Opinion: Medical crisis yields new respect, friends

November 5, 2012


I embarked on nightly adventures aboard the Morphine Express during a recent 12-day sojourn at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. I showed up at a New England farm for a Thanksgiving hunt, chasing pheasants in the snow on a horse-drawn sleigh. I visited a new town that had been built overnight next door to my home by an eccentric tycoon. I found myself in a gourmet food shop that was poaching a suspicious-looking delicacy and nearly cried to the nurse for help when I saw the proprietor eyeing my arms and legs with unseemly interest.

One morning I woke up in a friend’s basement. Summoned to the task by some oriental mystic, I’d spent the entire night painting the ceilings of his house in gold. Suddenly, I realized that the hospital staff was going to be furious when they noticed my absence. I called my wife to come fetch me. Looking around, I noticed a Lawrence Memorial poster on the wall. I thought it strange that my friends would be renting out their basement to the hospital. Little by little, familiar details came into focus. At last I recognized I was in my hospital room. How I got back there I do not know.

Morphine endowed me with extraordinary powers. I traveled back and forth in time. I passed through stone walls. I wrote numerous brilliant books, now sadly lost to posterity. I read “War and Peace” in a matter of minutes. Many wonders transpired while my family kept constant vigil, wondering if I was going to live or die.

Back story: Last July I woke up in the middle of the night with an excruciating pain in my stomach. I tried an over-the-counter nostrum, but by early morning the pain was so great that I was crawling around the room, begging for deliverance. Going to the hospital for a stomachache seemed wimpish, but at last I capitulated and off we raced with my wife at the wheel.

The trip to Lawrence seemed endless. Somewhere along the way I became aware of a third presence in the car. It was Death, just along for the ride, in case his services were needed. Curiously, the prospect of my demise didn’t feel me with alarm or sorrow. There was no flash of light revealing the meaning of life. Death seemed unremarkable, mundane.

After we arrived at the hospital, action was swift. A CAT scan revealed that my colon, like a rogue reptilian tail, had wrapped itself around my intestines and was cutting off their blood supply. Prospects weren’t good. One of the doctors later showed me a cellphone photo of my innards displayed like sausages in a butcher shop. He compared their appearance to charbroiled bratwursts. One small segment alone was a healthy pink. The conservative approach would have been to remove all the brats, which would have condemned me to a life of intravenous feeding, a life that “wouldn’t be worth living,” according to one opinion. One of the doctors said he didn’t expect to see me alive again.

But it turned out that this was just a dress rehearsal for the ultimate event. It was my good fortune that Chad Tate was on duty that morning. A doctor with an aptitude for thinking outside the box, he decided against radical surgery. He untangled my organs and gave them a chance to rejuvenate. I spent the night on the ventilator with my guts, to speak indelicately, also “outside the box,” wrapped in some kind of high tech towel. By the next morning, they’d recovered remarkably. I underwent three surgeries in four days, leaving me with my plumbing somewhat diminished.

You might suppose that an experience such as this would change me for the better, would make me wiser, more serene, more appreciative of the preciousness of life. I regret to say that, three months out, I’m my old self again, full of petty anxieties and insecurities, selfish and hedonistic desires. And tedious. Like the Ancient Mariner, I stoppeth one of three and pour out my story, imagining that the details are as fascinating to everyone as they are to me. Life once again seems something I’m entitled to, death something that happens to somebody else.

But one thing I have learned is a keener appreciation for the miracles of modern medicine. Above all, I’m in awe of Lawrence’s outstanding hospital. I’ve visited other hospitals where the staff was surly and unresponsive. The Lawrence Memorial nurses were competent, compassionate and tirelessly solicitous of my comfort. Other doctors ably assisted Dr. Tate in saving my life. I shall never forget what you people did for me.

“All patients are different,” Tate said. So is every doctor, I might add. I will be eternally grateful to him for his bold approach to my predicament. Keep that in mind when you contemplate the direction our health care seems headed, in which a remote bureaucratic committee may dictate “best practices.” Medicine is an art as well as a science. If my doctor had been required to submit to rigid regulatory procedures I might now be living a life “not worth living.”

It came out that medicine was Tate’s second career. He started out as a CPA. Once he’d earned that distinction, he decided that life in a cubicle working on tax returns was not for him.

“I love surgery,” he said. Speaking like a relief pitcher, he added, “I love to get a save.”

A few months later, I ran into a Kansas University professor who expressed displeasure with a column I’d written about Barack Obama. We navigated away from that treacherous topic to the subject of our health. By another coincidence, he’d recently undergone an ordeal similar to my own. We traded details about our sufferings and parted on friendly terms. Here was something to meditate on. He and I are probably diametrically opposed in ideology, but as members of the Fraternal Order of the Digestive Tract, we are joined by a sacred bond.

— George Gurley, a resident of rural Baldwin City, writes a regular column for the Journal-World.


Getaroom 5 years, 3 months ago

There he goes again, spinning a gut twisting story on medical care, thinly veiled in Faux Nuz speak. Well timed piece George, it is rather like the polling stations for early voting in Florida locking their doors and their excuse? They didn't have the capacity to handle the crowd, a story conservatives love to tell. Your story George, is one of FEAR not fact, of an election process desperate enough to actually rob voters of the Right to VOTE!

This is representative of nothing more than The Conservative Right's willingness to usurp the right of the Citizens to cast their votes for the President of the people, not The Corporation of The United States.

Once again George you write a fear based article and nothing more, but it's in keeping with the leanings of the Ownership of the LJW. Why else would they pay for such a heap of nonsense wrapped in journalistic blather.

jafs 5 years, 3 months ago

Well, I'm glad that a conservative guy can find some common ground with somebody who believes differently.

I do have to wonder about his general common sense and judgement, though, when he describes being in excruciating pain, and then comments that it would be "wimpish" to go to the hospital.

Looks like it's a very good thing he went, otherwise he might well be dead.

tomatogrower 5 years, 3 months ago

I sure hope his insurance was happy with the treatment. They sometimes refuse to pay for "out of the box" treatments. Of course, he is probably rich enough to afford what the insurance doesn't pay.

lucky_guy 5 years, 3 months ago

He is a victim again of Faux Nuz thinking. If the method Dr Tate used is effective then why wouldn't the " remote bureaucratic committee may dictate “best practices.” see that as best practice so that everyone could get the treatment. It is a little known occurence in modern medicine, that if something can be proven to work it doesn't stay "out of the box for long". The task of the " remote bureaucratic committee may dictate “best practices.” is really to take what is "in" the box and throw it out if it doesn't work and put things "in" the box that do. This is why the committee is set up. In George's own text he states why we need this "committee" so that the level of care can rise and improve, not stay stagnant. If there had been this "committee" then the other doctors who theatened George with a "life not work living" might have also tried Dr Tate's remedy.

Leslie Swearingen 5 years, 3 months ago

George, great column! I have been in that position only mine was a gall bladder that was so bad I needed emergency surgery when I finally made it to the hospital. I had no idea what was going on, but my daughter, who lived out of town at the time, came to visit, took one look at me and took me to the ER. The doctor there looked and said, "aha, gall bladder, I would know that look anywhere."

The medical people at LMH, doctors, nurses, techs, are wonderful. I want to give a big shout out to LMH.

Belinda Rehmer 5 years, 3 months ago

I've got to say, this is one of the most descriptive hospital stories I think I've ever read! Thank you for this interesting rendition of your intestinal emergency! Never thought I would ever hear myself say that...

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