surgical procedure itself.”

Papa Thomas asked what would happen if he opted not to get treated? The Doctor said, “that it is hard to say, but in the best case scenario, you would live maybe two to three months more.” If you get treated there is always a chance for total remission of the cancer, but all in all likely hood you will only buy a couple of years as the cancer cells will most cerainly re-establish themselves in your body. I am sorry for the bad news,” the Doctor said. He further added that, “you seem to be a person who doesn’t like to sugar coat anything and simply wants the facts.”

Papa Thomas asked if his son could come into the exam  room? The doctor said, “of course” as he stuck his head out of the room and asked Nurse Annabelle if she could get the patient’s son in the waiting room?  Grandpa Gordon immediately came into the exam room with a worried look on his face. Papa Thomas asked the doctor if he could repeat what he had just told him again to his son, because he did not want to mess up the information when he gave his family the news? The doctor said, “no problem” and repeated Papa Thomas’ diagnosis, prognosis and treatment all over again. After he finished, tears just started to run unabashedly down Grandpa Gordon’s face. The tension was broken by a radiology technician who had just came into the exam room to take Papa Thomas over for his x-rays and US.

Papa Thomas was helped to the wheelchair and brought down to the radiology department. An hour or so later he was brought back to the exam room. The scans were soon brought to the ER with Papa Thomas in a pouch located at the back of his wheelchair. Dr. Pemberton who had just finished seeing another patient immediately brought them into exam room six to review them. He mounted the films on a wall mounted viewing panel. After he looked at the films for a while he turned around and started talking to Papa Thomas. He said, “I have evaluated these twice now, once in the radiology department  where I discussed my findings with the radiologist who was on call. and now in front of you. I relayed this information to you so that you would know that I am taking  your situation very seriously.”

Dr. Pemberton continued by saying, “even though I recommend you getting the surgery, the final decision is still yours to make.  But I want to add that if you opt out of the surgery you will experience a great deal of pain, especially during your last days. During this time, we do our best to make you comfortable. “

Dr. Pemberton concluded, “if you decide to have the surgery and the follow-up radiation therapy you will also have rough time of it. During the surgery and your subsequent recovery period you will experience quite a bit of pain as well. The radiation therapy will make you quick sick. So either choice will cause quite a bit of discomfort for for you. But with the surgery you will be at least trying to do something, instead of just giving up.”

Papa Thomas looked over to his son, Grandpa Gordon, who had been sitting quietly in the corner listening to everything the Doctor told to his father,  and said, “What do you think son?”

Grandpa Gordon  said, “you know what my feelings are Dad, I want you to see my children born. I love you and I want you around for a long time to come.”

Papa Thomas looked at Dr. Pemberton and said, ” My son has spoken, so you have my answer. When can I get the surgery?

Dr. Pemberton said, ” I will call in a consulting surgeon. His name is Dr. Kenneth Dukakis, and he is one of the best General Surgeons in the Northeast. I am going to tell him that your surgery needs to be scheduled immediately, so depending on his schedule we are looking at the next day or so…hopefully sooner than later.”

Papa Thomas then asked the doctor, “Can I go home before the surgery?”

Dr. Pemberton said, “You can but I would prefer if you didn’t as we need to do several more tests before you can get your operation, and time is of the essence.”

Papa Thomas nodded in a resigned manner and said to his son, Grandpa Gordon, “can you call your mother and tell her the news, I don’t think I have the energy to deal with her crying right now.” During their interaction, Dr. Pemberton stuck his head out of the examination room and told nurse Annabelle to get a room ready in the surgical unit for Mr. Thomas Anderson.

Dr. Pemberton then looked at the Anderson men and asked them if they had any further questions for him? They both shook their heads no. With that he said his goodbyes as he left to attend to his other patients. He further added that someone would be in mometarily to take Papa Thomas to his new room.

True to the doctor’s word Melanie the candy striper came into the exam room only a couple of minutes later. She told Grandpa Gordon,  “your father will be in the surgical unit on the second floor in room 210. The visiting hours are from 0800 to 2000. Since your father will he busy for a while there is no need for you to come with us.”

Grandpa Gordon looked at his father and said, ” I will bring mom back in the afternoon so that she can spend some time with you.” Papa Thomas nodded to his son as he was rolled down the hallway.

Grandpa Gordon drove back to the rental house to tell his mother the news about his father. Only to find that when he arrived back his mother and Virginia his sister had taken a taxi downtown to get a few items to round out their wardrobe and a few daily care items as well. The whole family had been caught off guard by the news of Papa Thomas’s health. They were now all scrambling to catch up with the rapidly evolving events. Nobody knew how to deal with a sick parent, especially for someone who had always been so healthy and seemingly had boundless energy.

Now back to events transpiring at the rental house… To Grandpa Gordon’s delight he found Clara by herself taking a nap in their room upstairs. He knew he should not be having these thoughts, with his father being sick and in the hospital, but you can’t fight mother nature, and besides he and Clara had been married less than a day. So he crept up to the bed and pounced on Clara and started covering her with kisses. Much to his delight they were soon engaged in passionate love making. This time they both lasted quite a while longer. When they were both finished and now quite sated, they just laid in bed with silly grins on their faces.

They considered going for a second round, but they thought better of it so they went downstairs to get washed up and dressed. They finished dressing just in the nick of time because they could hear the taxi pull up to the house with his mother and sister in it.

When Papa Thomas and Clara went into the kitchen, his mother and sister had laid out all their purchases on the kitchen and were sorting them out. They quickly finished organizing their stuff and brought them to their respective rooms. When they got back they each poured a cup of coffee that they had been brewing and sat down around the kitchen table and looked up at Papa Gordan expectantly for news about Papa Thomas. Without a preamble he quickly relayed all of the new information to them. When he had finished, there was not a dry eye in the room. After they were finally able to compose themselves they got ready to go to the VA Hospital.

When they arrived at the VA Hospital this time they went through the main entrance. They signed in at the reception desk and went up to the second floor to his room. Since the hospital only allowed two visitors at a time mother and Victoria went first to visit Papa Thomas.  Grandpa Gordon and  Clara meanwhile relaxed in the lobby and to while away the time they looked at some old tattered magazines lying on the round coffee style table in front of them.

When they came to Papa Thomas’s room Lilian and her daughter Virginia  soon discovered that he did not have a private room but he was sharing his room with another patient. They were somewhat disappointed  with this new development, but they couldn’t complain since he was not paying for his stay here or for the surgey either. The semi-private room was still quite nice and they had a shared  TV to watch and, since his fellow patient slept most of the time he pretty much got to watch what he wanted.

Papa Thomas seemed to be in fairly good spirits considering the circumstances.  His wife Lilian told him that Clara and Grandpa Gordon were in the reception room downstairs waiting to see him. He said, “that was nice. But I am feeling very tired because they did all kinds of exams on me and I am now quite worn out so would you mind it that we keep the visit short today?”

Lilian said, “no problem,” as she and Virginia both kissed him on the cheek. “We will leave now and give the newlyweds a chance to say hi, then we will be going back to the rental house.” She added, “I love you, please stay strong,” as they left his room.

Lilian and Virginia went down to the waiting room so that Clara and Grandpa Gordon could come up and he see their papa. Lilian reminded them to keep the visit short with Papa Thomas as he is very tired.”

Grandpa Gordon and Clara quickly paid their respects and they both kissed him on the cheek, however Clara gave him a little extra gentle hug before they left. As she left, she said, “I just got into this family don’t you think you can leave it before I get to spend some quality time with you.”

As Grandpa Gordon and Clara had left Papa Thomas’s room and were walking down the hallway, they met Dr. Pemberton doing his rounds in the surgery unit. He recognized Grandpa Gordon and asked how his father was doing?

Grandpa Gordon said, “he is not doing that well, his spirits seem to be low and he is not that optimistic about his future.”

“That is not good,” said Dr. Pemberton. “He needs to keep his morale up because the surgery is only the first part. The radiation treatments are actually worse for most patients.  They get very sick and weak, and it takes a lot of faith, and you need a positive outlook to get through this step. If you let yourself get depressed you won’t survive the treatments. This is where the family unit is so important. The patient needs to feel the love of their family to give them the strength necessary to keep fighting. Those that don’t give up are the ones that make full recoveries.”

“Dr. Pemberton do we have a surgery schedule yet?” Asked Grandpa Gordon.

“Yes, we do.” I just talked to the surgeon, Dr. Dukakis and he confirmed that he would be operating not tomorrow afternoon like he had hoped but early Wednesday morning at 0800.” Said, Dr. Pemberton. “Dr. Dukakis also said that he was going in to see your father and to inform him about the surgery schedule.

Dr. Pemberton noticed their concerned looks when he told them of them about the delay in the surgery. He said in reply, “we had known from the onset that due to the suddeness of the events that Dr. Dukakis might not be able to work him in on Tuesday, besides your father is quite weak right know, so we are going to give him some Intravenous Therapy to bolster his strength some and since he is going to have major surgery done, we will give some prophylactic antibiotics to help prevent any infection from setting in. So, in reality, the delay is actually a good thing.”

Grandpa Gordon and Clara thanked him for the time he spent with them because they knew how busy he was. Dr. Pemberton replied, “Not all, it was my pleasure. I know how concerned you are. Have a nice day.” As he shook hands and walked down the hallway towards his next patient….Grandpa Gordon and Clara continued on their way to the waiting room to tell their mother and sister the news.

Over the period of the following Grandap Gordon, Clara, Moma Lillian and Virginina could all see that he seemed to be getting some of his energy back. There was a little more color in his cheeks and his replies were a little more snappy. The day finally came to an end before they knew, it was surgery day.

Since the surgery was scheduled right at the start of the hospital’s visiting hours, the administration allowed Papa Tomas to have two visitors come in earlier. So Lilian, his wife, and Virginia, his youngest daughter, popped into see him at 0645. They only had a few minutes to spend with him because the surgery technician and the preoperative nurse were going to take him to preop at 0700.

Papa Thomas was calm and relaxed when Lilian and Virginia entered the room. He greeted them with a determined and matter of fact tone. He said, “he had done everything he could, and now the rest was in the hands of our Lord.” They both hugged and kissed him and said their goodbyes as the surgery staff came in the room.

The staff quickly and efficiently transported him to the preoperative unit, where he was shaved and prepped for surgery. They then rolled him into the operating room, where they draped him in sterile covers and finished with swabbing down the incision site with copious amounts of Betadine. When Papa Thomas was ready, the surgeon came into the room and said hello to the patient and asked him if he had any last-minute questions. Papa Thomas shook his head no. So, Dr. Dukakis motioned to the anesthesiologist to put him under.

The surgery lasted a total of Four hours. Papa Thomas passed throughthe procedure with flying colors. There had been no complications and it was an unmitigated success.  Even though the tumor had been quite large, it did not look like it had spread. To ensure that they got all the cancer they had to excise the lower portion of the stomach and the first six inches of the small intestine. They were able to suture the remaining portion of the stomach back together and reanastomose the slightly shorter small intestine back to it.

Upon completion of the operation he was brought to the recovery room. After approximately an hour he was awake and deemed stable, Papa Thomas’s wife Lillian was allowed to see him. He was still somewhat groggy from the sedation and pain medication. He was in good spirits and greeted his wife with a weak smile. She walked up to him and took his right hand since the left one had lines connected to it and held it. The recovery room nurse told Lillian that her husband was doing very well. So well infact that he was going to be returned to his old room instead of an ICU room. As a precautionary measure they were going to keep him in the recovery room a little while longer.

A couple of hours later, Papa Thomas was moved back to his room and settled in, Soon after Dr. Dukakis, the surgeon, came in to check up on his status. He informed Mrs Anderson who steadfastly remained at his side that, “Since your husband is sleeping, I will relay the information to you instead. The surgery went well, after about a week, he should be well enough to see the consulting oncologists for his radiation therapy.” He further told her, ” I will check up on him once a day to monitor his progress and to write any necessary orders. The anesthesiologist will be monitoring his pain levels for the next two days to make sure he remains comfortable. Physical therapy (PT) will be here tomorrow to get him out of bed and to take him walking. We walk all the patients that have abdominal surgeries right away to prevent an illeus or blockage from forming. Do you have any questions?”

Mrs. Anderson shook her head no.

Dr. Dukakis told her to have a nice day.

The week went by uneventfully. Papa Thomas walked twice a day with PT each time gradually increasing the distance he walked. His wife Lillian and his children all took turns visiting him. After a few days, he started taking clear liquids by mouth. By the end of the week, he was tolerating a soft bland diet.

During this week, Grandpa Gordon had been busy making arrangements for his family. He contacted the VA Hospital administrator about setting up hardship housing for his mother and sister for the remaining time that his father was in the hospital. Since the senior hospital administrator was a fan of the Thunderbirds and had seen Papa Gordon fly in a couple of cities, he was more than willing to make the necessary arrangements for his mother, Lillian, and his sister Virginia. Papa Gordon said that when he got back to the base he would have a Large autographed and framed photo of the Thunderbirds sent to him.

Now that he had that taken care of, he still had to change his housing status back at Nellis AFB to off base housing since he was now married. The military gave all military personnel that chose to live off base a housing allowance. While the allowance would help some it wouldn’t completely cover the extra cost. Since he had gotten a raise when he was promoted to a full Colonel, they should still be OK. Besides, once Clara got a job working as a nurse, that would allow them to live quite comfortably. His salary with all of his allowances would total just over $800.00 a month and in Las Vegas registered nurses routinely made around $140.00 a month. Their joint salaries would mean that they would be quite well to do. The average salary for common laborers was approximately $40.00 a week.

Unfortunately, his time in Minneapolis quickly came to a close and he had to say goodbye to his father at the hospital. He had already helped his mother and sister relocate to the housing at the VA Hospital. It was actually a nice little apartment. Unfortunately there was only one bedroom, so they had to share the same bed, but they did not seem to mind. They were just happy to be close to Papa Thomas. He had also got meal tokens for them, so they both were able to eat three meals a day at the cafeteria for free. There was not much more that he could do for them. He had called in a lot of favors to get what he did for them.

Meanwhile, Clara had packed up all of her possessions. Because they were married now and would have a greater need for the car, it was agreed upon that he would take the Buick. So they went to a U-Haul dealer and rented a trailer and had a temporary hitch put on the car so that they could pull it. He opted to leave that Friday morning so that they would have enough time to drive the car and trailer to Las Vegas. While Clara could drive, she was uncomfortable pulling a trailer behind the car. Besides, he didn’t want her to drive that far by herself.

The drive was almost 1,700 miles from Minneapolis to Las Vegas, so the three days they had set aside was just enough time to do it. It is at this place that I will leave our hero and his lovely wife, Clara. I will pick upwith their adventures in the next chapter. I am doing this because I have more pressing matters to deal with, such as the health of Papa Thomas. I can’t just leave him in limbo. So, I will now continue on with his storyline that is until I can bring it to an appropriate conclusion.

Papa Thomas was saddened when his son Grandpa Gordon said his goodbyes, but he knew that his time was limited in Minneapolis. His son had done everything that was in his power to make his stay in the hospital go as smoothly as possible. He also knew what Grandpa Gordon had to go through to get a housing and a food allowance for Lillian and his daughter Virginia. His son made it sound like this was the hospital’s policy, but he knew better. He knew that Grandpa Gordon had to call in a lot of favors to make this happen. For that, he would be forever grateful. That is also why he let his son have the Buick outright. Besides, they had never used it. Mama Lillian was funny that way. She knew that Papa Thomas was trying to help as best he could with the car. That is why he had made it sound like the car was something he had always wanted so that Grandpa Gordon would agree to the deal.

Papa Thomas had always been proud of his children, and he had wished he could do more for them. He was especially proud of Grandpa Gordon. He had accomplished so much in his life, and he never put on any aires. He knew his son was a big deal in the airforce. He had read that there were only seven men who accomplished what he had done, that of being a fighter pilot ace in two different wars. He was also the only one to do it flying for two different air forces.

A couple of hours after Grandpa Gordon had said his goodbyes. Dr. James Miller, a Hematologist/Oncologist, came to visit to discuss the topic of radiation therapy with Papa Thomas. He spent the next thirty minutes discussing radiation therapy and what it entailed. Needless to say, Papa Thomas was not exactly enthralled by his description of the treatment process. Even though the doctor had made the comment that it was strictly optional, he made one telling comment when he said that surgery without radiation is less likely to eradicate the cancer completely. Because no matter how good the general surgeon is, there is still a chance that some of the cancer cells will get missed.

Not that he really had any choice he signed the consents that Dr. Miller’s attending nurse had brought with her for the radiation therapy. And so began without a doubt the most miserable period of his life. The treatment plan called for four radiation treatments spread out one dose each week for a period of one month. Just when he started feeling like a human being again, it was time for another shot. Eventually, the treatments were over, and all of his body hair had fallen out, which meant for the first time in his life, he did not have to shave, since the treatments even affected his facial hair. His stomach looked like an overripe tomato, and it was impossible to sleep on it because the skin in that area was so tender. But he survived the ordeal, and when it was over Dr. Miller finally came by and showed his face, that lousy SOB, and told him that everything looked good. The follow-up scans that they had taken were all negative, and he said that Papa Thomas was cleared as far as he was concerned, to go home.

Never had anyone made such a welcome statement to Papa Thomas before. So when his long suffering wife and daughter came to visit him that evening, he told them the news that he was cleared to be discharged in the morning. Virginia immediately found a pay phone and made a collect call to her husband so he could come and pick her up next morning. Then mama Lillian called her oldest son James and asked him if he could pick them up and take them back to the farm in Sauk Centre? He said he would be glad to. But he wanted to have a little celebration first. So she agreed.

The next day, James was at the hospital at 0900. He came a little later as requested by the staff so that the morning nurse would have a chance to get all the discharge instructions ready for his father. When he pulled up to the front entrance, his father was waiting in a wheelchair with his mother by his side. Melanie, the candy striper, was standing behind him. Virginia had already been picked up by her very eager husband Ken.

When James’ father was loaded in the front passenger seat and his mother was seated in the backseat, he said that he had to stop by his house for a minute to get some papers he had forgotten, which he needed to deliver on the way back to Minneapolis. They said ok. Of course, Mama Lillian knew about the subterfuge.

When he pulled up to the house, James’ wife and children were all standing in the front yard wearing party hats and with a big banner hanging from the front porch flapping in the breeze. Of course Papa Thomas was surprised and a little tear actually formed on his cheek. He was so happy to see his family. They helped him to the front porch and had him sit on a porch chair. James’ wife Elizabeth said to him, ” I am sure that you are anxious to get back home, so we will keep it short and sweet. We just wanted to celebrate a little, with you and mom. So we bought a small cake for you.”

Papa Thomas then thanked her profusely. When she brought him a slice of cake, he virtually inhaled it. It tasted that good to Papa Thomas. You have to remember he had been in the hospital for five weeks and had eaten little real food, so this cake was like a piece of heaven for him. After he had finished eating his cake, one by one his grandchildren, all came up to him and hugged and kissed him. When their little impromtu cellebration finally drew to an end, James helped him back in the car. When they were on the road, Papa Thomas said to his son James, that was probably the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me. James just grinned in reply.

The ride went by pleasantly as Lillian and James chatted and caught up on family news, while Papa Thomas just let the cool air blow on his smiling face as he day dreamed. Before he knew it they were home. James helped his father out of the car and to the house. He said to James, “would you mind helping me to my bed son, I am a little bushed?”

James of course, said, “No problem, Dad.” After James left to go back home and his beloved Lillian was lying by his side on the bed. Papa Thomas said, “You know my beloved Lillian we really do have great kids. Suffice it to say that this experience of Papa Thomas’ had served to bring them together like nothing else had. They spent the next two years simply enjoying each other’s company and that of their children.

Papa Thomas never did plant another crop on his beloved farm, and you know what that was perfectly OK with him. Life is not all about work it is about life experiences. Even though Grandpa Gordon took the car to Las Vegas, they got to go to Niagra Falls for their second honeymoon. And as Grandpa Gordon had promised they had brand new suitcases to take with them. They took a train there instead of driving, and they truly had a wondrous time aboard the Amtrack train. They renewed their vows at a small chapel.

I will return to their story a little while later. They worked hard all of their lives, and they left behind a wonderful legacy, that of their family. They shared a loving relationship and raised wonderful children, what more can you ask and hope for? It is with a heavy heart that I will be leaving Papa Thomas and Lillian’s story line.

I believe every cloud has a silver lining. In Papa Thomas’s case,  his tumor was that cloud, and their renewed feelings for each other was the silver lining. It is a shame that they had so little time left together.  But let us not get ahead of ourselves just yet.