Saturday, May 31, 2014

Breaking the Ice

Dear Readers,

We've been in a state of shock here at Marlinspike Hall, and therefore you've been subjected to reposts and horrid efforts at small fictions and large poetries.

It occurred to me in the middle of the night, last night's middle, perhaps, that a good many of you have come to be fond of one Grader Boob, a frequent figure in our Tête de Hergé lives, and one of my two esteemed Brother-Units.

He's the guy who has faithfully professed English language and literature at a major US university for... lo, these many years.  In the past five years or so, it's been a struggle, being an English Professor in the United States of America.  Suddenly, professors find themselves strung along from semester to semester, quarter to quarter, summer session to summer session, and no longer employed at a living wage.

And God forbid there should be that huge waste of remuneration in the form of benefits, such as health insurance.

So Grader Boob (the moniker of his choosing, not mine) has been ferrying his increasingly weary self between three universities, two of brick-and-mortar, one virtual, all paying slave wages, none providing benefits. Like health insurance.

The thing about Grader Boob and teaching is this:  You could somehow hire him on as a volunteer and he would invest the same amount of intense attention to his students and their work as he would were he the Dean of the Universe, paid bazillions, and provided with benefits.  Like health insurance.

There needs to be a revision to the stock phrase:  "Publish or perish."
I suggest:  "Teach and perish."

For several years, Brother-Unit Grader Boob has been off his game.  Not quite himself.  You will remember, perhaps, a previous post, Regula Benedicti: Ora et labora, which begins this way:

We've requested a Special Mass to be held at the Monastery-Down-The-Road on behalf of my brother Grader Boob (his preferred form of address). We do this every year on the first day of classes at his university.
Of course, we haven't always had the luck to live next door to a Catholic Prayer Factory. Back in the States, we sometimes had to improvise. The things we had to do to get the Jehovah's Witnesses on board! Only for Grader Boob would I deny Plato and my firm belief that I will suffer the fires of Hell. 
On the other hand, it was hard to get the Presbyterians to stop hosting Prayer Vigils for Beleaguered Educators every hour, on the hour -- once they get stuff out of committee, Presbyterians are a fearsome force.
One year we were kind of in a religious snit, and went with the Council for Secular Humanism. Okay, so they kicked us out when I began screaming "What do you mean there’s no such thing as spirit? And Grader Boob, he's undesigned, unintended, and responsible for [himself]? Since when? I don't think so! And, furthermore: Harrumph." 
Since we've been in occupancy at The Manor, and since Marlinspike Hall borders the monastery, Fred and I have been treated to catechisms and concordances, hagiography and the Regula Benedicti, The Rule of Saint Benedict.
I confess that we failed to cover our boy with the requisite spiritual energies last year.  And then, of course, there was all that working three jobs, and having no benefits.  Like health insurance.

Okay, I can do this.

Grader Boob seems to be riddled with what he calls "spots" and "lumps," and which his brand spanking new oncologist calls cancer. His kidneys, his lungs, his bones, his "soft tissue," and likely, his intestines. The primary cancer is renal, the rest are what the cool cancer crowd calls "mets." It's a highly metastasized case o' cancer.

He finally has health insurance, courtesy of the ACA and the MarketPlace.  I'd make the easy joke about "better late than never," but hope you'll excuse my inability.

He's in severe pain and it's not yet being addressed adequately.  I am sure that's coming, but here we are in the midst of another weekend, and he's suffering.  I hate weekends, knowing what it is like to hurt, be afraid, and feel cut off from the 9-5 work-a-day world of Monday through Friday.  I hate 3 am.  I hate knowing that Grader Boob now knows what I know.

We were anticipating an all out attack.  A war.  I was thinking... tee-shirts ("Team Grader Boob Kicks Cancer's Ass!"), organic veggies galore, a Facebook page, and trips to Disneyland.  We'd all shave our heads in solidarity, do the St. Baldrick's thing.  You know, while he suffered through chemo, surgery, and whatever.

Instead, his musculoskeletal oncologist, one of the best around, offered some radiation to his shoulder, site of a large tumor involving bone and soft tissue, and in such an area rich in nerves and slightly important blood vessels.  That's it.

We are sure there will be more.  Surely some surgery.  Surely a bit of this, a soupçon of that.

But there's a heaviness that grows heavier day by day as we absorb the monolithic offering.  As Grader Boob struggles to catch his breath, rejoices in finally being allowed to take a shower, and learns the bitter lessons of traversing the health care system while feeling horrible.

I violated his wishes -- not stated, but known, nonetheless -- and rallied the Friends of Grader Boob, scattered hither and yon.  The greatest mover-and-shaker among this Illustrious Group, the guy the Boob trusts the most, had to hop a plane to Madrid for three weeks the day after contact was made, and the news bomb dropped upon him.  Therefore, the Grader Boob has held folks at bay with the mantra:  "You may invade my space as soon as Madrid Guy gets back in town, not before."

Grader Boob can drive you crazy.

His needs are great;  his willingness to accept help steeped in reinforced concrete.  We're going to wear him down.  I mean how long can a guy with painful cancers, little pain management, and even less sleep withstand the constancy of such a Wall of Love, chip-chip-chipping away at his intransigence?

Seriously, Dearest Readers, how long?

I am going.  Several others are making the trek.  I will need a while to get there... but nothing can keep me from my beloved Grader Boob.

And I will carry with me your love... for this lovely, gentle, witty, compassionate brother.

I look back at "the good old days," like 30 March 2014, when GB ended a cheery email this way:
"Not much else a-going on. Still having trouble getting fired up to teach, so I should just appreciate that I've got classes at all!"

© 2013 L. Ryan


  1. Oh no, I am so very sorry.
    If they are not pursuing a lot of curative treatment, and also not adequately controlling his pain, perhaps ask for the palliative care team. He can always change his mind, pursue whatever treatment he wants. But the palliative care folks tend to be better at pain management.
    I hope something gets better for him.

  2. MD Anderson maybe? Sounds like renal cancer has a poor response to chemo/radiation, but I have read of some people having success in clinical trials.


The Haddock Corporation's newest dictate: Anonymous comments are no longer allowed. It is easy enough to register and just takes a moment. We look forward to hearing from you non-bots and non-spammers!