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From Ward Yud: Notes from a Hospital Bed

Given the various medications I am on, and the need to use my left hand to hold down pieces of cotton stopping blood tests from leaking, etc., please forgive my typos.

It is 3:01 p.m. and my eyes suddenly pop open right onto the clock. Looming above me is the chief thoracic surgeon who looks like an aging Green Bay Packers' linebacker about to sack a quarterback -- me. Fortunately, I already met him. And I respect and trust him. "This is Dr. ---," says the orderly, " ... and he’s going to remove the tube draining blood from your lung."

And remove it he does. His teeth are bared, he growls. It would be comical if it weren't so scary but I know he means me no harm. His huge hands reach out and literally tear it out of me. It hurts, but I must admit he is skillful and the pain is gone in seconds; before the sting ends, he sews me up. The orderly puts on the gauze and for the first time in three days I enjoy the ultimate human luxury -- not being tied to some piece of medical equipment by a tube. It is heaven.

The staff is good, though not all charming. I don't like talking to doctors; they bring out the pessimism in me, even despair. I remain on a steady line of safety tips and good advice thanks to my mother-in-law, a lung expert who has flown over from New York and keeps giving her calming professional opinion.

I quickly realize two things. First, most of us are years out of date in our medical knowledge and thus don’t realize how much progress has been made. My mother-in-law muses that her own father wrote a book about lung cancer 40 years ago.

And I ask, "There must have been a lot of progress since then?"

"Oh no," she says, "there hasn’t."

My heart sinks.

"But there’s been incredible progress in the last 5-10 years."