where the writers are
Interlude: January 29, 2013


Within seconds of me sitting down in the examination room,  Dr.Verma opened the door, blurted out, "The CAT scan was fine," and stepped inside. 

As we say in poker when an anticipated card appears on the flop: "No waiting."

I'm eight months out from treatment and have had four scans. Dr. Verma gave us a considerable fright after the first scan, which showed all sorts of gauzy looking “infiltrate” where the tumor once resided.

He had no way of telling what the fuzz was without a biopsy. His concern became my concern squared.  

So the pulmonologist knocked me out, stuck a wire down my nose and into my lung and fished out some of the material, which could have been cotton candy or cotton balls or the ghost of Cotton Mather for all I know, but it wasn't cancer.

And since scans 2 and 3 were clean, why should I have worried about No. 4?  Because lung cancer does not like to take no for an answer.

Dr. Verma performed a cool medical parlor trick on the computer. He showed me all the scans from left lung starting with a year ago. Unlike all the others, the latest scan is clear. A pretty picture indeed.

I'm almost a member of the Clean Lung Club. (We'll ignore the residual damage caused by 35 years of cigarettes that don't appear in the scans.)

Dr. Verma remarked that I seemed in better spirits that the last time we met.

"Clean CAT scans will do that for you," I said.

Of course, he did not see me earlier in the day, sitting at my desk, battling against the big bawl. I had things to worry about. The appointment with Dr. Verma was one. A couple of friends are in the midst of their own serious health issues. My one buddy in the Big Fight has to begin a chemo/radiation regiment after her clinical trial fizzled. 

I was working on a spread sheet with Radiohead blasting through my headphones. The somnolent sounds turned into emotional dodgeballs I could not avoid. Tears rolled down my face. I got up, grabbed my coat and rushed outside outside. Tough guy me did not want to be seen crying in the office.

Outside, I had not walked far when a man and a woman passed me. The man turned and asked abruptly: “Editor or writer?”

I stopped and looked at him. “Writer.”

I'm guessing he was in his late 30s. He was short and trim, with spheres of tight curls emerging from beneath his ballcap. I waited for him to tell me he needed $5 or $10 for gas.  

Instead, he blurted out that he has college degrees,  a strange opening line for a panhandler. He said he worked in as a mortgage broker until the housing bust and then found himself homeless. The streets surrounding the PD is a flyway for the men as they march to and from from the shelter. 

The woman with him appeared to be in her early 20s. She stood behind him, silently smoking a cigarette.

He spoke with great indignation about the horrors and injustices at the large homeless shelter a few blocks north of The Plain Dealer.  

He complained about how the shelter makes them wait for hours outside in the cold and rain; how clothing never reach the men who need them; and how the workers don't display the proper Christian attitude toward their brothers in need.

I don't know much about how the shelter operates. I do know that Cleveland has been praised for how it helps the homeless and has become a model for other cities.

He then said something that intrigued me. He said he has been writing down the stories of the men's lives. Stories. 

“If you really want to make a difference, tell their stories,” I said. “Go to the library, they have computers, set up a blog and tell their stories.”

“I am computer literate,” he said.

"You should think about it," I said. "Their stories could mean something."

The man nodded and I walked away, eager to begin a walk on an unseasonably warm January day. He headed in the opposite direction, the woman trailing behind him.

Sometimes stories are all we have.