Thursday, February 26, 2009

The amphibian who went A.W.O.L.

We partied like it was 1972 on Tuesday in the Radiation Oncology Department at Kaiser.

I'm really digging my new role as drive-time DJ for the department. When I arrived for my 5 o'clock appointment on Tuesday, I handed the Rolling Stones' "Exile on Main Street" over to one of the radiation oncologists, along with a note asking to cue the album up on track 14.

He pumped up the volume more than usual, and we all enjoyed the Stones' ballad "Let it Loose," followed by the quartet of classics from Side 4 of the original album: "All Down the Line," "Stop Breaking Down," "Shine a Light" and "Soul Survivor." Then the CD started over, and the opening track "Rocks Off" closed out Tuesday's session.

While being zapped with radiation, I fantasized that I was laying on a couch at Nellcôte, a mansion in southern France rented by Stones guitarist Keith Richards when he and the Stones fled England to avoid harsh taxation. "Exile" was recorded at Nellcôte, and later mixed at Sunset Sound Studios, just a few miles west from where I'm being treated for cancer.

As I was buttoning up and getting ready to leave, the radiation oncologist said he had never heard "Exile" before, and asked me if he could take it home to burn a copy for himself.

Of course I said it was fine to burn a copy. Sorry, Mick and Keith.

In my excitement at spawning a new Stones fan, I forgot to deposit my stuffed toy frog inside my ThermaSplint mask, as I always do before leaving at the end of my session.

Kaiser's Radiation Oncology Department agreed to babysit my frog between my radiation sessions. They always have it waiting for me on the treatment bed when I arrive for my 5 o'clock appointment each day.

When I got to my car, I realized I didn't have my glasses, so I headed back to the Radiation Oncology Department. I found my glasses in the nurse's station with a note that said "Mr. Serchia's glasses" attached.

And then I headed home. My frog rode shotgun.

I arrived 25 minutes early for Wednesday's appointment, but it wasn't until 10 minutes after 5 that I finally heard my name.

When I made it back to the treatment room, the three radiation oncologists were huddled together.

They all looked solemn. One of them placed a hand on my shoulder and said, "Mr. Serchia, I'm afraid we have some bad news."

My eyes widened.

"We can't find your frog," he continued. "We looked everywhere but it hasn't turned up. We're so sorry."

I smiled, then raised my hand and showed them the frog, which I had been carrying wrapped inside my rolled-up newspaper.

The team of oncologists all released yelps of joy. I was pretty happy, too. After being told I needed a G-tube and a tracheotomy and then learning that I have cancer, I don't know that I was prepared to handle more "bad news."

At the end of Wednesday's session, the radiation oncologists made me promise to never take my frog home without letting them know.

"Please don't ever scare us like that again, Mr. Serchia," one of them begged.

I placed my frog inside my ThermaSplint mask, and one of the radiation oncologists locked it in a cabinet.

He'll come back home eventually. First, we have another 20 sessions of radiation to survive.


  1. That was the sweetest thing actually made me cry. After hearing so many stories about how cold and impersonal providers are, it's so nice to hear how sweet they can be too. I'm glad you're being taken care of properly.

  2. The staff at Kaiser really is awesome. I'd like to think that it's like that everywhere. Thanks for reading, Monica!

  3. I love this entry, Paul! I was so happy to read about sharing the wonders of Exile on Main Street with a new listener, but then, you story took an even more wondrous turn with the story of the frog. : )

  4. One part I forgot to include was my disappointment at realizing that my session was still not over when "Soul Survivor" faded out. I didn't want to lay there listening only to the racket made by the radiation machine. So I was ecstatic to hear that the CD was set on repeat, and hearing "Rocks Off" begin!