My name is Warren Pettit and I am a good friend of both Will and Angie. I arrived in L.A. yesterday afternoon and have been witness to this most recent update. With Angie’s permission, I offer this first-hand account of the last 24 hours.
The Grays arrived mid-afternoon at the ER and, after being parked in the hallway at H03, they began the waiting game. It is my understanding that the UCLA Medical Center is one of the best hospitals in the country, but it is almost one of the busiest. There are, by my count, 31 hallway stations where overflow patients are parked waiting for beds in the hospital. Will was assigned H03, just steps away from the ambulance entrance and right across from the two trauma rooms. It was an especially busy evening and a number of serious injuries came through the door passing our hallway gurney and into one of the trauma suites. Among the admitted injuries was a fellow who had been run over by a bus. The EMT who presented the patient to the trauma team announced, and I loosely paraphrase, “Male patient run over by bus…..I have no idea how he got run over by a bus.” I guess the dark humor keeps everybody going.
Various people came by and poked/prodded Will throughout the afternoon and evening. At around 7:30 p.m. a young doctor came by to announce that the medical team had decided not to perform surgery. That was good news and bad news. We were happy to have some decision being made, but pressing the fellow for further details was futile. In some ways, he was nothing more than the messenger; providing information that had been decided “behind the curtain”. We had no idea who was behind that “curtain” and how this decision was being made.
At around 9:30 p.m. another young doctor came to give Will her full attention. After a review of Will’s previous seven months of treatment, we began discussing Will’s current condition. She confirmed that the lesion had damaged Will’s vertebrae and that they could see bone fragments in his spinal column. Then, she announced that they also detected multiple growths in his lungs. This information hit us like a sledge hammer. Up until Thursday afternoon, the consensus was that Will had made it to a clearing, if not out of the woods. Now, there is not only a growth on the spinal column, but also multiple nodules in the lungs. It became clear very quickly to the doctor that we had not been informed of that news and that this was devastating information. I do not envy doctors and she handled the situation with grace and empathy.
During this consultation, Peter Chung and Jae Lee, both physicians and friends of the Gray’s arrived in the ER. They came bearing water, bananas and various kinds of healthy snacks. The young female doctor brought them up to speed and they had opportunity to look at the MRI scan. I don’t know either of these men, but it became clear to me very quickly that their demeanor betrayed a concern and seriousness about Will’s condition. We remained in the hallway, saturated with fluorescent light, conversation, beeping monitors and crying children. Then, a small miracle. At around 11:15 p.m. they announced that a bed had opened up on the 5th floor. Within the hour we were in a private room and the immediate chaos seemed to diminish. After some more conversation, Peter, Jay and I took our leave, promising to return today.
I arrived back at the hospital around noon. The most pressing issues as I write are:
- Will needs a chest brace to support his spine. Apparently the department that provides these braces is closed on the weekend. Without it, he will be bed-ridden until Monday morning; just one more roadblock in a road strewn with debris. It’s the “small” things like this which create frustration. I can empathize with patients who have a love/hate relationship with a medical system that can perform miracles and then overlook some of their most basic needs.
- A definitive course of action regarding the lesion in the spine needs to be made. The surgical option is very invasive and fraught with unintended consequences. They would ostensibly remove the lesion, run a biopsy to confirm the cancer and attempt to repair the spine. It would take several weeks to recover and and the concern is that Will is very weak and the surgery would really put him down. Radiation/steroid treatment will presumably shrink and remove the lesion, but it does not address the damaged vertebrae. Moreover, radiation weakens the bones and makes it difficult if not impossible to have surgery on that site in the future.
- Finally, everyone is preparing for a discussion of the overall treatment strategy for Will. It’s clear that the cancer has returned, it’s aggressive and possibly moving throughout the body. I’m reluctant to write this, but a quality of life discussion may be next.
Those are the details. Here are the emotions.
Will looks really beat up. He’s lost a lot of weight, and as I hold his hand, his grip is weak. Angie has not fared better. She is rail-thin, her skin is blotchy and she has trouble eating. I’ve seen a half box of tissue disappear soaking up tears. It’s heart-breaking and depressing.
The grace. The hope. The desperation. In amounts that I have never before encountered. Will and Angie have no way to understand how they’ve touched my family, my mother who lives in Canada and prays for him everyday with her seniors Bible group. If I hadn’t lost my magic wand I would wave it over this entire situation and make it all go away.
Pray. Hope. Then, pray again.
On their behalf,