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Tom Philip’s Journal

Tom Philip’s Journal

Tom Philip has written a journal entitled "Don’t be a man: Do the right thing", which is an ongoing series about living with cancer from Tom’s perspective.


Each step we take is forever

by Tom Philip

Sometimes life’s little truisms give you a good swift kick in the butt.

I was enjoying coffee and conversation with a friend last week, and my recent surgical and hospital experiences seemed to be the central topic … again.

To be bluntly honest, I was getting a little tired of having to explain my medical condition regularly as a matter of course, despite the best intentions of those folks around me who asked, seriously, “How are you doing, anyway?” At times I’ve found myself giving rather short answers to the question, scanning my surroundings for a means of escape.

This was no less true during that friendly coffee break, particularly when my pal asked about the infection I’d picked up, in the hospital, after leaving the protective walls of the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Maybe I was irritated at having to answer that question one more time. Perhaps I was just plain tired at that point.

But just maybe I was still angry about some of the less competent nursing care I had received outside the ICU, and really wanted to vent some steam! I mean, how dare those nurses leave me sitting uncomfortably in a small side chair for more than an hour? What nerve they had, ignoring my needs for pain relief, or to simply assist me in getting back into bed?

I had major surgery, dammit! A cancerous lump, along with a good portion of my sigmoid colon had been hacked out of me, and I had a lengthy reddish scar in my abdomen, complete with giant staples, to prove it. And now, less than 24 hours after I’d been transferred to that cold, uncaring place known as a surgical ward, I had come down with a serious infection that left me nearly delirious with fever for two days!

“Why were some of those nurses so insensitive, and inattentive, or so damn unprofessional,” I asked my friend angrily. “Most of them were pretty good, but a few just didn’t seem to care that I was suffering!”

“You’re right, of course,” she said. “Some of us tend to forget that each step we take, each gesture we make is forever.”

And there is was. Wisdom so simple, so profound that it had snuck around to smack me in the backside while I ranted about my needs, ignoring the plain truth that every unkind, hurtful comment I had made about one or two nurses was as permanent as the surgical scar on my belly.

My wise, patient, listening friend is absolutely right. Everything we say, or do is forever. We can regret saying it, or doing it, even apologize for our actions; but we can’t take it back.

There are incompetent nurses, just as there are lousy writers, inept politicians, corrupt cops and irresponsible parents. Thankfully, the less than stellar members of each of life’s categories tend to be in the minority.

By complaining bitterly about the couple of hospital nurses who, in my opinion, deserved nothing less than the rack for the way they had treated me, the holy patient, I had marked them forever. And that’s neither right, nor fair.

Whatever the cause of it, I overcame my in-hospital infection, and was discharged several days later to heal at home. I couldn’t have done it without the attention, care and professionalism of some very wonderful nurses. I’m now counting my lucky stars that they represent the majority.

So, here and now, I thank them for what they did for me. And that’s forever.

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