I knew I wished to do a narrative on my plumber, Frank Marchand, when he first confirmed as much as my home for a job sporting a hospital bracelet.
It seems he was simply again from a chemotherapy appointment for colon most cancers. Once I apologized for asking him to work in these circumstances, he assured me there was nowhere he’d moderately be.
Clearly, Marchand understood instinctually what oncologists typically advise their sufferers: persist with your ordinary routines when going by means of most cancers remedy, as a result of the familiarity may show you how to chill out and never ruminate on what comes subsequent.
In actual fact, apart from just a few breaks for surgical procedure, Marchand, of Whately, Massachusetts, hasn’t taken time without work all through his ongoing remedy.
So the following time I referred to as him — to determine why my rest room tank was leaking — I requested if I may convey out my tape recorder.
‘I do know the place all of the tubes join’
As he talked, he sat on the ground of my rest room, tightening the bolts on the base of the water tank. His hair went right down to his shoulders; his clothes hung loosely on his tall, skinny body.
His hospital bracelet was nonetheless hanging on his wrist from his most cancers remedy that morning.
“That is my 94th chemo remedy,” Marchand stated, with a touch of pleasure.
That’s over the course of seven years, since a colonoscopy at age 60 discovered Stage 4 colon most cancers.
By now, he’s had two main surgical procedures and doesn’t count on to be cured. However he hopes the bi-monthly therapies at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton will lengthen his life.
“I take a look at the nurse and say, ‘Pay attention, why do not you exit for breakfast? I am going to handle the remainder of this, as a result of I do know the place all of the tubes join and find out how to begin the gear and stuff,’” he stated.
Through the years, Marchand has gotten to know lots of people on the hospital, together with some from his life rising up in Franklin County.
“I name them ‘hellmates’ within the chemotherapy room,” he stated. “Considered one of them was my chemistry instructor from the seventh grade. I checked out him and stated, ‘What the hell are you doing right here? You visiting someone?’ He goes, ‘Nah. I obtained leukemia.’”
That was final yr. His former instructor didn’t stay lengthy after.
“He was an excellent man, I at all times appeared as much as him. And I’ve recognized him and his spouse for years doing their plumbing work and getting in that nasty crawl house beneath their home,” Marchand stated. “However I used to be within the line to precise my condolences on the wake, and his spouse Janet was first in line. She stated, ‘Oh my God. He was preferred sufficient that even his plumber confirmed up?’”
The household requested for donations to the hospital in lieu of flowers. And because it was near Halloween, Marchand had an thought. He went out and purchased vintage-brand sweet bars to distribute on the most cancers middle, in his former instructor’s honor.
“Sugar Daddies and Mary Janes and Atomic Sizzling Balls, all of the stuff that I bear in mind as a child,” he stated. “And I put collectively deal with luggage for every one of many sufferers with a observe that stated, ‘Could these treats remind you of when life was easier.’”
Marchand has been a plumber for 47 years, most of it working for himself. However it began when he was 12, dwelling in Sunderland throughout the road from a slender brook.
“I’d go over there after faculty every day, ripping sod out of the facet banking and damming that brook up. And once I was profitable sufficient to truly cease the water, it will discover its manner round my dam and wash it out. And I used to be pissed off that I may by no means management that,” he stated. “So I feel planted in my mind was the idea that every time water misbehaves, you are answerable for making it behave.”
Ever since then, Marchand has been enamored by water — all our bodies of water. However due to his most cancers remedy, he hardly ever will get to the seaside anymore.
He remembered the final time he went — which may very well be the final time ever — climbing over the sand at Hammonasset Seaside in Connecticut.
“And once I lastly obtained to the highest of the dune, I may hear the surf,” he stated. “This voice boomed to me: ‘Welcome again, my son.'”
Demise, consolation and corned beef hash
Typically, on his plumbing rounds, Marchand meets shoppers dealing with the identical most cancers ordeal that he’s.
“At one house, a person was on his couch right down to 85 kilos,” he stated. “They referred to as as a result of they did not have any scorching water. However he hadn’t eaten in a couple of week and he was destined for hospice.”
Marchand advised him he had most cancers too.
“He seems to me, ‘Minimize it out. You bought lengthy hair. You bought the perspective. You ain’t obtained most cancers!’ I stated, ‘I actually do,'” he recalled.
When Marchand was executed fixing their water heater, he got here again upstairs to sit down with the dying man and provide some recommendation.
“Have you ever ever considered what you are going to consider in your deathbed?” Marchand stated he requested the person. “As a result of that is vital. I imply, you do not need to lay there bouncing round questioning, ‘Why me? Why me?’ and focus on that.”
“He goes, ‘No, I have not considered it.’”
Marchand had considered it. And, as he advised the person, he wasn’t planning to dwell on his errors or regrets.
“What I will spend my time serious about whereas I am on my deathbed is one of the best corned beef hash I ever had in my life,” he stated. “The Inexperienced Heron in Kennebunkport, Maine. They nearly incinerated the potatoes — burned on the skin and actually gentle inside. Caramelized onions and a piece of corned beef. They simply hacked it up with a machete and threw it in there. And simply earlier than serving it, they combined in shredded boiled cabbage. Oh, my God. I liked it a lot. I sat there and ordered one other plate of it.”
These transcendent moments, Marchand advised his buyer, are what he needs to consider on the finish.
“I needed him properly, I needed that he be protected, be sturdy, and bear in mind the great things. Keep in mind that you touched folks’s lives in a optimistic manner,’” he stated. “And his spouse referred to as me after he died to say … ‘He took to coronary heart what you have been saying.’ And he was peaceable.”
‘Do I need to sit on the couch, watch TV … and fear?’
Whereas Marchand advised me this story, his arms submerged in my water tank, I observed him coughing loads. As I handed him some water, I needed to surprise — wouldn’t or not it’s simpler for him to take a medical depart? At 67, he may actually justify retirement, most cancers or not.
To Marchand, that is not an choice.
“I advised myself from the very starting that my immune system goes to need to work actually laborious to combat this illness that I am unable to management,” he stated. “So do I need to sit on the couch, watch TV, eat chips, drink soda, and fear about what’s rising inside me? As a result of now [my immune system] goes to cope with bile and anxiousness and angst about what is going on on that you could’t management.”
Plumbing, then again, is without doubt one of the few issues he can management.
“Once I’m doing work, if that valve proper there does not work, I have to know precisely the place to go to the following one that may cease the water if this breaks off of my hand,” he stated. “So there’s management in having the ability to management your atmosphere. And definitely understanding that anxiousness goes to only cripple my immune system, why not simply go to work?”
He additionally admitted he actually can’t retire. Though Marchand will get Medicare now, his spouse and stepson depend on personal medical health insurance. He stated the household plan prices $2,700 a month, and he wants revenue to pay for that.
“I am the one with the insurance coverage coverage by means of a enterprise insurance coverage firm,” he stated. “If I ended my protection, then my spouse and my stepson lose theirs.”
Assist from an imaginary pal
However I nonetheless wished to know the way Marchand copes with what he is aware of is coming, with mortality itself.
For a time, he had assist from a voice in his head — his childhood imaginary pal. It is the identical pal who stored him firm when he was three years outdated, taking part in with toy dump vehicles, as he nonetheless recollects vividly.
“My mother comes out of the home and he or she seems at me and says, ‘Who’re you speaking to?’ ‘My pal.’ ‘However there’s no person there.’ ‘Sure there may be. My pal is right here.’”
Within the intervening many years, Marchand stopped listening to from the pal — by means of marriage, youngsters, divorce, a second marriage — till shortly after his surgeon advised him, in a hospital restoration room, the most cancers was terminal.
“And I am mendacity on the mattress fully alone, scared out of my wits. And who reveals up? The imaginary pal,” he stated. “He goes, ‘Hey what’s occurring? You’re shaking, why are you shaking?’
“‘I do not know,’” Marchand stated he responded. “‘I imply, the information that I simply obtained, I do not know how a lot time I’ve left. I do know I am by no means going to get to complete the initiatives that I began, all of the issues I might hoped for in my life. I’ve simply obtained a restricted period of time.’
“And there’s a pause, and he says, ‘You do not know this, however I have been with you all of your life, watching each transfer you make. And I can perceive the way you’re anxious about having to do that. However what is going on to occur is, the time’s going to return. And I am not going to allow you to do that alone. I will go along with you.’”
But finally, the pal stated, as soon as he is aware of Marchand is OK, he’ll depart.
“‘And it’s important to discover me. And while you do discover me, you will see that I discovered the nicest seaside and saved a lounge chair for you.’”
Marchand advised me he is aware of there’s no precise pal. It’s his personal voice, his personal conscience. And but, “That have took the load of 20 tons off my shoulders, to return to the belief that I am not immortal. And to prioritize the time that I’ve left,” he stated. “Since you don’t know the way a lot time that’s.”
When Marchand was executed fixing my rest room, and I used to be nearly in tears myself, I wished some form of assurance that the following time I wanted him, he would nonetheless decide up the cellphone.
“That’s the plan,” he stated, with a smile. “If it rings to heaven, then you definately obtained the fallacious quantity.”
Just a few weeks later, my radiator began to leak. And Marchand got here again — hospital bracelet on his wrist, tales to inform, and no plans to cease.
Editor’s observe: Music used within the audio story was written by Erik Satie, organized by Peter Blanchette, and carried out by the Digital Consort. Utilized by permission. @2000 Peter Blanchette