You might think the story of Roger Logan and his recently liberated abdominal cavity was one of desperation, peril and resolve. And it was: Mississippi man rides 2,000 miles in the back of a cargo van to Bakersfield for surgery to remove a 140-pound tumor from his hideously distended belly, knowing he might never wake up.
But it’s a love story, too. Roger Logan and his wife Kitty will spend Valentine’s Day at Bakersfield Memorial Hospital puttering up and down the hallways, he in the biggest, slowest electric wheelchair you can imagine, she walking alongside attentively.
I visited them last week, planning to focus on their experience as sudden, 48-hour celebrities. I came away with something else entirely.
For the past 14 or 15 years of their 17-year marriage, theirs has been a love triangle — he, she and the hairless, purplish entity that could not be ignored: “Your Thing,” their daughter Casey called it.
And the Thing crowded Kitty for Roger’s time and attention. Even for his love.
“You gotta love it,” Kitty would tell him. “When he had to lift it up so he could be cleaned, I’d say, ‘OK, love it.’ He had to hug it to lift it.”
Moments like that are indicative of another kind of love, of course.
Not man-thing. Husband-wife.
Demonstrating one’s love is easy when one is financially and physically healthy enough to see a show, enjoy a nice dinner and participate in other things married couples too often take for granted. It’s something else entirely when physical contact involves daily hygienic maintenance.
“We were never big on Valentine’s Day,” said Kitty, 52. “We would do little stuff throughout the year. He’d have flowers sent to my work. He’d call ahead and place a take-out order and we’d splurge on sushi. Before it got bad we’d go see a show or a musical act.”
Over time, as the third person in the room began to assert its presence, things slowly changed and Roger began to display signs of — was it Stockholm Syndrome? with Roger in the role of Patty Hearst?
To an extent, maybe. But Roger, 57, also knew his kidnapper would kill him one day. He had to make a break for it.
“The world just kept shrinking and shrinking,” Roger said. “Finally, I said I was gonna go out on my own terms. Or I was gonna get it fixed. Most people don’t know how they’re gonna die, but I do. The doctors told me I had a 50/50 chance of making it through surgery and a zero percent chance of surviving infection during recovery. So you know how bad it had to get for me to say yes.”
After a couple of disappointments, they found Dr. Vipul Dev of Bakersfield, who had done this type of surgery before. Six months later, after successfully working through the insurance issues, the Logans made the 40-hour, cross country trip with a church friend, Thomas Watts.
The surgery took just over three hours.
Logan actually had some separation anxiety at first, like a Siamese twin waking to find his brother missing.
“But by Friday, three days after the surgery, I got angry — angry with myself that I had accepted it for so long,” Roger said. “That’s when I turned the corner to start getting better.”
Maybe obstacles remain. The Logans are still battling their insurance company, which doesn’t want to cover the two follow-up plastic surgeries he’ll need to remove the acres of leftover skin. “They say it’s medically unnecessary,” says Roger, who clearly believes otherwise. So they’ll keep fighting — and maintain a GoFundMe account, which helped pay for some of the expenses related to last week’s surgery.
Then there’s Roger’s weight. He has always been big. Really big. Blame his pituitary disease, which, without medication, causes him to gain weight. And he had stopped taking his medication, not certain if it had been responsible for the tumor. (That wasn’t it; the cause, believe it or not, was an ingrown hair, according to Dr. Dev.)
At his most, Roger weighed 540 pounds; he’s at 491 now (despite having lost 140 pounds when the Thing made its grand exit. I know the math doesn’t work out). He’ll immediately go back on the pituitary medication and hope that does the trick.
In a few weeks, after a stay at a Bakersfield rehab center that the Logans expect to transfer to any day now, they’ll go back to Gulfport, Miss. They’ll be a couple again, not a threesome. And they won’t mourn that fact one bit.
Every married couple has a Thing that can potentially threaten their future together.
The fortunate ones have small Things, easily surmountable Things that love and attention can eradicate. Others have huge Things, elephant-in-the-room Things. Those take special care, persistent care, lest they turn into Monster Things.
As the Logans can attest, though, love can conquer even the monsters.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
Robert Price writes a weekly column for The Californian. Reach him at email@example.com. The opinions expressed are his own.