Monday, February 09, 2015

Cancer Diaries -- Intro


Josef Mengele was a physician and SS officer at Auschwitz whose name is most often linked to the term "angel of death." Slayer's classic Angel of Death is about Mengele but Mengele isn't the only "healer" with a claim to that title. All born decades after Mengele, there have been a scary number of doctors and nurses who can only be described as serial killers and who are, collectively, responsible for the murders of hundreds of their patients. In 1989, Richard Angelo, a nurse at Good Samaritan Hospital on Long Island, was sentenced to 50 years in prison. He poisoned at least 35 patients, 10 of whom died. Ten years ago an English doctor, Harold Shipman, hanged himself in Wakefield Prison in West Yorkshire, where he was serving a life sentence for murdering elderly patients, perhaps 250 of them. Other medical practitioners like Shipman, Angelo and Mengele who have been called "the angel of death" in recent years, were nurses Kristen Gilbert, Charles Cullen, Colin Norris, and Beverley Allitt.

You may have noticed that I've been away from DWT for two weeks. I've been in the hospital. Two weeks ago I was on a very strong medicine-- more about that later-- when I fainted, fell down, broke two ribs, punctured a lung and spent 7 hours trying to get to a phone so I could call 911. I wound up at a hospital very close to my house, Glendale Memorial. It's actually so close it's walking distance and the ambulance took me right there. Once I got there, one of my friends asked me why I didn't go to Cedars-Sinai, St John's or City of Hope. I could barely breathe, let alone put together an effective emergency health care strategy. I asked my friend if Glendale Memorial wasn't a top notch hospital. He said he didn't think so but that all he could remember about them was something about their own angel of death, Efren Saldivar, currently serving 6 consecutive lifetime sentences at Salinas Valley State Prison. Although Saldivar admitted killing 6 patients-- to lighten his case load-- he is thought to have murdered between 50 and 120 patients while working as a night shift respiratory therapist at Glendale Adventist, not Glendale Memorial. Understandably, staffers at Glendale Memorial are still very sensitive about the distinction.

"We had too much work," Saldivar said. "When I was only at my wits' end on the staffing, I'd look at the [patient] board. 'Who do we gotta get rid of? . . . OK, who's in bad shape here?' " ... [He] told police that he killed patients at two other hospitals where he moonlighted. He also said he "introduced" two other respiratory therapists to killing.

Over the next few weeks I plan to write about my personal health journey, even though I had decided not to when I was first diagnosed in October. From October until late January, when I stopped blogging and started residing at the hospital, I just blogged as though everything was "normal." And I did my best to keep everything as normal as I could-- including my two mile daily walks, my swims, my yoga, my almost ritual attacks against Steve Israel and other corrupt Democrats... whatever I could. But I was going through chemotherapy for a relatively rare form of cancer, mantle cell lymphoma, so, despite my intentions, nothing was going to stay "normal" for long.

I had heard of them, of course, but to be honest, I wasn't aware of what the dreaded chemo side effects are all about. I am now. I sometimes wonder if I would have made a different decision about my treatment if I had really known in advance. But all through October, November, December and most of January I did my best to mimic normalcy, despite the increasingly devastating cumulative effects of the chemo, which were making it increasingly difficult to do so. That culminated in the hard fall and the two weeks at Glendale Memorial.

I find it somewhat difficult to blog because I'm on the Rush Limbaugh hillbilly heroin drug, Oxycodone, to control the excruciating pain from the broken ribs. The Oxy fogs my mind and makes it difficult to focus, something the chemo was already doing to some extent. Tuesday, having been warned by a staffer I had bonded with that if I ever wanted to regain my health I had get get out of the hospital as soon as possible, I woke up at home for the first time in two weeks, which was wonderful. But by 6AM the Oxy had worn off and the pain was building noticeably. And my pharmacy wasn't open. Because Oxy is classified as a narcotic, it can't be ordered on the phone and you have to bring a hard prescription to the pharmacist. It was hours before I was able to do that and get a pill into me. Lesson learned. In fact, from the beginning-- not having chosen the diagnosis, obviously-- I decided to get whatever I could from the whole experience and treat it as though it were another chapter in Ram Das' Be Here Now. Starting with today's post I'm going to see if I can find anything among the experiences that might be in some way helpful to anyone else. I don't know how much strength I'll have to do this but I want to use it as a way to slip back into blogging while I still can. At a certain point I'll be getting transplants and living at City of Hope and I suspect there won't be much blogging then.

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At 7:36 AM, Anonymous Exit 135 said...

My Hematologist at Sloan-Kettering told me 90% of everything will happen between your ears and above your neck. That was 12 years ago.

My Internist told me when a doctor walks into your room, don't assume he is the smartest person in the room.

Two organ transplants later and much ugly stuff, both were right.

At 9:11 AM, Blogger Nicole Sandler said...

We miss you on my show each week. Please take good care and come back soon. I'm glad you're writing about it. Let's get some positive energy heading your way.

At 10:50 AM, Blogger ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Hang in there, Howie!

At 1:11 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Mr. Howie, I know you've probably got excellent health care and definitely some of the best friends in the world. No doubt there are a ton of friends all over the US who would move heaven and Earth to boost your spirits. I'm sure that you're not in the mood to "entertain" loads of people right now, but maybe someone could cook up a gourmet vegetarian casserole right now for Chez Klein?

You don't know me, but, because I've dabbled both in the alternative music and liberal political scenes these past 30 years, you're very well known to me. I've no doubt you have the courage and intellectual fortitude to face this monster.

At 8:52 PM, Blogger Daro said...

Don't you give up on me, dammit. You're on my blogroll!

At 2:13 AM, Blogger Jan said...


At 3:53 AM, Blogger Retired Patriot said...


It is good to hear your voice through words again. Stay strong and thank you for letting us see into what you are going through. Don't let the thrush get you! I hope your return to writing is a stimulant to your recovery and please keep up the Steve Israel bashing! Someone has to!


At 9:53 AM, Anonymous Bula said...


When I dragged myself into the emergency room they thought I was a goner...New hospital, great Doctor,a new liver,and a brain aneurism later..rough 5 years.. but I'm back and feeling and looking good.

You gotta believe!

At 10:36 PM, Anonymous SteveAudio Anderson said...

Howie, I had 1/3 of my left lung removed last May, obviously t was cancer. While not (obviously) a really healthy guy, I never smoked, and yet, there it was, growing in my lung.

Diagnoses & treatments are greatly improved these days, so I believe you'll be as successful at getting rid of yours as I was with mine!


At 4:25 PM, Blogger Susan S said...

You didn't tell me when we spoke last week! Take care, my friend. I expect to have lunch with you when I'm in L.A. in July.


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