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Health Mission At Mission Bay

San Francisco here I come, right back where I started from…

Literally true for me. I landed as a two-year-old on the run from Pearl Harbor in 1941, first stop the Hawaiian evacuation center at the Fairmont Hotel, of all places, then to a pre-earthquake mansion on McAllister revamped as a series of murky apartments. 

I returned to San Francisco 82 years later for the first of two surgeries aimed at halting the spread of a cancer presently confined to a tumor pressing my wind tubes and voice box, the same nexus of conditions that killed Babe Ruth before he was fifty. 

Rather than load on the superlatives about the truly great hospital we all know the University of California (UCSF) at Mission Bay to be, I can confirm that everything you've heard about its medical singularity is true. 

Generations of Mendo People have headed south for the hope and help they can get at UCSF. The last days of my mother, my brother, my old friend Vern Piver, Postmaster Woody of Philo… all were patients at the crowded and hectic Parnassus hospital where for pure thrills the elevators were a memorable experience by themselves. 

The new Mission Bay “campus” is capacious, calm, uncrowded. “Campus” isn't far off. For a site that exists to remediate human misery, the hospital's large open spaces and broad hallways are indeed reminiscent of a contemporary college campus. And I thought of hospitals in Gaza, one of them bombed to rubble, was the size of Mission Bay. 

The brilliant doctor Ryan carved a hole in my throat so I can breathe but at the cost of my voice, which neither I nor my loved ones have missed. I anticipated considerable post-op pain. There was none. The pain I subsequently experienced, and it was excruciating, I brought on myself because I had managed not to notice that my urinary tract was blocked. Three attempts to slide emptying catheters failed until an hallucinatory appearance at 7am (!) by a tall, elegant, figure who might have been the Empress of China or had just stepped out of an opera box. She was my rescuing urologist. 

Undeterred at the foreboding sight of my battered pud, in less than five minutes she'd gotten 'er done. It was like your plumber showing up in a tuxedo to unclog your kitchen sink. My implausible urologist had my kitchen sink unclogged in five minutes, then with a merry “Have a nice day,” the apparition was gone, and I was alive again, two liters lighter.

At 84, my privacy, my modesty was lost the first day. There it was for the medical world to see, my battered scrotum, my defeated buttocks, all of it exposed to an unflinching array of female doctors and nurses. A word here: Men of my generation were raised in the John Wayne context. You never complained about pain, or much of anything, and that your nether regions might be exposed to female eyes was simply unthinkable. We were stoic, and gentlemanly. In theory.

I lingered in the ICU for a day where I met the first of the attending angels tasked with monitoring my grisly wounds. I was wired to machines in both arms, a moisturizing spigot blew damp arctic winds towards the hole in my throat. 

The nurses pre and post ICU were an unfailingly cheerful and efficient cadre who moved at what seemed to me to be an exhausting pace, which they kept up for an entire eight-hour shift. I asked Nurse Chu, a tiny dynamo who seemed to fairly sprint around the room, how many miles she walked in a day. She laughed, “Many, but I've never measured them.” And they all laughed when I kept rolling over on my emergency clicker, requiring a quick visit from a busy nurse to see what the incompetent in room 25 had screwed up this time.

Whatever nurses are paid, it's not enough for the skills they have to have. My mother was an RN at the old Ross Hospital in Kentfield, among other Marin hospitals. At Ross, visitors were offered wine and the paintings in the hallways were changed every day. And where nurses did most of the real work for starvation wages. When nurses unionized, my mother's pay went from $300 a month to $600. I don't know how prevalent her low opinion of doctors was in 1950, but she emphatically dismissed them all as “drunks and drug addicts.” (Hospital drug cabinets were un-monitored at the time) John Wayne himself was one of her patients while he made one of his cornball sagas at China Camp east of the Marin County Courthouse. “A real man, that one,” Nurse Anderson concluded. 

My Mission Bay nurses would check me then stare at overhead screens where my vital stats were registered. “A big part of our job,” a nurse told me, “is satisfying these machines.”

At every step in the six-day process, a doctor explained what was happening and why.

And now I'm at home where our bedroom is set up as a mini-medical center, and my wife — the dictionary definition of “long-suffering” — has become my nurse. 

My next battle with the Reaper is March 21st, after which I will know, approximately, how long I've got. Will I stumble on for a few more years as a medical burden to my family? Or will I at last join the majority?


  1. Lee Edmundson February 28, 2024

    I’m hopeful March 21st brings you good news, Bruce. Or, at the very least, better news.
    We have all — each and all — been born with a yet to be redeemed ticket to that journey from which there is no return. Life is matter of the experience of time. “Time, the enemy within us all.” — Tennessee Williams.
    You have left us all who appreciate your fiercely iconoclastic rendition of your time and your life within it, examples of how to live the good life, and fight the good fight. You will live to fight on.
    “Rage, rage against the dying of the light…”
    For myself, having dealt with COPD (That’s Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or Chronic Bronchitis and Emphysema to us older folks) the the past 10 years and the lingering effects of a minor stroke (is there really such a thing as a ‘minor’ stroke?) for the past two, I can empathize with you.
    Back when I was an active Thespian, as a technical director especially, I would say to colleagues that I felt like Captain Hook, in that I constantly heard behind me (and growing closer: opening night looming) an incessant Tik, Tok, Tik, Tok.
    I’m going in to the hospital today for a CT Scan of my lungs — which continue to fade.
    I’ll abide by the results.
    As you will abide by yours, Bruce.
    You’re an exemplar to us all. Keep up the good fight. Sempre Fi.

    • Bruce Anderson Post author | February 28, 2024

      Thank you, Lee, and good luck with your medical journey. I feel extraordinarily grateful for the doctors and nurses at UCSF’s Missian Bay hospital. As most of us, I thought I was invincible. Until I wasn’t.

  2. Steve Heilig February 28, 2024

    Great tale-telling. Nobody wants to be a patient but if ya gotta, UCSF is a lucky place to land. Always in the top 3 nationally and – public! Ain’t socialized medicine/research/teaching grand?
    Very best to you, boss!

  3. Jonah Raskin February 28, 2024

    Thanks for your candor and for leveling with us. Keep the faith bro

  4. Nick Carr March 17, 2024

    I’ll be rooting for you on the 21st. It is the day I finish my 61st lap!
    The nurses are saviors. Modern medicine is a true sci-fi adventure, and UCSF/Kaiser/Stanford are all doing miraculous things.
    Best of luck, Coach!
    I’ll b thinking about you across town!

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