Sunday, October 23, 2011

He left us behind, but he will never leave us.

Good friendships can begin in the most curious of ways. For Scott and I, it started by insulting each other, and lasted 30 years. It ended this past September 1st, when he died of cancer in a hospital in Buffalo. He was my best friend, plain and simple.

Scott and I met while attending college at the State University of New York at Buffalo. This was the 1980's, the era of big hair, Prince, Madonna, MTV, and the Macintosh computer, of which its descendant, the MacBook Pro, I am now typing this on. Scott and I worked on the campus volunteer ambulance corps, he being new at the time, and me being a seasoned five year EMS veteran. He had a great sense of humor, and could be a real ball-breaker at times, hence our less than auspicious beginning. He was also honest and to the point, was also from the Bronx, though he grew up on the west side, and I on the east side. I used to tease, as the Riverdale section of the Bronx was known as much for its being in the hillier part of the borough as much as its sense of snobbery. People there, when they addressed a letter, would never address it "Bronx, NY." They always addressed it, "Riverdale, NY."

Scott wasn't one of those types. Scott grew up in a middle class family, with his brother and mother. Scott's father died only about two years prior, and was as devastating to him as my own father's death would be about six years after we met. We shared a kinship in many ways, and after the first insults were exchanged, a deep and abiding friendship developed. I helped certify Scott as a crew chief. He had the right stuff, and it was obvious from the beginning, as he breezed his way through EMT training.

We formed the nucleus of a group of friends from that volunteer ambulance corps, but Scott always seemed to be its center, the one person everyone always gravitated towards. He and I spent many a night up late talking together. We spent a fair number of times drunk together. We were both handpicked to ride the ambulance the night the new university president decided to ride along with one of our crews to see what we were all about. An overly inebriated student wound up throwing up on the president that night during our attempts to restrain her on the stretcher. Both Scott and I looked at each other and were of one mind. We were never so happy as to see a drunk as we were this night. It gave the president just a glimpse of what we were up against, and from that point on, our ambulance corps got whatever we wanted. Scott and I would often look back at that moment and laugh, thinking that might have been our finest hour in EMS.

When my dad had a heart attack in 1984, he was there for me, working to help get me home a week later as my dad underwent cardiac bypass surgery. He was there again four years later, when my dad, who contracted HIV in a blood transfusion from that surgery, would succumb to AIDS.

I graduated in 1985, but Scott was still wandering in the wilderness, not really sure what he was wanting to do. I went home to NYC and began working full-time as a paramedic. Scott stayed in Buffalo, and eventually got his nursing degree. He got married, I was in his wedding party. I got married, he was in mine. We were both married by the same rabbi, in the same banquet hall, under the same gazebo. We would try to get together often, as my wife was from Buffalo, and we would visit several times a year. Sometimes, I would go to his place, sometimes, the other way around. He and his wife had a son, but there was trouble within the marriage that he couldn't even talk about with me.

His first marriage failed, he went out on his own. It wasn't until after he was separated that he began to open up to me, and things fell into place about certain things. This was Scott. He could be very stoic, stubborn, and not come forward with things, even to his closest friends. It would eventually, I believe, contribute to his death.

Years passed. Over time, Scott met someone else and married again. My wife and I moved to Rochester. I would talk to him often about the issues my wife and I were having, and the things I was trying to come to terms with. What happened about two and a half years ago would completely change his life forever. His scond wife announced one day that she was leaving him, for no apparent reason. No marriage counseling, no real explanation other than she wasn't in love with him anymore. One week after that announcement, Scott developed, Guillan-Barre Syndrome. It might have killed him, if it weren't for the fact that he was built like an ox. It did however, leave him unable to walk, and with extreme muscle weakness in both arms. The guy that I knew that could take you out with one punch if he so choose to, was left barely able to lift a pen.

Over the next year the condition resolved itself, and though he still retained some muscle weakness he was lucky in that it didn't kill him. His now ex-wife had originally stayed on for a time to help him, but eventually just left him in the lurch. What would happen next however, would not have as equally a lucky ending.

Around April of this year, he began having trouble walking with his right leg. It began swelling, with the swelling eventually involving his left leg as well. He didn't tell anyone about it. Not me. not anyone in his family, save for his son. Not his mother, who was living in Florida. It would become progressively worse, to the point that by the time his son graduated high school in June, there was no ignoring it by others. Still, he didn't do anything about it. His denial was killing him, as it would turn out.

In late July, I received a frantic phone call from him. He was bedridden, practically. His 90-plus year-old grandmother was in hospice in Florida, dying, and his being a nurse made everyone in the family turn to him for advice as to what to do. There was one problem: no one, aside from his son, had any idea how ill he was becoming. He never said anything. He had however, reached his breaking point, mentally. When I answered the phone, and heard the panic in his voice, I couldn't believe this was the same friend that just one year prior, helped me through my separation from my wife. He was distraught, and didn't know what to do. I calmed him down, and he finally opened up to me about what was going on.

I was dumbstruck. I drove to Buffalo and helped get him to an ultrasound appointment, as he finally went to get help a little while prior to calling me. Part of the problem was that he was being misdiagnosed (No need to go into the particulars). His primary doc was suspecting a blood clot in his leg, related to his long term diabetes. It would turn out to be anything but that. He finally had to tell his mother what was going on, as his grandmother died, the funeral was going to be in NY and there was no way he could get there. To say his mother was beside herself would be an understatement. Here she was, in the process of arranging a funeral for her mother, and her son was severely ill.

I would go back to Buffalo again a few more times, before in early August, he collapsed at home. He had enough consciousness left in him at the time to call 9-1-1, and they rushed him to the hospital in septic shock. It would turn out that it was a severe infection, e. coli, that was destroying his legs, most especially the right one.

He went straight into ICU, was put on a ventilator, as he could barely breathe. His mother immediately flew in from Florida, and I picked her up at the airport. I had not seen her in some time, and while it wasn't the best of circumstances, she was nonetheless, happy to see me. We drove to the hospital, and I was shocked to see the condition he was in. He was being kept heavily sedated, and they were still trying to get a handle on precisely why he was in septic shock. He was taken in for a CT scan, and that's when they found it: A tumor on his adrenal gland. A big one.

He went into surgery for his right leg, as it looked as though it might needed to have been amputated. It didn't but there was a lot of damage. Finally, once he was stable enough, they were able to biopsy the tumor. It was malignant, and had spread to his liver and bone. A pheochromocytoma. Extremely rare, and 90% of the time, benign. Scott somehow fell into the 10% that becomes malignant. If he had spoken up sooner, when his leg issues started, it might have been caught earlier, and he might have had a chance. As it was, as much as we hoped, he had none, and I knew it. All my instincts from all my years as a paramedic knew it.

He went down fighting to his last breath. It took almost a month. He fought and fought. Finally, two days beforehand, I got a call from his son that his body was starting to break down. I called off of work and ran out to Buffalo. I joined his mother in a talk with the main doctor that was caring for him. Myself and another mutual friend picked up his son, now in college, and drove him back to the hospital.

It was time to say good-bye.

I sat beside his bed, and gripped his hand. I told him he was,and always would be my best friend. I told him to let go. Even as much as I wanted him to fight, I knew it was time for him to let go. He needed permission. A nurse came into the room, and I told her the story about the practical joke he played on me while we were in college, involving a lot of alcohol, and a Resuci-Annie manikin. We laughed, I laughed through my tears, and somehow, I knew Scott was laughing too. He took a great deal of pleasure over the years in that joke he played on me. Of course, the time I told him about the joke I helped play on a paramedic involving a horseshoe crab, he said I finally outdid him.

I left the room, and joined the rest of the family. a little less than two days later, on September 1st, at 11:25 am, Scott gave up fighting. I got a text message from his son, soon followed by a call from his mother. He died on the same day that his father died. He died on the same day one year later that I left my home, and marriage. He left us behind, but I will never leave him far from me.

The next day, there was a memorial service in Buffalo for his friends and co-workers, as his body was being shipped down to NYC for the funeral. He was going to be buried in cemetery next to the one where my dad is buried. The memorial was gathering of some of us that attended college with him, family, and co-workers. Scott had become the head of nursing at a head trauma rehabilitation center in Buffalo. I emceed the event, brought a bottle of single malt whiskey with me, drank a toast to him and sang "The Parting Gass" for him. Others spoke, including his son. The biggest surprise came when his boss came up to offer his thoughts.

He announced to everyone that the building where Scott worked was to be renamed in his honor. It was Scott, you see, that spearheaded the process to get them certified as a head trauma rehab center. It really was Scott's baby, and he saw it through and made it happen. I couldn't think of a better, and everlasting memorial.

I left the memorial drunk, not on alcohol, but with the memories and feelings I had. I was hurting, not only for my own loss, but for his family as well. I was also angry at him. I couldn't wrap my brain around the fact that he didn't seek out help sooner. Even when he told me what was going on, I wanted to yell at him, but couldn't. All I could do was to stay calm and figure out what to do to give him a hand.

My last memory of him will be the best though. about ten days or so before he collapsed, I went over to his place, and brought a movie with me, "Snatch." He never saw it, which I was a little surprised at, as it contained two things he liked: comedy and guns. We watched it with his son, and as in pain as he was, he still laughed at a lot of it. That is the memory I will take away with me. He was the one usually making me laugh. I was glad I could return the favor.

Good-bye my best friend.


VioletSky said...

I am so sorry for your loss. And I understand the conflicting emotions. This must have been difficult to write. but it is good to see you writing again.

Mr. Nighttime said...

Thanks VS. I'm just starting to get it together again.

Shrinky said...

What a beautiful and moving tribute to your deeply loved friend. I can tell from the depth of your writing how heart-wrenchingly painful his loss is to you (hugs). His sounds to have been a life lived well, I am so sorry he was taken away much too soon, but glad for the precious times you both shared as the best of friends.

Peter in Belgium said...

Your account profoundly touched me.

Anonymous said...

I've been trying to read it all but for the past two days I couldn't go past your sentence "It was time to say good-bye".. That was difficult to read as it brought back similar experiences.

What a wonderful tribute to a close friend whom you shared a lot with throughout the years.
It is good in a way that you were able to see him days before his passing otherwise it might have been difficult for you to let go and have closure.. This is my biggest fear, to lose someone dear without saying goodbye..
I am again sorry for your loss..


Mr. Nighttime said...

Thanks Noura. It's been a tough time, but I'm finally picking myself up off the ground.

Guyana-Gyal said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your friend, Mr. N.

Your friend will live on in many positive ways...thanks to this beautifully written tribute and to the building renamed in his honour; also, in his son.

I hope you find healing. You've had so much to bear recently.

Mr. Nighttime said...

GG - Thank you for your kind words.

Retiredandcrazy said...

Oh MrN I feel so sad that you lost such a good friend. To me this underscores the need for us to appreciate what we have while we still have it.