Monday, March 12, 2012

Wiley Will Be Ready For The Pennant Race

(Reprinted from The Times and News-Star, Sunday editions)

Wiley Hilburn, psalmist of North Louisiana and Poet of the Good Ol’ Boys, has given me permission to update you on his condition.

(RIGHT: A still-life titled "Portrait of the Writer as a Hospital Captive")

He’s been on Newspaper Column Leave since late December, when he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a type of bone marrow tissue malignancy. He and wife Kate have been in Little Rock for all but a few days since then; they are housed close to the hospital where Wiley has received chemotherapy and is preparing for a stem cell transplant.

They got to come home for six days in late February. During a five-minute visit, he told me with confidence he’d be OK; the doctors say the cancer is on the “brink of remission.” Or cusp. Maybe the edge of remission. I can’t remember which, but he used one of those words. I’d have listened better but his dog Winston, I’m sure named after Churchill, was insisting at the time, all four legs in the air, that I rub his stomach. And honestly, Wiley didn’t look too sick; he had on a Wrigley Field baseball cap and a World War II documentary was on television. Just another day at the office.

Like McArthur in the Philippines, Wiley shall return. And he’ll tell you all about it. Or about some of it. His call.

My hands are tied because I can’t steal any of his material. But I can offer you some pieces of notes from Kate, who has faithfully sent dispatches from their Arkansas foxhole. I share those here, and say at Wiley’s request that he will see you again (and that if you have free Cubs tickets, address them to his attention in Choudrant).

Kate, who is stealthily funny, even in the line of fire, reported in one of her first notes (Jan. 10) that Wiley had worn his Cubs cap and clutched his blue Flair pen in his hand throughout a long Opening Day of X-rays, body scans and MRIs. (That’s our man!)

Jan. 14: Kate got her husband, long fascinated with World War II, the new Himmler biography. “It also doubles as a free weight – it weighs at least 10 pounds. I asked him if I could get him a Kindle…he looked at me like I was crazy. ‘You can’t open and feel a Kindle!’”

Jan. 18: “Wiley enjoyed reading a thriller yesterday while medicated on morphine from his biopsy. At one point he said, ‘Is that a frog on the windowsill?’ I think Wiley and I have exhausted our intellectual conversation for now.”

Jan. 30: “Today they gave him medical marijuana for nausea…so even though he rejected the hippie generation, he has come face-to-face with it here…I asked him how he slept and he said, ‘I’m tired; I dreamed all night about Italian-French diplomacy.’”

Feb. 9: “We’ve had plenty of drama (but) he is progressing well, walking some, eating better slowly; it is difficult to force-feed him, and the dance of the seven veils while holding a plate of brownies is growing less and less effective.”

Feb. 19: “Living in one room with a microwave and blackout curtains and not divorcing.”

Feb. 24: “He’s doing fine and ‘on track.’”

March 6: “We are astounded at the support and encouragement…it has made all the difference. He has turned out to be both courageous and good-humored throughout this treatment, which is doggone rigorous. Not always patient, but there’s a drug for that -- and I have the drugs in my purse.”