To Life

From the top of his head, crowned with strands of light brown hair, down to his off- white running shoes, George Kaufman’s image is like a sepia photo- graph. His eyes are brown, framed in pale rimmed glases; his complexion is fair with a few faded freckles on his nose; his sport shirt and sweat suit are the color of egg shells — a monochromatic image. George speaks with the soft mid-western voice of Jimmy Stewart. Yet his is not the voice of a country boy — his is a strong confident voice. There’s something special about George. Is it an aura? Behind translucent glasses, his eyes sparkle with humor and delight. George Kaufman is no ordinary person.

Journal of George Kaufman

February 11, 1982

I am 52 years old, middle-aged, but I guess I never thought much about death. After working at G.E.for 25 years, supervising and teaching electrical engineers, I, my wife Roberta, and our three children moved from Virginia to Connecticut where I am now a manager of a small company. Today, my best friend in the world died of cancer. We had worked together in Virginia for G.E. until I left. After I learned of his illness, I called him every few days, but today, after only three months, my friend is dead.

February 28, 1982

My friend’s death has made me re-evaluate my own life. I have worked as an electrical engineer ever since I graduated from Carnegie Tech like my father before me. Our three children are now grown, and our daughter will soon be married. I have been thinking about what I want to do now. How do I want to spend the rest of my life? My wife has a small antique business.

July 1, 1983

I quit my job. I suprised my wife, “I am going to work for you, “I said. “How are we going to live”? my wife asked. I love my wife — it’s as simple as that — I want to do this, I told her. Together, we will buy, exhibit and sell antiques.

August 1, 1984

It is my 54st birthday, and my wife has invited our children, our grand- child, and a few friends for a birthday celebration. Later, my wife looked at me: “George, if you got sick, who would I call”? I haven’t seen a doctor in nine years since I am in very good physical condition.

August 7, 1984

I made an appointment with an internist, who gave me a thorough examination. “George, everything looks perfect,” he told me. Then the nurse came in.” You’d both better walk downstairs,” she said. I saw my chest x-ray clipped to a screen. I waited — what was the doctor going say? “He pointed to a dark mass in the lower part of the lung. George, I could tell you it’s a fungus or a non-malignant tumor, but I think it is a malignant tumor in your right lung. I recall how I began to tremble, but I am an engineer; I try to look at things logically. Maybe it’s a mistake, I thought.

When I came home, I dreaded telling Roberta. She asked me, “How are you?” “Pretty good,” I said, but she knew something was wrong. We have no secrets from each other — “I probably have lung cancer, “I told her. I do know we’re in this battle together. We’ll do what we have to do, and we both have religious faith.

August 10, 1984

Today I saw a heart and lung specialist. After running more tests, including a lung scan, he confirmed the diagnosis of adeno-carcinoma. “If you have to have lung cancer, at least it’s operable,” he told me. We have to schedule surgery right away. I will have the operation at Hartford Hospital in five days, on Monday, August 15.

August 17, 1984

I am trying to write with a tube in my arm: It has been two days since my operation — I had four hours of surgery. I can remember when I was in the recovery room, the surgeon told me that the tumor was localized, but they removed two lobes of the right lung to be safe. The right lung has three lobes (60%of the total lung capacity); while the left lung has just two lobes. I am relieved that the operation is over, and I am here with my wife.

August 20, 1984

Last night the doctor came into my room. I could tell something was wrong. “We didn’t get it all,” he said; ” and that means you’ll have to have another operation tomorrow.” I know lung surgery is the worst, worse than heart surgery.

My three children are all here. I am scheduled for surgery at 7:00 a. m. My oldest son just arrived, and in half an hour, I will be in the operating room. I know my chances are miniscule.

I remember just before the operation, I was on a rolling stretcher in the elevator with my wife, my three children, and the pastor of our church. Someone was holding my hand, but none of us said a word.

August 24, 1984

I am dictating this to Roberta because I can’t sit up or focus my eyes.

I had a second four hour operation. [They stripped the lung, removed the bronchial tube connection, and then removed the right lung.] I cannot believe it has been four days since the surgery; they said I was unconscious all that time. I know it’s easy to die. I didn’t respond, the doctors said, but here I am , thank God.

August 30, 1984

I continue to dictate to my wife.

Since the last operation, I have been throwing blood clots — I now have pneumonia in my left lung. That means l will have to undergo a third operation after having had two four hour operations. This is to insert a Greenfield Filter into an artery to keep blood clots from entering my lung.

Whatever happens, we’ve had a good life. I love you, Roberta, George said. “You’re going to make it,” I told him.

I, Roberta Kaufman, will keep a record of my husband’s condition — his medical treatment. We have been married for thirty years, and I know George wants us to keep track of exactly what is happening to him:

September 2, 1984

Three days after his surgery, George is still unconscious, hooked up to nine tubes. Intravenous glucose is the only nourishment his system can absorb. Even with a respirator, his body is using only 8% of the necessary oxygen. That oxygen goes to the vital organs: the heart, the brain, the lung, the liver, and the kidneys. The rest of George’s body has shut down — this is called a catabolic state. The opposite of metabolic, the body is living off of its self, using up the fat, then the protein of the muscles. The doctors have said that after three days in a catabolic state, George will die.

October 5, 1984

George has remained in a coma for five weeks, still attached to nine hoses. I visit him every day, but he is a blob. I do hold his hand hoping that he senses we are with him.

One of George’s doctors who is an expert in chemistry, in this teaching hospital decided today to give him an infusion of soda to try to balance George’s pH. Tonight, our pastor called. “Roberta, my wife and I decided we must be praying for the wrong thing, because your husband is not getting any better.” Therefore they got the whole congregation on a prayer chain, praying for a miracle. People from all walks of life from floor sweepers to PhDs are praying for George’s recovery.

October 9, 1984

Today, after five and a half weeks in a coma , my husband opened his eyes. X-rays show that his lung has healed. “Was the Polo Ground (antique) Show cancelled?” were the first words he mouthed. I guess that’s the last thought he had on his mind.

Still on a respirator, unable to speak, George pointed to his wrist. He wanted know: first the time, then the date, and then the year. It was like Rip Van Winkle waking up.

George looks like a concentration camp victim. I smiled at him when our eyes met, because I knew George didn’t want my pity, but I wanted to weep. We do know that there is no oral or written record of such a recovery.

October 12, 1984

George managed to ask the doctor what he had to do to go home. “Get off the respirator, and have your bodily functions work,” he said. Now seven days after he regained consciousness, George is off the respirator.

October 17, 1984

George is now dictating to me:

Every time another tube comes out it’s exciting! I told the doctor, next week I’m going home. ” What will you do?” he asked. I knew all 600 pairs of muscles have been consumed — they are like strings. To go from the bed to the chair I have to use a walker and every step is pure agony. But, as I said to the doctor, the pain is marvelous because it means I am developing my muscles. I will work to regain my strength.

October 24, 1984

I came home today in an ambulance. They never thought I’d get up again, yet here I am at home. I asked my son to hold me up to the mirror. I weigh 100 pounds, and I look like a skeleton. I know that I have to redevelop all of my muscles in my body. Every day I am going to do something new to regain my strength, I told myself; my family knows I mean it.

October 28, 1984

I gained two pounds last week and two pounds this week. My wife gives me six meals every day. The physical therapist comes five days a week, and I try to work at least an hour each day on something new. However one morning, the physical therapist asked me to raise my heels off the floor. I raised them 1/4 inch — the pain was so excruciating — I fell into bed and stayed there for three days.

Thanksgiving Day, 1984

Today I walked without the walker for the first time — a shuffle since I haven’t developed my calf muscles. I can certainly give thanks. It took me three weeks to get to the living room. I asked Roberta to get a yard stick though she didn’t know the reason; then, I said please measure the path from the living- room through the kitchen and back. It’s a circle of 43 yards. I decided to do a mile each day — that’s 125 laps, and I will also use a rowing machine to develop my upper body.

October 1, 1984

Thanks, Roberta, for continuing to write down my thoughts. It’s thrilling to me. My family received a stack of letters and cards that reached from my lap up to my chin. My friends remembered all the things I had done for them. A Saudi Arabian co-worker flew to Virginia, and then drove 600 miles to see me for two hours.

December 10, 1984

I am working every day to develop my muscles, though I know, Roberta, you have to leave the room because you see the pain I endure. However, it’s unreal what people say to me. A professional football player said,” after an injury, I had to redevelop the muscles in one leg. I can’t imagine redeveloping all of the muscles of your body.”

June 10, 1984

The winter has passed, and I have been improving each day. I have walked more than 500 miles doing laps around the house. I have to record today because it’s the first time I have been out since I came home from the hospital — I went to see the pastor to tell him I’d be in church on Sunday.

June 15, 1984

Today, I was able once more to go to church. I had wanted to go as a way of saying thank you. There were 400 people there the pastor told me, some Inever seen before. After part of the service, the pastor asked me to stand up. When they cheered, tears flooded my eyes, and I could feel a tear run down my cheek.

Three years have passed since George learned that he had lung cancer and then survived the complications of his illness. He now works with his wife, Roberta, buying and selling antiques. At every antigue show, George’s endurance increases. The twinkle has returned to his eyes. He can lift, walk, even run, but he cannot yet coordinate brain and hand to write. After several years, Geaorge continues to dictate his journal.

August 24, 1987

I can now look back over the past several years: it’s great what my illness has done for my value system. I often end up feeling sorry for others. I am happy each day that I am alive. I think about the poor person who works hard to recover as I have, and does not get better. I see my improvement every day, and I can also see the wonderful opportunity I have been given to help others. That’s satisfying. Many wonderful people come up to tell me about their experience, how I’ve helped them. I have helped without even saying a word to them. They know about me and it makes their recovery easier.

An antique dealer friend told me that ten days after she had a mastectomy, she was working at an antique show. “How did you do it?” I asked her. “George, you are my inspiration,” she said. I have found so many wonderful people.

Yesterday, I ran into the doctor who looked after me in intensive care. I went to introduce myself. “Oh, George, I remember you,” he said. ” You remember me after two years? You’ve had hundreds of other patients go through this hospital. ” The doctor smiled, and he replied, “Yes I’ve seen many patients, but I never had a patient who wanted to live as much as you did.” I do have a marvelous wife to live for.