Science & Medicine

Long and Winding Road – April, 2012

Karen the Driver

by Harvey Gould

After becoming a pariah at my law firm because folks there knew “something was wrong,”  but didn’t want to intrude, I broke the dour mood by letting all there know that I’d answer questions to the best of my ability. While that helped clear the dark cloud that had followed me around the hallways, the real challenges still lay ahead.

I’d come to terms with the fact that I had to resign from the partnership. It was an easy decision because I’d been a trial lawyer and I accepted that I no longer had the stamina to try the types of cases I handled. It was an impossibly difficult decision because by the time of my diagnosis in 2000, I’d been at my law firm for over thirty years. I’d grown there from “baby lawyer” to partner and chair of the firm’s trial department.

Those who’d been my partners all those decades were people whom I respected and with whom I enjoyed working. These were people with whom I’d regularly broken bread, with whom I’d shared joys and sorrows, triumphs and defeats. While some were not only partners, but friends, and that wouldn’t change, leaving the daily interaction, leaving my profession far earlier than planned, was heart wrenching—and there was no going back. I knew I would be leaving behind a major part of what had been a central, and rewarding, part of my life. And though I desperately did not want that part of my life to come to an end, I had no choice but to let it go—and so I did.

I’ve often said that I am a man well blessed, and one of the critical reasons why that is true is because I am married to the love of my life, my soul mate, my best friend, and a person whose judgment I trust without question. Karen is gentle, yet tough, when necessary. She’d become a successful businesswoman in an era when it was particularly difficult for a woman to succeed—and she did so not in your everyday business. She and her partner supplied copper mining companies in Asia, and primarily in the Philippines, with everything from miner’s helmets, to off road trucks, conveyor belts, and everything in between. She’d go overseas up to four times a year, spending four weeks at a time there, meeting with the owners, then traveling to the remote  mine sites, where she’d meet with the mine managers, and being adored by the workers because she’d put on one of the helmets and go into the underground mines with them.

She’d purchase goods from all over the world, deal in foreign exchange rates, negotiate letters of credit with banks, then draft the letters of credit, arrange for consolidation of goods acquired both domestically and internationally, assure issuance of accurate bills of lading, arrange for international transport via container ships, and on and on.

To avoid the prejudice against dealing with women in the rough and tumble of the business in which she dealt, instead of using “Karen Duffy” in business transactions, she used “K.A.Duffy”.

After forwarding documents to a Philippine customer regarding an upcoming sale, her office received a call from a panicky mine site receiving clerk whom she’d not yet met.

“Colonel Khadafy is underwriting terrorist activities in the Philippines. We can’t accept a shipment from him!”

“It’s not Colonel Khadafy who is arranging for the shipment. It’s Karen Duffy, aka K.A. Duffy.”

“One of your company’s owners?”


“You’re sure?”

“Yes. You’re talking to her right now.”

“Thank God. Please proceed with the shipment.”

Several years before my forced retirement and after a successful twenty five year run, Karen and her partner decided to shut down their operation, so Karen was herself retired when I joined the ranks.

Suddenly, and with little warning, our lives changed from seeing each other nightly after business hours, to being with each other virtually 24/7. There is one of two likely outcomes to a couple spending virtually all of their time together. Either one spouse kills the other, or both make accommodations and they find a peace and contentment that most pine for, and few find. We are one of the fortunate couples. Still, not all was blissful.

Punctuating our enjoyable times were the visits to my doctor at the UCSF hem/onc clinic, which inevitably turned into full day affairs, and there is nothing more exhausting than waiting. I’d check in, get two separate items, a time stamped blood draw order to place in one Inbox for lab work, and a time-stamped folder to place in another Inbox, for someone to take ad record my vitals. (As time passed and the visits mounted, I reached a point at which I was so well known that I didn’t have to give my name or provide ID, nice to be known if you’re dealing with a maitre‘d at a fancy restaurant when you know you’ll get a nice table; not so great when you’re at a cancer ward.)

After placing the materials, we’d find vacant seats, seemingly half a mile away, then wait, and wait, and wait. During flu season, all there are required to wear masks which I’m convinced do nothing to prevent contagion, but do accomplish, to great effect, fogging up your glasses so that it’s impossible to read anything—while you wait. After an hour or two, we’d hear from the far distance, “Mr. Gowl”? I’d jump up, yelling as I’d race toward the distant voice, “Yes, Mr. Gould is here”.

More times than not, the first call would be for the taking of my vitals. The part that most intrigued me was being asked whether I felt any pain, shortness of breath, or tiredness. (Tiredness? Nah. More like exquisite exhaustion.) Once vitals were completed I was released to wait for the lab work. After another hour or so, that would get done.

Luckily, I have what the phlebotomists call “smiling veins,”which came in handy when, years later, I became transfusion dependent and presently, when I require weekly CBCs, and for some months, required two per week.

After the lab work was completed, we’d wait some more until being told in what room to (you’ve got it)—wait, this time, for the doctor.  Upon his arrival, he’d ask his questions; we’d ask ours; he’d examine me, including pressing on my spleen (not comfy) and drawing on my stomach to measure the size of my spleen. Of course, the lab results weren’t available yet, so we’d have to—wait a bit more for them. Because I’m a “clumper” the doctor would have to review my platelets under a microscope which, of course, would take yet more time. He’d return with the lab results, discuss his conclusions, sometimes we’d talk about possible medicine changes, and we’d negotiate on when I next had to return, a spread that varied greatly over the years, depending on my “numbers” and other problems, which increased over time.

Indeed, we’d entered a new world, one of doctors, clinics, needles, bone marrow biopsies, eventually transfusions, surgeries, and much more. It was not an enjoyable road on which to drive, but thank God I had my wife as my driver.

Take me back to the Contents

© Harvey Gould and, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Harvey Gould and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Comments on: "Long and Winding Road – April, 2012" (5)

  1. And we shall meet one day Harvey! Of that, I am sure. Thank you for your kind words x

  2. Dear Bonnie, Sam and Arch,

    Thanks to all of you for your kind comments.

    Bonnie, I wholeheartedly agree that it’s far better to travel this winding road than to be denied the privielge of traveling any road at all. May we contine to trip for many years to come. I’m delightged that you enjoyed my book and thank you from the bottom of my heart for saying so.

    Sam, what can I say? I was horribly saddened by your wrenching journey as your father lost his battle with myelofibrosis. Though I knew no words could bring solace at that dark time, your plea touched my heart and I needed to try. Though you’re on the other side of “the Pond” and we’ve never met in person I think of you as my fourth daughter, love to continue to learn about your family, and look forward to the day when we can meet and I can give you a literal, rather than a figuartive, hug. You are a sweetheart and I love you dearly.

    Arch, Thank you for following me on the winding road. It’s always nice to have company, and I am honored to have you along for the ride. Thank you also for your arch (ahem) commentary, always a pleasure to read, and wonderful to hear from someone who knows about these battles from himself having been on the front lines. We are all blessed to have you as our guide.

  3. Yes, It is a long and winding road but to me it is better than no road at all. I have thought quite a few times that if one has to have a disease, at least this a very interesting one with the bonus of meeting very wonderful people along the way.

    To those of you who have not read Harvey’s book “A Fierce Local”, I highly recommend it -as a matter of fact, I could not put it down. It is about his journey in Irelend which makes you feel as though you are there (he also includes information about his illness). He is an excellent writer, I am anxiously awaiting his next book.

  4. Harvey - your articl said:

    Harvey – your article has brought a tear to my eye. I relive my Dad’s long and winding road through your words. I thank God that I found a friend like you, during my darkest hour. Sending love to you and Karen xxx

  5. Harvey, Thanks for taking us with you for another interesting and entertaining mile along the “winding road”. I am constantly amazed (and deflated )at the diverse talents and accomplishments of the people I’ve met along the MPN road. Ashley couldn’t miss with whichever genes she inherited. Arch

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