The early afternoon sun poured through the large window of my Fairview Southdale Hospital room, cut by the blinds into strips of gold. It was May 11.
I was sitting in bed with all sorts of wires attached to my chest and stomach, and various tubes affixed to the veins on both arms, reading the Star Tribune, which a nurse had thoughtfully provided.
A tall figure in a starched white medical smock glided noiselessly into my peripheral vision. “Mr. Bonafield?”
“Good afternoon, I am Dr. …” I had never seen her before, didn’t recognize the name. But she carried herself in a manner that exuded authority. She had the physician’s usual accoutrements — stethoscope, pens in a pocket on which a name was neatly embroidered, clipboard — and a pleasant, if serious, demeanor.
“I’m afraid I have some bad news for you, sir. You have cancer.”
The rest of the conversation, aside from some odds and ends, is lost to memory, the victim no doubt of the previous day’s morphine drip and subsequent regular doses of Percocet.
The doctor was tall and stately and remarkably articulate in the sense that what followed wasn’t a recitation in medical-speak, but a candid assessment in laymen’s language of what the batteries of seemingly endless tests had revealed.
The only other person in the room, aside from an 88-year-old anesthetized gentleman sequestered behind a partitioning curtain, was a young nurse whose countenance changed instantly from sunny to that of someone who suddenly comes across a car wreck.
“I’m afraid there is something else,” the doctor said. “You have developed another aneurysm, this one in the abdomen” — I already had one that was discovered in October on the ascending aorta — “that is dangerously large. It will have to be dealt with immediately.”
I knew something was up, I just hadn’t expected it to be so, well, ominous.
Two days before, my wife, Linda, and I had gone to Red Wing for a day trip. While Linda puttered around an antiques store, I thumbed through some old books. There was a nagging pain in my right knee, but I didn’t think much of it. By the time we got home that evening, it was getting bad, with intensifying pain extending from the knee all the way up my right leg to my hip.
By 10 p.m., I was on the floor of the bedroom on the verge of vomiting from pain that was so intense, so unrelenting, that it took all the strength I had to keep from screaming. In the relative calm of a brief respite between waves of pain, it crossed my mind that only one thing could cause agony like this, but I was too sick to dwell on that.
Linda drove me to Fairview Ridges Hospital in Burnsville, where I was asked to describe the pain on a scale of one to 10. “Twenty-six!” I replied through gritted teeth.
Shot up with a painkiller that didn’t do the job and then switched to more powerful doses of something else, I lost my sense of time and vaguely recall being wheeled around to various rooms for different tests. Finally, at 5:30 Sunday morning, I was loaded into an ambulance and shipped to Southdale.
And so began the latest chapter in my life. I’ve opened it to you because I want you to know why I’ve been off the firing line here at MinnPost for two weeks. And if my postings are a bit irregular for a while, I hope you’ll understand and cut me some slack.
The good news is that the cancer, called “arena cell carcinoma,” is apparently neither aggressive nor life-threatening. It sits atop my left kidney like a jellyfish. I will lose that kidney. The cancer is the source of what the doctors call “referred pain,” and is also the cause of a fairly constant feeling of low-grade nausea. I’ll be glad when that’s over.
The abdominal aneurysm, however, is a potential killer. It will be attended to first. The fact that I have two of these things in me is a matter of great concern to the physicians. I have appointments with my cardiologist, who must make certain the aneurysm on my ascending aorta is stable, and with my regular physician, for a complete physical prior to the first surgery.
It’s a mess, but my spirits are good, and I am confident everything will be fine. The first operation is scheduled for June 16, followed by a 10-day recovery period. Then it’s on to the surgery to remove the cancerous kidney. I just have to keep my blood pressure under control, so it’s adieu for the time being to addressing the likes of the lamentable Nancy Pelosi and the spitting contest between Dick Cheney and Colin Powell.
But I’ll be back, to quote another notable pol. Count on it.