Rudolf Harmsen 

Defeat of the Evil Glioma

 Friday, 6 June 2009

            After months of worrying and weighing options decisions were made, and on Wednesday I was fully resigned to reality.  We were in Montreal and the next morning we were going to go to the Montreal Neurological Hospital, where Jeri was having her skull opened up and her oligodendroglioma removed, or at least ‘de-bulked’.  Then, five or six days later I am going to bring my Jeri home to continue our lives together.  I wondered what that joint life will be like.  Can we continue living at the farm?  Will we be able to live a normal life? What kind of relationship can I expect? Leif had decided to come to Montreal as well, for which I will be eternally thankful, his being here is making this ordeal a lot more bearable.  So, we got together and had a delightful dinner at the Pasta Tella, a small Italian eatery within walking distance of our hotel.  It was a delightful evening, as we kept our mind off the future, enjoying our ‘last supper’ before the battle with the evil Glioma.  Thursday was going to be very different.

            Yes, Thursday was very different – a day I would rather forget, but will instead, remember for the rest of my time.  We were up at 4:30, just as dawn was washing its pale light over the city.  I helped Jeri take her sterilizing full-body shower and then we started the sequence of the chemo-medication, dressing, packing, etc, which implied going over the pre-op instruction sheets and making a lot of small decisions such as which slippers to pack, where to put her glasses, and whether or not to bring the last of the not as yet taken medications. Then, just after six we took a taxi to the hospital where we were directed to a waiting room.  There we found a small gathering of nervous people, about half of them patients facing surgery and the other half relatives or friends functioning as ‘seconds’.  Some of them we had met on previous visits to the hospital in other waiting rooms prior to getting scans, blood work or whatever.  We soon developed a sense of being members of a group of threatened souls finding support in one another.

            One by one the patients were taken to a pre-op room.  Jeri and I ended up in a room with four curtained off beds, one of which was Jeri’s.  A nurse dressed her in a hospital gown and long white stockings.  Soon a string of doctors, specialty nurses, med techs and administrators came by with various instruments and charts to collect and enter the data, which made up the measure of my nervous and apprehensive Jeri.  Dr. Del Maestro came by with encouragement and two handsome, amiable and cheerful interns, who introduced themselves as members of the surgical team.  Their good cheer calmed Jeri down a lot, but when minutes later they came with a stretcher and wheeled her away, we both felt very anxious; one last hand squeeze, and she was gone.

            I was told that the earliest she would come out of surgery would be 2 p.m., so that sticking around for the morning was meaningless.  I walked down the Rue University and along Avenue Sherbrooke to the hotel, gathered my belongings, called Leif, who soon turned up, and checked out.  We had a good day together, but our thoughts were constantly on Jeri and what was happening to her.  We took my luggage to my new residence in McGill’s Bishop Mountain Hall – only two minutes from the hospital- where I will be staying for the duration of Jeri’s hospitalization.  Then we walked to Café Santropol on Rue St. Urban, Leif’s favorite place to have lunch in Montreal.  It was indeed a very congenial place, with a treed patio in a lush walled-in garden.  But we could not focus on our surroundings and relax, besides, my appetite somehow failed me.  So, we walked back to the hospital and parked ourselves in the Family Room.  Not surprisingly, some of the ‘seconds’, supporting their family members, were also there.  A warm sense of friendship made us talk about the medical problems of those of our group who were still under the knife and how this affected their families.  It was a heart-warming experience to see people who had serious problems in their own families show sincere empathy for others in the room who a day ago had been complete strangers.  But despite all this mutual support, the waiting was agony.

            Not until 4:30 did a nurse pop in with a message for Leif and me – all had gone well, but it would be at least another hour before Jeri would come out of surgery.  So we waited for another eon.  Every now and then, when someone on a stretcher was wheeled past the Family Room into the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) next door, everyone in the Family Room stretched their necks or stood up to see if the face of the patient on the stretcher was the one they were waiting for.  Finally, by 5:30, it was Jeri’s face under an enormous turban-like bandage surrounded by a sea of white sheets.  I just got a glimpse of her before the doors to the ICU shut behind her. First a nurse came to say that it would be another half hour before we could come in to see her, and then it was Del Maestro himself with a brief report – it had been a long and difficult operation, but all had gone well, he got at least 99% of the tumor, if not all.  There was no report as yet from the genetic pathology lab as to the exact type of tumor, but he was cautiously optimistic.

            Finally, we were invited into the ICU and found Jeri.  It was intensely sad to see her, all pale and puffy, eyes closed, and she repeated over and over in a very small voice: “pain – pain – pain”. But when we spoke to her, squeezing her hand gently, she switched to” Dolf – Dolf “and then “Leif – Leif”.  Even though the situation had not really changed, the re-establishment of one-on-one contact gave us a feeling of elated relief.  We did not stay long.  We walked out of the hospital and for the next five hours we walked through Montreal, talking and being father and son, still worrying about wife and mother, but also feeling that our family had survived, at least for now.  Somewhere along Avenue St. Laurent we sat at a small table on the sidewalk and ate something.  Sometime after midnight I fell asleep in my Bishop Mountain room.



  dolf@harmsen.net +1 613 544 3626