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Cancer books a summer gig in Darien
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On July 19, I had a dentist appointment to get my teeth cleaned. I go every three months because my gums are bad from childhood neglect, plus I like going to see Erica, my hygienist. She laughs at all of my jokes. Also, I like having clean and shiny teeth, unlike some of my Flounder Creek brethren who prefer a dull shade of green.
I sat down in the chair, got bibbed up and assumed the decline position. Erica did the little water squirt and turned on the cavitron. “Open wide,” she said, as always. After the initial probe, Erica surprised me with an, “Oooh, yuck!”
“What kind of bedside manner is that?” I mumbled. “My teeth aren’t that dirty. I just had them cleaned three months ago, plus I’ve been flossing with those nifty little pick/floss thingies you gave me the last time I was here.”
“No,” Erica said, “your teeth look fine, but there’s something going on back there in your throat. I need the dentist to come in here and look at this.”
“What is it?” I asked. Erica said it looked like I had a piece of cauliflower on my tonsil. She squirted some water on it and it didn’t move. She called Dr. Jack Melton to come have a look.
Dr. Melton has been my dentist since he got out of dental school and began practicing in Darien. That was about 30 years ago and I go to him because he doesn’t hurt me. I’m a big weenie when it comes to mouth pain. Jack took one look and said to Erica, “Hand me that chisel.”
Well, by now I’m starting to have a little anxiety attack. Dr. Jack barely touched the cauliflower and I heard Erica say, “Now you’ve made it bleed.” Jack rolled his eyes and said, “You’re not supposed to let the patient hear you say things like that.”  
So, I’m starting to freak out just a little bit. Jack told me that he was going to let Erica finish cleaning my teeth, but as soon as she was finished, he wanted me to go to see Dr. Snow and let him have a look at my “problem.”
I’ve been going to Dr. James Snow since he got out of medical school. I trust this man with everything in life because he has seen me naked more than once and never laughed out loud. Plus, he brought me back from being sick as a dog to being fit as a fiddle more times than I can remember. He took one look and said, “Oooh, yuck!” Which I now realize is a medical term for what in the world is that?
Dr. Snow gave me some antibiotics and referred me to yet another doctor. If anybody knows what that is, Dr. Snow said, this guy will.
Two days later, I’m in Dr. David Suddath’s office. Dr. Suddath is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, but he never gets my sense of humor because he never laughs at my jokes like Erica does. He took one look at my throat and said, “Oohtius yuckieus,” which is a Latin medical term that only doctors know.
He said to me, “I want you to go see an ear, nose, and throat specialist, but there’s only one in Brunswick, Dr. Sherman Stevenson, but he’s booked up until the end of September and this won’t wait … maybe if we looked in Savannah or Jacksonville or maybe Denver.”
By now, I have sweat beads the size of muscadine grapes running down my face. I was dejected and starting to get really nervous.
I went home not knowing what I was going to do. I called my man Maseo Blu, who just happened to be home on parole. I told him of my predicament and he said “Sherman Stevenson? I know him. I got his cell phone number in my pocket. He’s a piano player and I was going to call him about a gig. You know, he’s a doctor when he’s not playing the keyboards.”
Five minutes later, Maceo called me back and told me to be at Dr. Stevenson’s office at 1:30 p.m. and he would squeeze me in.
I walked into the doctor’s office, sat down and opened wide. He said, “That’s got to come out right now. Be at the hospital Monday morning at 7 a.m.”
I’ve had these tonsils for 66 years and they’ve always been hunky and dory, and now they were going to be snatched out of my goozel by a piano player with a pair of rusty vice-grip pliers. But he was the only piano player in town who knew how to do this so I had to go for it because Erica said, “Oooh, yuck.” Jeeeeeez.
After my surgery, things got real serious when Dr. Stevenson approached the gurney and said, “We took your tonsils out along with an olive-sized tumor that was malignant. “Is that as bad as it sounds?” I asked.
“It means you have throat cancer, Mr. Waters.”
I knew it was bad because it was the first time anyone had called me Mr. Waters. I asked the doctor if I would be able to sing again and he said, “No better than you ever could.”
Now for the rest of my summer, I have to go through radiation and chemotherapy and a real bad sore throat. The PET scan revealed that there was no other sign of the cancer and if I play by the rules, there’s a real good chance I can beat this thing. Oh sure, I’ll be eating through a feeding tube and probably be getting skinnier than I already am, but with the good Lord’s help, a lot of caring friends and family and a team of real good doctors and piano players, I’ll be just as good as ever by this time next year.
You never know, from one day to the next, what lies around the corner or at your next dental appointment. So kiss your babies every chance you get and be ready for a curveball, even if the pitcher has been throwing fastballs all day. And always remember what my old grandpappy Bob Waters said: “If you were born to drown, you won’t hang.”
Oh, and by the way, thanks, Erica!

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