Howard’s last column brought several unsolicited testimonials to his in-box, including this from one of Dr Cuijpers’ earliest cancer patients.
“A few figs from thistles…”
by Howard A. Tabor
There are times when writing this column is akin to pulling teeth: awkward and painful. [Perhaps reading it evokes a similar response.] Then there those occasions, on the another hand (and not often enough) when it writes itself. Such is the case this week when, on Wednesday, I received this letter from a reader in another part of the state. Though the writer didn’t ask for anonymity, I’ve extended her a courtesy by altering her name. Here is what she wrote:
“A friend in Agincourt sent me a copy of your recent column on Dr Cuijpers, who I recall as our family physician when I was a young girl. Though I was only twelve or thirteen at the time, and some of my memories so long ago are fading, it seems proper to share a story with you and your readers. Feel free to publish it.
“I had been playing volley ball during recess and fallen, with uncharacteristic weakness and pain in my left leg. They notified my mother and we went immediately to the doctor. X-rays were both cumbersome and dangerous then, and my parents were cautious about exposing me to high levels of radiation. Doctor Cuijpers took only one or two, as I recall, but based on those pictures of my thigh bone he took my parents aside and had a quiet conversation out of earshot that caused me to think the worst. Then he arranged for us to return later that afternoon, just when the office hours would be over.
“So at five o-clock we returned. Only Doctor Hank and his nurse (whose name I cannot now recall) were there. Mother and I went into the examining room where I put on a hospital gown and laid down on a low table. Through another door, Doctor returned with what I guessed to be his dog. Her name (he introduced me to her) was Poppy, and he explained that Poppy would like to get acquainted with me; that she would enjoy being my friend and that I shouldn’t be wary of her wet nose.
“Poppy spent some time beside me and in my lap while Mother chatted with Doctor. Her tail wagged and she licked my face. Then she became quite serious about my left hip, which struck me as very odd. Doctor placed some colored salve on her nose, which left marks on my skin wherever she took a special interest. Soon there was a concentration of wet dots from her curiosity and Doctor took pictures of those marks. I had little appreciation for what was going on but Mother explained long after my operation that it was Poppy’s keen sense of smell that had found the tumor pressing on my nerves, pressure that had caused the pain and weakness.
“I saw Dr Cuijpers and Poppy a few more times, but she took no interest whatsoever (as I remember it now) in my leg. Mother explained that the smell of the tumor had helped Doctor locate and remove it so thoroughly that I’d been cured. We moved to Dubuque a year or so later and I never had a recurrence of the problem. I also never saw Poppy again but wondered if she had helped others with her special talent. So thank you for the article about her grave at ‘The Shades’ and the story I had almost forgotten.”
There isn’t much more that needs to be said.