Out in the Cold
They are America's Cold War veterans, who forged weapons from a fearsome energy source and bravely endured years of radiation for a country that pledged to take care of them. Instead, government loopholes and evasions are making sure those promises are never kept.
The cleanup looked messy to Tom Haverty, and to the more than a dozen Rocky Flats veterans and DOE experts I spoke with. Tom felt that the project was moving too fast. His disappointment was exacerbated by the bureaucracy at the Flats. Tom has a sharp, dark wit, but there was a saying around the plant that wiped the smile from his face: "For every person trying to do something at Rocky Flats, there's 47 others trying to prevent you from doing it, and 51 more yelling at you to do it faster." The status quo prevailed, and it crushed Tom's spirit. He tried to distract himself with hobbies and books. He made regular visits to the company shrink. In 2000, Tom decided he'd had enough.
The first five years away from the Flats, Tom road-tripped with his wife, Theresa, visited his children up and down the Front Range, and odd-jobbed around the little mountain getaway he'd finally managed to buy. One morning in November 2005, Tom checked into the emergency room at St. Joe's in Denver with an agonizing stomachache. He thought his appendix was about to burst. Tom woke up that afternoon to learn that 13 cancerous inches of his colon had been removed. The oncologist, Dr. Thomas Hyde, was sorry to inform him that several small tumors had already begun forming throughout his digestive system. He put Tom on intravenous chemotherapy, but told him not to expect any miracles. In all probability, he said, Tom would be dead inside of six months. Tom and Theresa shopped for a life insurance policy, but his poor health precluded him from coverage.
He got through the chemo—nine months of puking and cloudy-headedness. But a round of tests in November 2006 revealed a tumor behind his bladder and several precancerous nodules on his liver and abdomen. Doctors opened Tom up, did their best to remove the rot from his guts, prescribed a slew of drugs, and told him not to make any big plans for the future. Capecitabine, the peach-colored chemotherapy pill that Tom will swallow by the handful for the rest of his life, is best known for the following side effects: nausea, itchiness, vomiting, fatigue, weight loss, dizziness, memory loss. And one other thing.
"Do you know what diarrhea is?" Tom recently asked me. I was walking next to him as he speed-waddled toward a hospital-lobby men's room. "Yes," I replied. "Of course." Tom turned his head, shot me a smile as wide as a mushroom cloud, and said, "No you don't."
"Do you know what diarrhea is?" Tom recently asked me. I was walking next to him as he speed-waddled toward a hospital-lobby men's room.
"Yes," I replied. "Of course."
Tom turned his head, shot me a smile as wide as a mushroom cloud, and said, "No you don't."