The last time I spent the night in a hospital with a condition that was NOT cancer was back in the 1980s. I sustained an injury to the tendon that controls my left pinky finger. I was at Julene and Andy Buice’s home. Andy had a motorcycle accident several years ago and lost his life — I lost a great friend. Their little house was across Cherokee Avenue from the Columbus Country Club and the driveway was a bridge that crossed over Weracoba Creek.
Even after all the partying we did at that house, not one of us ever ended up in the creek. I did have an accident there one night that ultimately sent me to the hospital for surgery. After visiting a hand specialist at Georgia Baptist Hospital to confer about my condition, we decided to have the surgery done here to reinsert the tendon that had been dislocated when I tripped over Julene and Andy’s sleeping black cat, who also just happened to be sleeping on a black rug. I stepped. The cat hissed and yelped. As I jumped out of the way, my left hand slid down the wall as I tried to gain control of my fall. My little finger hung on the moulding around the door frame and my 160 pounds kept going.
Okay, so I’ve gained a little weight.
After that injury, my left pinky finger kind of flopped in the breeze. I couldn’t hold it tight against my other three fingers. This was such an unusual injury, three orthopaedic surgeons were in the OR with me. The surgery was successful and I spent one night in St. Francis Hospital. As I found out yesterday, being in the hospital is never a boat load of fun. But, being in the hospital with almost anything that is NOT cancer, can be quite fun if you look in just the right places.
Back in the 1980s when I had that finger injury my old friend, Larry Aglialoro, came by to see me and we were the only two people in the room. Larry and I probably have enough on each other to get in deep trouble and I will be taking those stories with me to the grave. I can tell this one, though. Ag was looking out the window and he said, “Mike, there are a bunch of nurses in that building over there.” I had just had a big ol’ IV narcotic pain killer pushed into my vein and true to it’s word, I was feeling no pain.
“Ag, help me get up out of this bed. Come on, I need you to help me get up on that ledge. I’m gonna moon ’em,” I said. I rolled out of the bed, pushed my stand holding a bag of fluids over toward the window. We pushed a chair over to the ledge, Ag gave me a boost and I stood up on the ledge and pressed some ham on the window. I stayed up there long enough to make sure we made eye contact with them and I think one of the young women gave me two thumbs up. In fact, I’m sure of it. The memory of Ag, dressed in a suit and tie, hoisting my half naked, hospital gown clad self up onto that ledge still makes me laugh as I sit here some 35 years later.
I have been sheltering an embarrassing secret for the past couple of years. The sound of the word, goiter, doesn’t roll very easily across my tongue. When I think goiter, I see an Amazonian indian with his dark skin painted white. He has an enormous bow, strung with God knows what and the quiver of four-foot-long arrows are coated with curare. That is exactly was I see in my mind when I think of the word goiter. Hey buddy, is that a goiter on your neck, or are you just glad to see me!
In fact, I can’t believe I’m writing about it now. I used a collection of code words when I referred to it in my talks with Jill. My surgeon, Dr. Mac Molnar, said, “Mike, this is the biggest goiter I’ve ever seen! Probably weighed a couple of pounds. It was the left lobe that had grown down into your chest.”
I knew that I had begun to experience difficulties swallowing and it had become very difficult for me to speak loudly enough to be heard in a noisy room. After hearing how freakishly large this goiter was, I’m really excited for everything to be healed. I suspect that I’ll have a much better quality of life with it gone. It is a shame that they had to send it off to be biopsied. It would have made a great anchor for my fishing kayak.
We’re home from The Medical Center and will be able to sleep in our own bed tonight. All the staff at The Medical Center were fabulous. One hit, almost painless needle sticks and extremely attentive, kind care was delivered to us with smiles and cheerful attitudes. Everyone seemed to have a kick in their step.
Meanwhile, since I’ve now delivered my goiter and since I’ve written about it boldly and without fear, I am putting it behind me and looking forward to an easier life without the difficulties it caused. The past few weeks have been all about my pushing my fears to the front and talking openly about things that are embarrassing for me to talk about.
A few weeks ago we showed up at No Shame Theater with my djembe drum that Jill bought me for my birthday. At the end of that evening I brought shame on myself and my family. Turns out that for some there is shame at what is otherwise a “No Shame” zone. I reached back and started tickling Jill’s ankle with my fingers. I felt her jerk away and I went back in for another grope. Then a hand appeared on mine and snatched my hand out of the way. Yes, I was playing with a strange woman’s leg. Oh my God, our whole table erupted in laughter during a time when we really shouldn’t have been laughing. I’ll never be able to go there again.
The thyroidectomy went very well. I didn’t lose my voice, although I am very hoarse and will likely be for a few days. My calcium levels are spot on, which means Dr. Molnar did a good job preserving parathyroid tissue. I was mostly blissfully out of pain and got visits from two of my sons who live in town. I am 59 years old. My sweet parents were at the hospital at 5:30 a.m. yesterday. Ann and John Venable have never missed a single thing in my life. All those Little League games, football games, school plays, concerts, speeches — they have been right there. They are the sweetest parents that I can imagine anyone having. They have given me a good name, wonderful guidance, unconditional love and encouragement to reach for the stars. Jill and I both have great parents and we are so fortunate to have them close by and solidly in our lives.
I hid the goiter from them too. I was afraid they might shun me if they knew about it. There, now I’ve said the G word out loud. I never want utter that word again.