Vytas was waiting at the other end. On the chalkboard he had drawn a picture of himself – a bald grinning elfin guy with a curl sprouting from his head – and the words "Welcome back, Ronni."
It was past the end of his shift, but he said he wanted to see me through. He made me feel better. And I needed all the help I could get. I had a fever and was covered from head to toe with a rash that made me want to either scream or cry.
Over many years and through four bone marrow transplants, he always took that extra step. His kindness and sense of humor helped me get through many tough spots. I'd panic over some new detour on the road to recovery, and he'd calm me down with a mix of knowledge, a talent for putting things in perspective, and, always, something funny.
Vytas Durickas died yesterday. His daughter found him in his Newton Corner home, where he had apparently suffered a heart attack. (This is a correction. I originally thought his niece found him, but his son corrected me in his comment.
He had been through lymphoma twice. He liked going to cancer conferences where the focus was on getting emotionally healthy. He told me (and I assume other patients): What will be, will be. Don't look back. Don't waste time worrying. Stay in the present. Make plans. Enjoy yourself.
He called me Nervous Nellie. He'd come into my room, plop into a chair, and say, "OK, what's wrong today?" Then he'd deconstruct it so I understood the options. When that wasn't possible, he simply said, "They'll figure it out." He said it with such confidence that I believed him.
He was the antidote for crazy thoughts. When I was newly home after my first transplant, my dog got skunked and then ran through the house. I called Vytas and asked if skunk fumes could make me sick. No, he said, they couldn't.
When I entered the hospital for my third transplant, he welcomed me to my new room by writing on the board, "The third time's the charm."
Last year, after my fourth transplant when I was really sick, he came in at night when his shift was over and squeezed my hand. Katie said that one evening when the kids were there, Vytas showed that he knew "Ronni-speak." He asked me if I wanted anything and I kind of grunted. "Oh," he said, "She's cold and she wants a blanket." So he put a blanket on me, and I pulled it up closer to my chin. "Is that what you wanted?" he asked. I made a little noise again and nodded my head.
At the end of that hospitalization, he vanished. From what I gathered, he had walked into the emergency room feeling ill, and ended up being admitted for heart surgery. He wanted to keep it quiet, and it took me a while to find out where he was. When I saw him again during his recuperation, he said everything was fine. He stayed out of work for a while and was happy to return. He didn't discuss his heart much, although I'm sure others knew more details. He worked last week.
Life is strange. All this focus on lymphoma, and he dies of a heart attack. The weak heart may have had some connection to the radiation he received for lymphoma, but I'm not sure of the details.
He seemed like the Energizer Bunny. It's hard to believe this great guy is gone.
When I went to the clinic on Monday, I had this strong feeling about calling him. I even picked up my cell phone to dial him, but I got distracted and never did it. I figured it could wait until next week.
Obviously, it couldn't.