"I ... find my strength in the beat of your heart." (Haley Westenra)
I like to think of myself as someone whose heart goes out to those less fortunate, people who need a helping hand, others who "there but for the grace of god go I." I thought I'd learned this years ago when I had volunteered to make meals for the homebound and served Christmas lunch to the homeless. However, there's a part of me of whom I'm ashamed: an ugly, spoiled child, who rears his head from time to time. But I've been humbled.
My initial familiarity with an infusion room was at a different cancer hospital than the one where I'm receiving treatments. From a distance I saw cubicles with beds separated by curtains -- think unclean TV hospital emergency rooms. It looked like the last place I'd want to spend time, and the people didn't appear to be a group with whom I could relate. As such, I perceived the space as depressing and uninviting. Denial surged through my veins.
And then my time arrived. On my first day of chemotherapy I had an early schedule, so I was offered the opportunity to choose from multiple infusion locations. I sat in the furthest corner barcalounger which was in the vicinity next to, and facing, the main nurses' station. In this manner I imagined I could be an invisible observer of most of the comings and goings in the room. Actually, I had no idea what to expect. I don't remember much because I slept for the majority of the infusion time.
On a different morning during this first cycle I remember a rather rough looking man in torn and bloodied clothes being brought in and placed in the chair opposite. I didn't want to have to look at him, especially after he returned from the rest room where he'd been ill. The last thing I needed was for someone to be sick beside me, as I have been known to throw-up as if I were a domino. As I went in and out of consciousness I remember that they tried multiple drugs over several hours to help him feel better. Each time I looked he was slumped over with an expression reflecting a mixture of anger and fever -- a "don't think about it" look. We never spoke until I was getting ready to leave. His expression had softened, and he said to me, "I hope everything goes well for you." I thanked him and left feeling like a jerk for having selfishly thought of only myself throughout our journey together that day.
During another cycle, the only available space was on the isle across from the hall leading to the bathrooms. In the window seat was a fast asleep woman about whom I didn't think much until she woke and started talking to me. She was receiving an infusion of only one of my drugs, the most toxic, as she had a different cancer from mine. She was alone, as I am during the majority of my treatments, and was the first person that I remember who talked to me in depth about herself, and to ask about me. Some people in the infusion room are very talkative -- perhaps they are lonely -- while other people shy away from speaking except to either those who have come with them or their nurse. Yet even these "shy" people are curious, and a part of them, like most of us, wants to know why the others are also there.
The talkative woman left shortly after I arrived. A couple dressed in tight-fitting jogging outfits which showed they were in great shape came to take her place. As they milled around the space it became clear it was the female who was there for treatments. She had short black hair and wore a serious expression, while he had close cropped hair and looked concerned. This being their first day, they ignored me; also I was going in and out of consciousness it being my long day. When we did speak, it was my being helpful answering questions. I didn't want to appear intrusive, as I remembered my first day and how I wanted to be left alone, to be a fly on the wall observing the others as if I wasn't one of them. By the time I left she was sleeping peacefully, listening to her iPod -- the beat of the rhythm now coursed through her veins. I said to her male companion that I wished them well. I saw myself reflected back at me -- an expression of surprise and a dawning recognition from a softening around the edges.
There was a different day in a separate cycle when I was sitting in the isle directly across from the main nurses' station. I was coming out of a daze when I noticed a well dressed, flashy couple appear at the nurses' station on their way out. I couldn't help but notice the superior air they were exhibiting, as if everyone was in the infusion room simply to do their bidding. I initially assumed they were leaving from a day of treatment, but realized this had to be their orientation day. I knew that once the zooming rhythm began within them there would be a change for the better -- at least that is my forecast based on my own, limited experiences.
And there was the morning I was in a semi-private room (I was only in there because my nurse for the day was stationed in that area) when a hefty woman in old, shabby clothes and worn shoes joined me. She was wearing a knit cap to hide her bald head and the most inviting smile on her face. My heart hammered for her as she said, "Hi." Such a simple word that offers so many possibilities. We chatted with each other, discussing our cancers and treatments. She exhibited a wonderful attitude about life and the future -- she was infectious. For the first time I was sorry to be leaving the infusion room.
But I will be back as I have two more cycles and life-changing experiences to look forward to.
Let it be known that there is one truth we all take away from our moments of familiarity in the hospital cancer infusion room -- it is truly a level playing field, the great equalizer: We come from all walks of life and are all in there for the same reason, playing on the same team, with the same goal. May we all be winners!
Timing: 2-Dec thru 5-Dec cycle five (5) of chemotherapy.
Let your pulse pound to the rhythm...
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 1 History
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 2 Vincristine Study
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 3 Prep for Chemo
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 4 Cycle 1
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 5 Neutroponic Fever
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 6 Nadir Charts
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 7 Cycle 2
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 8 How People Respond
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 9 Cycle 3
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 10 Medical Marijuana
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 11 Cycle 4
Follow James Stack on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SkygateStack