Dr. Doom Takes a Seat
Dr. Doom* came into the room and sat on Pedro’s hospital bed. He sighed and held his hands together. He leaned over and fiddled with the IV lines and shook his head. Pedro didn’t look good.
“He doesn’t have any white blood cells,” Dr. Doom stated.
His news didn’t surprise me. After all, Pedro had just gone through a round of ‘salvage chemo’ (another term I never bothered to investigate too closely).
A plastic eye patch covered his right eye—which no longer closed due to the paralysis in his facial muscles caused by the lymphoma cells in his brain fluids. I watched the blood in his vessels flow through the skin in the sunken spots to the sides of his eyes.
“It’s a race between the yeast infection in his blood and his white blood cells,” Dr. Doom said. He looked at me for the first time.
I nodded and smiled. “What options do we have?” I chirped.
Dr. Doom looked a little startled. “There’s always a white-blood cell transplant,” he mused.
I nodded again. I probably looked like a bobble-head doll. “Where do we get the white blood cells?”
“We’d need a donor.”
“I’ll call his brother,” I assured him.
He shifted on the bed and looked at a small blister on Pedro’s arm. “Although,” he said, pausing for the longest time before continuing, “this looks like perhaps he has a fungal infection in his skin…”
I nodded, as if I actually understood the implication of his words.
An Excuse to Intervene
Dr. Doom hopped up from the bed and looked at me again. “I’ll send some interns in to biopsy that bump. If it’s fungal, we’ll have the excuse we need to give him a medicine I’m sure will work on the blood yeast infection as well.”
My head bobbled in affirmation. “Whatever it takes,” I assured him. I didn’t like the sound of a ‘race’—Dr. Doom never clarified what happened if the yeast won.
That afternoon, the room filled with interns and fellows and nurses. Though awake, Pedro really didn’t understand what was going on. Despite numbing the area, Pedro winced when they incised the blister-like bump. As the group filed out of the room, Pedro held his finger up in the air and exclaimed to no one in particular, “And don’t come back!”
Within hours, Dr. Doom had ordered a new course of medicine—one that seemed more terrible than the problem it purported to treat. Pedro’s entire body jumped, shook, trembled and convulsed after each dose.
I did my part, too. I contacted Pedro’s brother and I let everyone know how much Pedro needed prayers.
Poster Child for “Miracles Still Happen on the Cancer Ward”
The next morning, I stopped a doctor in the hallway and asked what I needed to do to help get the arrangements for a white-blood cell transplant underway.
“No one’s told you?” he asked.
“Told me what?”
“His white blood cell count is up today and he won’t need transplanted ones.” He shook his head and looked perplexed. “Normally, white blood cells don’t come back so quickly—especially in someone so gravely ill.”
“What a miracle,” I said (I may have even gushed).
“I believe you may be right,” the doctor said, shaking his head in bemusement as he went down the hall to check on another patient.
I hurried to Pedro’s room, eager to talk to Dr. Doom himself. After all, now that I knew who would win the race, I felt prepared to hear what the messenger had to say about the gravity of the situation and what would happen if those white blood cells hadn’t won.
*Not his real name. The nurses and other doctors named him that because he always predicted the worst and never held back his dire predictions when called upon to deliver his messages. I later found out that he hadn’t exactly waited for the biopsy results, but had put his career on the line by using a medication that he knew would work, even if it didn’t have FDA approval for the problem that Pedro had.
I will always be grateful to Dr. Doom for two things—for not delivering the message he normally delivered when patients circle the drain, and for putting his career on the line and trying something that he knew would work.