Friday, December 04, 2009

His Name Was Bill

Too much work. Too many patients to keep track of. Three still in Infusion to see now, Number 72 first. Sure could use a coffee, something to eat, but that new nurse keeps paging me. So I’m late? Everyone here in the hospital is late. Not my fault they called a staff meeting for nine this morning just to announce furloughs. Won’t change a thing for me – as long as Jensen Martell keeps throwing money at us to do trials of their wonder drug, I’ll be hustling these floors.

Waiting room’s packed. Two cops are guarding the bathroom door. Must be felon treatment day. Prisoners get cancer too, and since we’re a state hospital, we get them all.

At reception, the patient charts are stacked in piles all over the desk. In no particular order. I pull Number 72’s chart. Where’s the damn clerk – off to lunch? Why does she get to eat?

Patients fill all the seats in the main room, two surrounded by police. They’re sipping Hawaiian Punch and watching Jerry Springer on the television. Chemo day must be like vacation for them. One of the patients is in leg chains. I don’t find Number 72 in the other, smaller infusion rooms. He’s been in the trial for nine weeks. It surprises me he’s lasted this long. Tough old guy, wish I could remember his name.

I open the chart, it’s at least 2 inches thick. Where’s his CAT scan? I need the damn scan.

I head back to reception. Number 72’s head scan is lying on the desk. She hasn’t even put it in the chart . I wonder what else is missing? His bloods? Urine? Nope, they’re all there.

I throw the CAT scan against the light box. White lines of the skull and jawbone show up clean and sharp on the right side; the left side is a black hole. Not good. Not good at all. Jensen Martell will not be happy their silver bullet’s tarnished, at least in this population. I may have to terminate the trial, this regimen just isn’t working. And that means I can’t hire a medical fellow for next year.


A nurse rushes past, carrying a tray of syringes, gloves, and tape. The ID hanging around her neck tells me her name is Marge.

“Where’s number 72?” I ask.

Marge looks at me blankly, then juts her chin towards the main room.

The third prisoner’s back from the restroom. Six cops line the wall, guns holstered. I find my patient in the fourth chair, the one in the corner by the window. He’s sitting upright, not leaning into the seat. His hands cradle his knee caps. Today a woman is with him, too young for his wife, probably a daughter. I’ve seen her before, too.

I pull the curtain and the rings rattle along the rod. Number 72 startles, his eyes look up, scared. Hers do, too. There’s no stool to pull up, she offers her seat but I wave her down.

“I have your cat scan results,” I say. He nods, almost imperceptibly.

“The tumor’s grown,” I say. “There’s mets to the lung and a blotch on your lymph node, under the ear. You know what this means?”

He nods. His daughter reaches out for his hand and squeezes it. He grasps her fingers hard.

“You can’t continue with the trial,” I continue. “The nurse will come in a few minutes to tell you about your palliative care options. We offer hospice, you know. And if you need to see a social worker, we can arrange for that.”

My stomach gurgles. I glance at my watch. If I hurry I can get to the cafeteria before they close.

“Any questions?”

“Daddy?” she asks. “Any questions?”

He grunts something unintelligible. She leans toward him but he grips the sides of the arm chair and tries to push up. When the daughter reaches behind his back, he shoots her a defiant look. She steps back towards the window. He tries again. I wonder if they have grilled chicken today, remember I need to pick up Ellie from ballet class on the way home. On the third try, he finally stands, swaying in front of the chair. His right arm trembles toward me.

Number 72 has a surprisingly firm hand shake even though the bones themselves are so frail they could snap if I grasped harder.

“Thank you,” he says. He collapses back into the chair. Sweat beads his forehead.

“You’re welcome,” I say.

I open the curtain. The cops and robbers are still there. Behind me, the woman cries softly. I pause; four minutes before the salad bar closes. Marge the nurse enters the curtained room. I walk to reception, lay the chart on the pile. The elevator whisks me down to the main floor.

“Bill,” I say out loud. “His name was Bill.”


I wrote this last night. Shortly after posting, my father, the patient in this story, passed away after a year-long struggle with a sinus cancer. I will miss him...

Peace, Linda


  1. Very nicely done, you can really feel the hustle and bustle on the wards.
    I like the proud old patient

  2. Linda, this is a tremendous story. I work in clinical research and there is too much truth in these interactions. I hope your experience wasn't as stark as it was but wouldn't be surprised if it was. A small correction: I think a word is missing in the description of the handshake. That is such a powerful climax to the story. Very well done, and I'm sorry that you lost your father.

  3. Oh my god, I was going to congratulate you on such a powerful story, then I read your last paragraph.

    I'm so sorry.

  4. There have been many pieces of writing during these Fridays that have tugged at my heartstrings, or left me with a lump in my throat.

    Today I cried.

    This was a touching tribute to a patient, a person, a man...a father.

    I'm very sorry for your loss. You are in my thoughts.

  5. I am at a loss for words. I've teared up as well. Beautiful, powerful piece on all accounts. You've made your Daddy proud, Linda. My heart and thoughts are with you and your family today.

  6. Linda, you always capture stream-of-consciousness thinking so well--manic or otherwise. I'm so sorry about your father. I'll be keeping you and your family in thoughts and prayers.

  7. Ditto what Tony said.

    I am really sorry about your father. I know it has been a long struggle for all involved. My thoughts are with you and your family.

    And yes, beautiful writing.

  8. Linda, I am so sorry for your loss. I know this had to be tough to write, but you did an incredible job with it. I'm in tears now. I'm sure your father is still proud.

  9. This is an amazing piece of writing!

    Moving, powerful, sorrowful.

    My heart goes out to you and your family on this sad, sad day.

    Strength, Marisa

  10. I am so sorry, Linda. I know of the struggles and at least he's at peace now.

    Your stream of consciousness is wonderful, captivating. All those bits and pieces that fight for space in our minds at any given moment, resulting in the jumble that you show so well.

  11. So much realism in this piece. Life moves on, while for others it stops. "His name is Bill," for some reason that says so much to me.
    Strength to you, Linda.

  12. So... I'm pontifi'kating here. What to say to one who pulled from within to let out so much in tumult and tenderness.

    That she did it so grand.
    Something like the way a champ gets up to shake a hand?

    Yeah, something like that - chip off the block of class and distinction.

    Blessings to your Peace. I share the tears of fellow fine friends in sadness of your sorrow. ~ Kate

  13. Very beautifull in both style and content. You are a fine writer.
    I am so sorry to hear of you loss.
    Peace - DOug

  14. I'm crying. That was one of the most powerful stories you have ever written.

    You have many friends that you've never met thinking of you and sending you our very best.

  15. Linda.

    This is a wonderful and heartfelt tribute. My condolences, thoughts and prayers are with you.

    Take small comfort in knowing that he lives on in the memory of those who he touched, which I'm sure were many.

  16. He's looking down, reading what you wrote, smiling. And he's proud... Very powerful piece, Linda...

  17. Wonderfull. I echo what Ant has just said. take care.

  18. This is amongst your most powerful works, Linda. All the concerns swirling about our protagonist's head, none given too much weight because if any of them does, nothing gets done. So many things expressed succinctly, and in the hurry, creating such emotional force. It's a riveting in a way totally different from thrillers. I couldn't stop reading or diverge from the horrible flow.

    I'm deeply sorry for your loss. If talking to somebody a world away will help, please e-mail me any time. You're a powerful human being.

  19. Oh, Linda- so sorry for your loss, I hope you have other family around you for support. This was a powerful story on its own, but to learn you've had to experience these emotions recently, my heart breaks for you. {{{hugs}}}}}

  20. Linda - A fine piece of writing and a fine tribute. My wife and I both lost our fathers in recent years, both around this time of year. I hope family and friends will be around you.

  21. This is so heartfelt, Linda. You're a deep and powerful communicator. This story is a gift. Thank you, and peace to you and your father.

  22. Linda, this is a beautiul tribute to a person that you loved and respected. You may remember that a couple of months ago I lost my father-in-law. His name was Bill, too. When I read this I remembered how you ran back and forth and tried to be with your dad as much as possible. I know your time together meant so much to both of you. You have made him proud. If I had read this not knowing this was a personal tribute I would have been just as choke up as I am now.God Bless !

  23. Dear all, wow. Thank you all. I am overwhelmed. I've been away from the computer much of the day, making phone calls, being with my husband and telling my children. Seeing all your comments and well wishes fills me with quiet joy. Thank you, for sharing my sadness, and sharing yours. peace, Linda

  24. My heart and prayers are with you and your family, Linda. I'm sorry to hear of your loss. Very powerful piece.


  25. I am so sorry for the loss of your father. I know it has been a long and painful struggle. My thoughts are with you.

  26. Sorry for your loss, Linda. I hope that you and your family are able to find moments of peace while going through all the messier parts of this time.

  27. I'm welling up—again. The hustle and bustle of a hospital can seem so cold. You've captured it here. My heart goes out to you.

  28. Health professionals must remain dispassionate, in order to do their jobs. You captured that element very well.

    Please accept my condolences. I know how you feel. I lost my father over 20 years ago, and I still miss him.

  29. Ah Linda. Beautifully done. You sketch the patient and his daughter with such clean, simple lines - yet all their history is there, captured.

    I know something of the pain you feel. Be well.

  30. Very powerful and beautiful...sorry for your loss. Wonderful writing!

  31. What a beautiful story! I could feel Bill's hand in mine. It read like a scene from ER would.

    My thoughts with you and your family during the passing of your father!

  32. I could never be a doctor... it seems so cold. I guess after being surrounded by so much suffering you find ways of dealing with it. Numbers instead of names... distractions. Life goes on, I guess. Work is work.

    I am sorry about your loss. I can't imagine what it would be like to lose a parent, but looking at my family history, I'm not very optimistic about their future. Cancer seems to be eating away at everyone these days. None of us can hide from it.

    This is definitely the kind of story that will stay with me.

  33. Well done, Linda. I like to think that, despite the obvious sadness in this story and in real life, Bill had a happy ending.


  34. my heart goes out to you, Linda.

  35. I'm so sorry for your loss!

    Your story is so much more than words can describe because you felt it, really knew about everything you wrote and an amazing story emerged.