What is a Life Worth... / by Kendall R


Rothko
Originally uploaded by smenzel
What is one man’s life worth?

I was on a long run on a dreadfully cold day and this question came to me out of Nowhere – the Now and Here. Its context though is rather interesting.

Two years ago, I started working with a company that specialized in a particular surgical, non-invasive method to treat cancer - primarily prostate cancer. I learned the ropes, donning surgical scrubs and a face mask like a character out of any prime-time medical drama, spending 2-4 hours in the Operating Room amidst resident-surgeons, Chiefs, Nurses, and Anesthesiologist; learning to read ultrasound images of kidney’s and prostates, and how to direct surgeons where to place instruments to get the best kill ratio on cancer. I traveled across the West, driving and flying to various hospitals to do the same kind of thing in each. It was adventure. It was cool. It was hard. And there were quite a bit broken of promises on the company-side of things, balls-dropped (Not literally, though – industry pun;) and numerous frustrations, constantly renegotiating my contract and never seeing the follow through – so much so that the owners were gambling on how long I would put up with the abuses before I left.

A few months before I did, indeed, leave the company, I was at a friend’s birthday BBQ. Another friend’s husband heard that I worked in prostate cancer – always a humorous and touchy subject amongst men, and such a great ice-breaker at party functions. There's usually all kinds of cringe and wincing when I talked about what I did in the OR, and there is something to the blasé-ness of nurses and doctors thought that once you have seen one man’s junk in that particular intimacy, you’ve seen ‘em all. So, this friend’s husband pulled me aside and started asking me about the procedure and its success rate. See, his dad was just diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer is not nearly as ominous and violent as other forms of cancer, but it is still cancer and eventually kills. And there isn’t a son or daughter in the world that doesn’t set back on their heels when a parent is diagnosed with it. This man was no different. When you work in cancer it allows a certain level of instant candidacy with people that you hardly get elsewhere. So, he told me his dad’s diagnoses, his PSA levels, and then how frightened he was even though he knew it wasn’t highly progressive, nor dire. I told him his dad should look into getting treated with this particular procedure we did, and that there was actually a study going on here in Denver he might be a candidate for and there are 2-3 outstanding surgical urologist I recommend.

Over the following weeks I talked with his father, and with our guys and set him up with appointments. Also, during this time things came to head in the company and I eventually was done working there. A few weeks later, this father had his treatment and when I ran into the son months later, he said his dad was doing great, that they seemed to have killed the cancer and thank you.

So, back to that cold, long run and the question. The deeper question being asked, it seemed, was, “For all the wear and tear, the frustrations and losses and crap you put up with in that job, and your involvement so that one man could find out about and be treated, if it was only to be in that position at that time to have that conversation at that BBQ, and help that one man, that one father receive that particular treatment for cancer, Was it worth it for one man?”

We go about our days on this earth hoping to change the course of events that lead to a tragedy, to do or be involved with something that echoes in eternity long after we are again dust. Sure, I might be making more of things than they are. Sure, that father could have found out about that treatment elsewhere. Certainly there was more than one man effected by the work in which I was involved. And, sure, you can look at a Rothko or any other seemingly simple piece of art and say, “Oh, come on, I could do that!” But there is wisdom from my high school art teacher who always responded to such foolishness with, “yes, but you didn’t, did you?” Could it be the music we make that echoes into eternity has much to do with being in the right place and time, even when it seems we are surely lost and the clock is wrong?

Regardless of “what if’s” I still had to answer that question posed to me on that icey-cold run. And all things considered, because to not consider all things trivializes the response, yes… yes it was worth it. One man’s life is worth all kinds of heart-ache and confusion, long hours and frustrations, and so much more. "We live our way deeply in the present, only to discover that we are invaded by the eternal." H. Thurman