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  • Writer's pictureRuss Newton

A friend and how we became friends.

This will be a long story I am afraid but I feel motivated to tell it tonight so bear with me. I am going to tell you all about a friend of mine, Juan Gonzales and how we became friends. And one reason I am telling this story is I am 100% confident Juan will not read it!

So I met Juan back in the fall of 2000. I had just started at California Community News in the city of Glendale, CA. The easiest way to .think about CCN is it was the packaging division of the Los Angeles Times. Juan did a series of odd jobs, make work really. He was limited in many ways. First and foremost he stutters. Communication's are difficult for him. Not because he can't communicate but because most people won't give him the time to communicate. There were a lot of stories about him. One that was true is he was in the service during Vietnam and apparently witnessed a good friend get killed. It had a big impact on Juan. He went nuts if you took a picture of him for one thing. He doesn't trust technology and doesn't have a computer or cell phone. And the other thing which is the main point of this story is he refused to see a doctor.

So fast forward a couple of years and we were in our new facility in Irwindale, CA. And I walked the floor a lot. So I would interact with Juan. And it was painful for me but I would force myself to let him finish his sentences. Well i am the kind of guy that is pretty direct so I employed this directness on Juan. I said "Juan, that black thing on your nose is growing and changing shapes isn't it?" And he said yes but he would pick it down when he got home. I said have you had a doctor look at it? And he told me he hadn't seen a doctor in 30 years and wouldn't see a doctor.

i left that discussion frustrated and on a mission. I worked on Juan every day. Finally he said he couldn't afford to go to the doctor. So I went to our HR manager and got about $500 in gift cars left over from Christmas gifts for employees. And I went to Juan and said we could cover the cost. So then he said he had no way of getting there. So I found a doctor and I agreed to take him there. And the joke I said then as a person who wasn't a believer, I was just hoping to get a glass of cool lemonade in hell. So I took Juan to the doctor and went in with him to see the doctor. The doctor took a good look at it and said you have a basil cell carcinoma. Juan's question was what would happen if he didn't get it taken off. The doctor didn't take him seriously. I had to tell the doctor he really needed to know. So the Doctor almost reluctantly told him if he did nothing the cancer would grow and take over his face and he wouldn't be able to breath out of his nose. Juan's response? I am a mouth breather. So the doctor continued and said it wouldn't stop there, it would eventually kill him if he was foolish enough to not take the treatment. The doctor couldn't believe Juan was serious. So we left the Doctors office and I drove Juan home. As I was sitting in the car, Juan was making excuse's not to get the surgery to fix it. I just looked at Juan (and we were not that close then) and said "Juan, I am here right now, the Director of Operations taking you the doctor and paying for it. Why am I doing it? I don't know why I am doing it, but something is using me to do it. Who do you think that could be? Maybe God? Juan is a big believe in God and that struck him where it hurt. He said he would think about it. I kept following up at work and kept saying something was compelling me to do so and I wouldn't mess with it if I was him. Well eventually he agreed to get the surgery. And I found the money it would take to cover the treatment.

So one note on the treatment. They shave the tumor down until it is gone. Then they shave a thin slice and put it under a scope while the patient is sitting in the chair getting the surgery. And check it for cancer cells. And if they find cancer cells they repeat the process. Well they repeated it a bunch of times. I was shocked when they finished how much of his nose they had removed. it looked like a 90 degree slice straight back from his mid nose and up. It looked awful to me. I was stunned. But the doctor told us it would grow back quite a bit and fill in overtime.

So in the next couple of years Juan came to work with a bandage over his nose and he would with great reluctance show me the site upon request and I would say truthfully it doesn't look that bad at all Juan, you don't need to wear the band aid. But he continued to do it. We had to discipline Juan for behaviors at work. Leaving his assigned task to go the bathroom way more than normal. And to talk to other employees as his assignment put him working on his own. Small stuff but we practice progressive discipline so it got more and more serious as the same type of offences came up.

Well I got promoted to VP of Operations and moved downtown to the Olympic plant. And my replacement called me one day about a year later saying that the only move left was to terminate Juan. I said what did he do. He told me and I agreed. So we fired Juan but it felt like shooting a puppy.

So I started to call Juan and take him out to lunch a few times a year. This continued for ten years. Juan never went back to work but we became friends over this time. I actually looked forward to having lunch with Juan. His speech forced me to slow down and really listen and I thought that was a good lesson for me to learn. And boy have I learned it now that I can't speak.

But Juan is till ticking. I think he just hit 70 years old. (Another thing he is funny about, his age) John LaBreche was over tonight for a visit, thank you John. And he offered again, is there anything he could help me with. And I said yes, would you help me make a phone call. So we called Juan and I had a nice conversation with John as the go between for Juan and I.

So that is the story of Juan. And while I looked for a picture of basil cell carcinoma, I could not find one that was as severe as Juan's. And today? It is virtually gone and I am proud of Juan to say he doesn't wear a bandage anymore.

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