Father Joe Johnson has been with Prostate OncologySpecialists since its inception. Twenty years ago, after he retired from parish work, he started pursuing his lifelong interest in medicine and computers by volunteering to do internet searches to help find new treatments for our cancer patients. Doing an internet search does not sound like a big deal today, but back in the early 1990s there was no Internet Explorer (or Netscape Navigator for that matter). Getting online required substantial computer expertise and information could only be accessed through medical libraries by payment of an annual licensing fee. Father Joe was well equipped for his radical career change out of parish work. He had previously spent a number of years as a chemistry teacher at Loyola University.
A few years later, when searching the internet became a more straight-forward proposition, Father Joe asked if he could help out in some other capacity. Our practice had a large database of early-stage prostate cancer patients who were treated with hormone therapy, but we lacked the statistical skills to analyze the results. I knew of Father Joe’s lifelong interest in mathematics, and wondered if he would consider tackling medical statistics on our behalf.
For those of you who don’t know, qualified statisticians are rarer than diamonds and far more expensive and difficult to come by. To make a very long story brief, Father Joe subsequently mastered medical statistics and has coauthored all the scientific publications at Prostate Oncology.
Throughout all the years of unsung service volunteering in our office—which as you probably know, focuses exclusively on the treatment of prostate cancer—Father Joe has been a constant and immovable rock of steadfast optimism and hope, visiting with patients and keeping them company while the doctors and nurses rush around trying to stay on schedule. Sure, after entering an exam room and introducing himself as a Catholic Priest he has to good-naturedly endure innumerable bad jokes about his being there to give last rites. But almost invariably people quickly warm up to his friendly presence. I strongly suspect that some of our long-term patients are only willing to suffer the terrible Marina del Rey traffic because of the pleasure of visiting with Father Joe.
Perhaps it’s reasonable to expect patients to put up with the terrible traffic since they only have to endure it on a periodic basis. But what about me? Back when I lived in Long Beach I used to suffer the traffic daily. Being a problem solver by nature, I began considering the purchase of a limousine. My plan was to black out all the passenger windows and don a cap every morning so that I could pretend I was chauffeuring a passenger and drive in the diamond lane. However, it was Father Joe who rescued me from my law-breaking soul.
One evening, after a long day at the office while bemoaning my own tiresome commute home, I discovered that Father Joe was on the lookout for a new place to live. Once our mutual need was discovered it led to a quick solution. Father Joe had lived in trailers off and on throughout his life. And my home in Long Beach had a huge, unused backyard easily accessible through an alley behind the property. After a quick search of the classified ads, we made a phone call. That same evening we purchased Father Joe’s new home and had it delivered to my back yard. For the next five years Father Joe’s calm and loving presence helped me fight the good fight on the 405 freeway morning and evening.
The privilege of taking the diamond lane was definitely a huge improvement. But in 2003 I got the opportunity to purchase a home ten minutes from the office. The problem was that the backyard of the new house was a hillside, with no place for a trailer. What about Father Joe? My initial calls around the Marina were very discouraging: all I was encountered were ten-year wait lists. But the problem was solved when we found out that a relative of one of our patients owned the marina across the street from the office. Father Joe has been living happily in a boat ever since. Clearly he has friends in high places.
Father Joe’s odyssey of volunteering at Prostate Oncology began twenty years ago when he was a young man. But now at age 82, what the heck is he doing living on a boat? Thank God he has not slipped on the wet dock or fallen into the water off his rocking boat. Last night I showed him a new apartment located a mere three-minute walk from the office but he ended up asking me to take him back to sleep on his beloved boat. After a lifetime spent in the small spaces of boat and trailers, to Father Joe, the one-bedroom apartment is gargantuan. I’ll take another run at getting him to stay at the apartment tonight. If that doesn’t succeed I may have to sink the boat.