Dennis Back Home

I guess it’s one of life’s little jokes, its persistent sense of irony.  Since I was declared no longer disabled by my insurance company in January, I have been struggling to put together a new sense of identity. I needed to begin seeing myself as more fully enabled.  Given my restrictions it was more difficult than I thought it would be to find a suitable job.  This despite or maybe because of my rich career history in nursing.

I did some seasonal work grading statewide elementary school tests, scoring the same seventh-grade essay question and then the same fifth-grade math question thousands of times over.  There was a kind of enlightened tedium to the work and, at the same time, a sort of nobility.  Many of my co-workers were between real jobs or otherwise struggling with the economy.

When I was called in for an interview for a part-time position at the university bone marrow transplant clinic, it seemed an ideal opportunity.  Less than five hours a day, evening hours to leave my days free to care for my granddaughters and mother, minimal exposure to infectious patients and the large masses of people that populate the medical campus during the day.  And most of all the chance to return to what I knew – both as a professional and as a patient – that hard-won experience.  This was a chance to share my knowledge and the lessons of my suffering.

The first week of general hospital and nursing orientation was full and exciting for me, especially after my seven-year sabbatical.  Two major health care system had recently completed their merger.  Each day we parked at one hospital, then rode the overhead monorail system to the new training center.  Continuing on the route takes you to the medical campus with its various hospitals, outpatient clinics, research centers, and schools of nursing, medicine, and dentistry.

Except for the stress of getting up early each day (like most normal people) and spending eight hours a day at something (again like normal people), it was an invigorating experience.  I was beginning to feel empowered again.  That I had to spend a few more hours each day getting the house and garden ready for the baby shower probably took its toll.  My immune system seems sensitive to stress.

By Saturday after that first week I had developed a strep infection.  This turned to scarlet fever and then to sepsis, followed by acute renal failure and hypokalemia.  I haven’t been sick enough to be hospitalized in over a year.  But this turned out to have been sicker than I have been in a long time.  I rarely end up in critical care.

Life turns so quickly.  One day I was feeling empowered, restored.  Then overnight I found myself debilitated and in danger.  Things stabilized quickly enough but it is a long slough.  My new manager was great but it was embarrassing to have to call in sick on my first day.

This is maybe two steps forward and only one back.  My new nursing scrubs are still packed in bags, sitting on the dresser.  Later today we will work on rescheduling my orientation at the clinic.  I did take the opportunity as I lay on carts and beds transitioning through the various levels of a modern health care system to reflect on what was happening to me, to observe how my new institution’s mission and values were interpreted and practiced from my own ceiling-focused vantage point.

We humans have always been able to find the good in the bad.  I will use this experience to further inform what I bring to my own practice of caring.  Along the way I will write about it here.  Thanks for all the good wishes.

Take care, Dennis


About Dennis Pyritz

Dennis W. Pyritz, RN, BA, BSN, has been a cancer nurse since 1987 and a cancer and bone marrow transplant survivor since 2004. In December 2001 he was diagnosed with t-cell prolymphocytic leukemia (T-PLL), a rare aggressive form of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Dennis was treated with the then new monoclonal antibody, alemtuzumab (Campath) as this disease has a median survival of 7.5 months. He achieved a 26 month remission but relapsed in February 2004. He was retreated with Campath and went into a second remission. In August 2004 he underwent an allogeneic peripheral blood stem cell transplant with his brother, Mark, as donor. Dennis has remained in remission since - a near miracle. Throughout his career as cancer nurse and patient, Dennis has had the opportunity to speal to both lay and professional groups. Dennis has spoken on cancer topics and survival issues across the country as well as in the United Kingdom, Norway, Austria, Portugal, Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, Trinidad, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Cyrpus, Israel, and India.

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