It was a small crowded room packed with patients waiting to be tested and their respective support groups. And me, the consummate Groupie. We got there early so there was ample time for E to fill out the intake form and for me to get restless and bored. The chairs were stiff and awkwardly close. The lights were unbearably bright. Mocking and cruel. The air was weary. This was not a place to linger nor languish. Here, you waited, got it over with and then got the hell out.
We waited. And waited. Waited some more. At one point, I fell asleep and may have snored, ever so slightly. E gave me a little love nudge. I bolted upright and looked around, momentarily confused by my surroundings. Oh yes, we’re still here I thought.
E’s name was called precisely at the appointed hour. I gave him a quick peck on the lips, squeezed his hand and watched as he followed the nurse through the heavy metal double doors. What lay beyond was all a big mystery to me. I wanted to keep it that way. Others had gone before him and they all came back okay. So would he.
I settled in for the 2-hour wait.
I managed to read a few pages from The Color of Water before succumbing to the call of slumber. My eyelids fluttered and slowly closed. My head sagged heavily onto my chest like a two hundred pound pumpkin. Not a pretty sight. In the end, it was the drool trickling from the corner of my mouth that brought me back to wakefulness. I wiped my chin with the back of my gloved hand, closed the book and slipped it into the side pocket of my purse.
Then I did what I do best. Observe. Witness. Listen.
There was a painfully thin older woman in her seventies surrounded by her family, who were helping her fill out the daunting intake form. Her son patiently went through the form question by question. Sometimes answering for her. And like E and I, sometimes guessing at questions with possible multiple answers or ones that simply didn’t make sense. Close enough was good enough.
There was the young man waiting for his beautiful wife. She was one who had gone through the double doors before E. When she emerged, he jumped up and was immediately at her side. “Ah, my beautiful wife,” he declared as he kissed her cheek and took her hand. They sat in the hallway together for a moment, holding hands. Then he returned to the admitting desk with questions about the “reports to the doctor.” “Would they get copies as well?” he asked. Once assured that all was in order, they left. He, with his arm around her waist, and she, with her head snuggled into the sweet spot in his neck. It took my breath away.
There was the athletic looking woman with the grey hair and backpack slung over here shoulder. She stood next to the wall with her equally fit friend and made arrangements to meet up afterwards. There was the heavyset woman who sat quietly knitting. The middle-aged man in the leather bomber jacket and faded jeans reading the paper. The teenage boy with the headphones and rapper-style hip-hop jeans, who paced the hallway in step to the music he was listening to. The young happy bubbly girl barely into her teens, who greeted her anxious parents with a big smile and a reassuring, “It wasn’t that bad.”
And there were others too who came and went during my wait that dreary afternoon in the middle of February. All there for the same reason.
As I write this, my eyes well with tears at the memory.
The Big C is an equal opportunity invader. It strikes randomly and carelessly. Unapologetic and audaciously so. Old women confused by the questions on forms. Girlfriends with backpacks and sensible walking shoes. Beautiful young wives with handsome thoughtful husbands. People killing time by reading newspapers and books. Knitters of scarves and baby blankets. Middle-aged men in denim and leather. Young teenagers, whose walk on this earth too new to leave footprints. And yes, even bluegrass musicians who play the upright bass with passion and heart.
The rich. The poor. And everything in between. The happy and optimistic. The pessimist and naysayer. The sad and lonely. The newborn and the ancient one. There are no precise demographics. No one can pinpoint the target audience. By touching us all in some way, the whole thing seems so common. Perhaps that’s the divine irony. There are no favorites here.
The thing that struck me the most while I was waiting. Hit me in the gut so deeply and profoundly. It was what all these people had in common that I did not possess.
Take that Big C and shove it where the sun don’t shine.