PART IV of a continuing series
The family decision that I should seek in the United States treatment for my Saint Lucia diagnosed prostate problem was based largely on the fact that it was not available at home. But just about a week before we boarded our flight to Florida, something happened that gave me quite a chuckle and at the same time serious cause for pause.
Overseas doctors pride themselves on their confidentiality. So do native physicians who are similarly respectful of their patients’ privacy. But, as they say, shyte happens.
It can hardly be the world’s best kept secret that some well-positioned trusted people—including lawmakers and high-ranking police officers—make a pile of money selling confidential information to the media, especially in the UK and in the United States. And then there’s the relatively new menace of hacking that recognizes no limits and is almost unavoidable, as the sad story of Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World has famously proved.
Not that I’ve ever had much to hide. For most of my life I’ve operated in the glare of publicity, sought or not.
There is hardly anything about me not well known, whether truth or vicious invention. A long time ago I had decided to live by the principle that it’s much better to come out with the verifiable truth than leave it to especially imaginative, proudly ignorant busy-bodies to spread the latest word on one’s personal life.
Besides, I’ve long advocated that the actual leaders of our country—as well as those who would lead—keep the people informed of their health status, as is the common practice in the United States, the UK and, these days, even in Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela.
But what I heard on Claudius Francis’ Straight Up a week or so before I was scheduled to seek medical attention in the States took me totally off guard. I had just driven into the STAR’s parking lot on a working day when a bodybuilding fan from the old days called the show’s host, who was scheduled with some other gentlemen to participate in a men’s fashion show to benefit a cancer-related effort. He wanted to know why Rick Wayne had not been asked to model at the event. The previous year I had received just such an invitation that I could not accommodate, for forgettable reasons.
Claudius’ guest on the occasion satisfied the caller’s curiosity. “Oh,” she said, ever so sweetly, “we want Rick. But we’ll invite him the next time, when we’ll be doing something special for prostate cancer!”
“Oh, wonderful,” said the elated caller. “Rick’s a good model!”
I was far less concerned with the unmerited endorsement than with the young woman’s promise: was it mere coincidence that she had decided to save me for a special occasion closely related to a recent hospital check-up that I had taken for granted was confidential?
I turned off my car ignition and for several minutes sat behind the wheel mentally revisiting Tapion Hospital, where I’d experienced the worst several minutes of my life. Did my highly recommended specialist blab like some delirious Lady Gaga little monster about his “celebrity patient’s” condition? The mere idea was preposterous. I dismissed it.
Was his multi-tasking receptionist-secretary the culprit? Hmmmm . . . Then I thought about the local lab where my samples had been tested. It’s operator Stephen King has been a long-time friend. I know from personal experience as a journalist that you couldn’t pry patient information out of Dr. King, even with a bazooka at his head. That a fellow physician might be capable of such betrayal was precisely the sort of thing guaranteed to make Steve vomit all over his stethoscope. For my own peace of mind, I conveniently put the whole thing down to coincidence.
Of course, I am as a consequence a much wiser man. I know enough now to request my doctors employ for laboratory and other tests outside their immediate control a special code name. Any related leak would mean I had trusted someone other than my doctor with information and paid for my stupidity. Or, perish the thought, my doctor had!
I wish to repeat: I have every good reason to express faith in our doctors. When it comes to their particular branch of medicine, they are as proficient a bunch as any you’re likely to encounter in the United States and elsewhere. But Saint Lucian physicians operate under conditions trying to them and to their patients. I choose at this time not to go into them. I will say only say yet again that most of their problems are rooted in politics, hardly a surprise when clueless government ministers have consistently been placed in control of the island’s healthcare, with trained doctors and nurses at their ignorant mercy!
On the initial recommendation of my Saint Lucian specialist, I had chosen to undergo brachytherapy, unavailable locally. My American doctors took turns explaining the procedure. Moreover, they handed me on my first visit to their offices a bundle of literature that not only informed me in detail about brachytherapy but also about the personnel who would be “taking care of you.”
The way they spoke those quoted last four words did more to lift my depressed spirits than I can adequately explain here.
Already I was feeling for the first time there was a good chance I would come out of the experience in fine fettle. And you know what they say? Your state of mind can either be a savior or a killer. (Okay, if no one ever said that, then trust the word of someone who learned about its facticity the hardest way!)
Pointless unfairly comparing the ambience at the clinics I visited in the U.S. with anything available at home. In Florida they smelled of money. Big money. They smelled of business. Big business. As for the several forms that patients are required to fill out even before they have seen a doctor, they represent the clinic’s determined efforts at self-preservation. One false step and all concerned are likely to find themselves confronted by suits demanding damages in the multi-millions.
I did not talk to a single person at the clinics I visited who was not wearing a name tag and qualifications. I was assured by my surgeon that brachytherapy had close to a 96 percent success rate. He also supplied me with independent website information for my own investigation concerning himself and the procedure I was about to undergo. I suggest readers Google it for themselves. At one point, as if I were in the presence of the one who knows everything, I asked: “So I’m not going to die from this then?”
“Absolutely not!” my surgeon assured me. “It’s imminently curable.” Which is not quite as factual as it sounds. What the surgeon meant to convey to me was that he had every reason to know my condition was not deadly, that it could be controlled, that it had not spread to any vital organs. I have since learned there’s a whole library out there, with medical arguments about whether or not cancer of the prostate is in itself terminal—all of it must reading!
In the several days before my brachytherapy operation, I was required for various reasons to supply blood tests and to undergo several examinations. In the meantime there were the scores of e-mails from all over the world. They came from bodybuilding fans (bless ‘em for having never deserted me!), from folks who remembered when I lived in the UK, from almost every country you might name. Not for nothing had I been for several years the editor-in-chief of one of the world’s best-selling magazines. Consequently there was hardly a place on earth where my name doesn’t ring a bell, however faintly. Weider’s magazines were translated in several languages, including Russian and Arabic.
Of course, not a few of the letters were from readers of the STAR, online readers included. In keeping with my earlier cited tell-it-like-it-is policy, I had featured on the paper’s front page the story of what I was about to face.
To my great surprise, it inspired long e-mails even from countries I’d never heard of before, no exaggeration, and such a powerful tonic. Especially touching were those from people who had faced what lay ahead of me and who offered a million words of touching encouragement. Some of the most humbling writing came from pseudonymous guys who normally had nothing to say about me that was good. With my life on the line, however, they had easily put politics aside to wish me well.
But two particular e-mails, both from home—both equally surprising, if for different reasons—I will remember for as long as I live: one for the best of reasons, the other, alas, for the worst. Next time we’ll discuss them—and details of my five-days-a-week, three-month procedure.
Don’t miss the next installment next Saturday!