Paul Swanson, M.D., aka Wonder Doc, Our Pilot
PAUL SWANSON, MD, is Certified in Medical Oncology and Hematology by theAmerican Board of Internal Medicine. He completed his Fellowship in Medical Oncology and Hematology at The Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. He received his Medical Degree and served his Internship and Residency at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. He received his undergraduate degree from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md.
June 2011 — Treatment recommendation: 3 chemo-therapy treatments, 5 weeks’ radiation x 5 days/week, 3 more chemo-therapy treatments, 3 weeks apart. Yikes!
Thus began, during August, the saga of Air Cancer Flight 101 piloted by my Wonder Doc, Captain Paul Swanson, M.D., whose prowess at piloting I count as no less skilled than that of Chesley B. Sullenberger of Hudson-River-Landing fame.
Dr. Swanson is one of those rare Docs who truly understands what it is to partner with his patient, who never is too busy to answer questions and who is completely devoid of the arrogance sometimes found in otherwise competent and skilled medical practitioners.
His calm and caring demeanor managed to keep me aloft through 6 flights with no fear of swimming in the Hudson. Medical schools would do themselves and all patients a great service if he could be cloned!
Believe me, the poor Doc learned early-on that the KH is not only a Googler, but also a questioner of the First Order. While he may think to himself, in private, that I am possibly certifiable, he never once has yet demonstrated that in person 🙂
After chemo #2, I had the audacity to suggest that I might not necessarily go along with the radiation recommendation and asked if he had an alternative plan. He promptly agreed to do a CT scan after treatment #3, then consider an alternative based upon the results.
True to his word, the CT scan was ordered and based on the favorable results, we skipped (for the time being) the radiation and segued into chemo treatments 4 through 6. To say that I appreciated this partnership is an understatement. The sixth and final voyage just sailed in for a successful final landing on November 30.
Now, the KH is not here to suggest that chemo is a cakewalk. Anyone who tells you that having blood drawn and IV’s inserted, taking steroids powerful enough to rival those of a Tour de France doper and dealing with side effects is fun — is either a liar or a masochist or both. However! Given the tales of horror about chemo only some 10-15 years ago, I have few complaints 🙂
Aside from the apparent improvements in the whole process of chemo, my major lack of complaints is due to the corps of overworked, under-appreciated and, I’m certain, underpaid chemo Nurse Angels who served on each flight of Air Cancer 101.
These Ladies are a breed unto themselves. They deal, day in and day out, with very seriously ill patients, from very young to much older than even the KH. They are so proficient in needle sticks that they are called to other parts of the hospital complex, once in awhile, when someone has a particularly-difficult vein to stick! Whereas as recently as March of this year I was somewhat of a needle phobic, I can say that of about 18 or so sticks, only 1 was an “ouchie.” No lie!
In addition to administering the toxic chemicals, the crew of Nurse Angels must: provide pre-treatment patient education to everyone, ensure the cleanliness of the facility (no, I”m not kidding here), make sure to follow protocol by checking each patient’s name and birth date before administering any IV-treatment and keep up with the medical status of each and every patient from one moment to the next to recognize when someone is having an adverse reaction — there were 3 such emergencies just during the times that I was there to observe. As if all that isn’t enough, there is the obligatory charting to do on everyone every day.
The most remarkable thing, though, about these Nurse Angels, is their combination of compassion and good humor. Each one of them wears a smile 99.9% of the time, waits on you hand and foot (coffee? tea? a pillow? a warm blanket? a napkin? <the hospital still refuses to provide 1 stupid napkin in your lunch box>) as though you’re the only one there and just goes out of her way to demonstrate that she wants you to get better!
I would be remiss if I didn’t also make mention of Wonder Doc’s nursing and front-office staff and of the front-office staff at the Infusion Center who are as personable and proficient at their own jobs. They are akin to the check-in clerks at the airport whose role is not only to administer the paperwork and get you properly ticketed, but to also reassure those with fear of flying 🙂
In spite of the hundreds of patients they see on an ongoing basis, after only one or two visits they recognize you on sight, call you by name and go out of their way to be helpful. That’s an awfully nice touch!
Just prior to the last voyage of Air Cancer Flight 101, I was wondering how I would celebrate this milestone. I thought it would be an exhilarating experience to finally be done with chemo! But I had a reaction that surprised me: I actually had a few teary moments to the point of needing Kleenex when I realized it was coming to an end. Startled a couple of nurses while I was at it — sorry, Ladies!
Upon consideration, I realize that it was because I would be saying my goodbyes to most of the crew of one of the most remarkable and supportive groups of individuals I ever have had the privilege of meeting. I hate goodbyes and I will miss each and every one of them.
So, to the crew of Air Cancer Flight 101, here’s to you! A million thanks and may God bless you and keep you as you continue to go about your work from day to day in your own inimitable fashion! Wonder Doc won’t yet approve of any champagne for me, but as soon as he does I’ll lift a glass high 🙂
In about 2 weeks, there’ll be another CT scan and a bone scan that will see whether or not we schedule Air Cancer Flight 102 in the Radiation Suite. I’m hoping for good results because I’m sure Wonder Doc would rather add someone new to his dance card at this point.
News at 11. I promise!