Dr Judith O’Malley-Ford
A brand new year is at our fingertips and with it comes a new opportunity to explore additional avenues regarding the issue of men’s health awareness. Highlighting the presence of prostate cancer and its effects on men and their families is an ongoing process. Sometimes, the effects of prostate cancer strike close to home, as in my case last year.
2014 began on a less than auspicious note. Gracie O’Malley-Ford, aged 15 years, died in late January. She breathed her last breath cradled in my arms. I felt the last beats of her heart, and she was gone after a relatively short illness. A deep sadness descended upon the family. The fact that Gracie was my silver standard poodle is irrelevant. She was and remains to be a treasured family member.
Some months later, I learnt that another significant person in my life had also died. I do not make a practice of reading the funeral notices. This time a senior statesman of the medical profession, a close friend and confident, and medical teacher had lost his battle with prostate cancer. He told me some years ago that he had prostate cancer, but he never discussed it further. I never heard him complain about any problems that might be associated with it, and I most likely forgot about it.
I first met Patrick in my early days as a General Practitioner. By then he had retired from full-time hospital surgical practice, but remained as a full-time practicing surgeon attached to the same general practice where I worked. His consulting room and minor operations room were adjacent to my own. He taught me a lot about the excision of skin cancer lesions, which he performed on a daily basis. He taught me how to remove them, and how to put the parts back together again.
On one occasion, I whispered: “We seem to have a deep end here,”… pointing to the rising level of clotting blood on the drapes under the patient’s head.
“Don’t worry about the blood,’ he said, “If it worries you, don’t attempt it in the first place. If you know what to do, it will be fixed.”
He performed carpal tunnel releases under local anaesthetic. One notable bloodless procedure he performed on the right hand of my long-term and current dentist. I too had much interest in the outcome of this operation. He operated on one hand while I held her other, as she admitted to being terrified of medical intervention, as much as I remain to be terrified of dental visits. One day when I complained of a sore tooth, Patrick offered to accompany me to the dentist for moral support. He was an exceptional person. My dentist and I maintain a great respect for each other, as well as for for Patrick’s skills.
At work, the day usually started for both of us at approximately 7 am or 7.30 am. More often than not Patrick arrived before me, and would already be operating on some skin lesion. I would often announce my arrival at the door of his minor operating room, and say: “Doctor, metabolic clinic starts in 10 minutes.” Translated from medical code, this meant, “Patrick, I’ve made your cup of tea and mine, and I’ll be waiting for you in the tea room.”
“Thank you Doctor,” he would reply, “tell them I’ll be there in a few minutes.” We had many chats over morning cups of tea.
Now he is gone, following prostate cancer secondaries in the bones, and in-home palliative care. The day after hearing of Patrick’s passing, I phoned his home and spoke to his wife. Together we cried and laughed and told stories about Patrick that he would have loved. Where there is deep sorrow, there is deep love. I still regret not being there for him in the last weeks of his illness, as he had been there for me in times of need. We all need the support of family and friends at times, particularly in times of medical crisis. There is no easy way to say goodbye to someone you love. Quality time with those people is always important. Leave no regrets, no words unsaid. Tell friends and family that you love them, even when you know that, in the near future, you will be saying goodbye forever. Forever is a long time.
Patrick and I enjoyed each other’s company. He made me laugh. He made the best scones, with strawberry jam and cream. He would hug me on arrival for morning tea at his house, despite the black shirt and the self-rising flour still on his hands, the tea towel slung over his shoulder. He and his wife Janet had a black poodle called Chloe. You never know when you will see the person you love for the last time. You have to make the most of the time you have together, no matter what.
Patrick, taught me much about medicine, about people, about life, about being a good friend, and about dying.