The Working Waterfront

The joys and spills of medical care

Nurses bring the human connection

By Phil Crossman
Posted 2023-09-05
Last Modified 2023-09-06

What a ridiculous garment a hospital johnny is.

A few months ago, I was found to have cancer of the liver. I was sent to the Pen Bay Emergency Room to have tests done. At the end of a full day of echocardiograms, MRIs, and so forth, of wandering from one facility to another trying to keep my johnny secured, a lovely young woman came to tell me that, while she was sorry, two abnormal growths had been found on my liver.

I was so consumed with keeping my johnny fastened that her diagnosis barely registered.

I was reminded of a day, back on the island, at the Island Community Medical Service center. At the appointed time I found myself sitting on the table in examination room 1, when the door opened and in walked Dr. Barbie. She wore a becoming plain little white smock not unlike the johnny I was wearing myself, having been told to put it on for the examination.

It’s quite traumatic, like getting engaged at the beginning of the day and breaking up hours later.

Actually, little being the operative word, the smocks were identical and while hers very effectively and attractively contained that which it was intended to contain, mine struggled somewhat to achieve the same results.

Quite professionally, Barbie pulled into position the little swiveling doctor’s chair, an instrument of the trade with which she clearly hadn’t much experience. Having seated herself, she spun the chair around to face me and leaned back for a better vantage from which to consider her options but instead flipped over backwards, the chair crashing down on top of her.

I jumped off the table, my smock blowing in the current of the little fan on the windowsill like a semaphore flag caught in the rigging, and I flailed through the wreckage determined to free her before she succumbed to the crushing weight of all that debris.

I tripped, however, and fell on top of her which is where I was when the door opened and the nurse came in.

I digress.

I had my last treatment, several hours in “The Chair,” a week ago. For the last several months, each time I checked into the hospital for my scheduled treatment, the lovely nurse receptionist asked me to extend my arm toward her so she could secure a plastic bracelet, containing patient info, to my wrist.

Then, after several hours of treatment in The Chair and pleasant engagement with the nursing staff there, one of them then offers to snip it off with scissors.

It’s quite traumatic, like getting engaged at the beginning of the day and breaking up hours later. On the other hand, we all knew I’d be returning in two weeks, and we could try and get together again.

But this time was different. ’m having a scan at the end of June to see where things stand, and I expect it to reveal a full eradication in which case I’ll no longer be enjoying the leisurely companionship of the attentive and caring staff of nurses there at Pen Bay in the cancer care center.

One of these nurses, a young lady, quite fit, is a compulsive rock climber and each time she approaches my chair I feel I should challenge her to an arm-wrestling match. While I’m getting a little tired of the aftereffects of chemo, I’m certainly not tired of the nurses or doctors. They are all exceptionally capable, knowledgeable, and caring.

This has been an adventure, one that is ending, but I am a little melancholy at the prospect of not sharing those hours every few weeks with that inspiring and supportive group at the cancer care center.

Phil Crossman lives on Vinalhaven. He may be contacted at