Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Waiting Rooms.

Some days I feel dark.I have become intimate with waiting rooms over the past few months.  But none have gotten under my skin so deeply as the one at the Cancer Agency where E had the PET scan.

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.

Bravery.

Take that Big C and shove it where the sun don’t shine.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: You Could Die Waiting.

Boo looking up at E at the top of the garden.

Boo looking up at E at the top of the garden.

I have a big patience muscle.  I haven’t always.  But the older I get the bigger it grows.  It was tested fully those tedious grey hours that we sat waiting for a doctor in the ER. Each minute that passed felt like an hour.  I became the irritating kid on a road trip asking, “Are we there yet?”  Only my question that night was, “Is he here yet?”

M pulled out her Anthropology textbook and passed the time reading, listening to music and texting her best friend A.  Teenagers bring their cellphones to bed with them so they are there for each other 24 / 7. This wasn’t unusual. It’s a fascinating cultural phenomenon that is completely foreign to me, being that I’m as old as dirt after all.  I don’t judge.  It works for them.  I on the other hand, frustrate my daughter by my reckless lack of interest in my iPhone.  I use it primarily to take photographs, videos and record sounds.  I am also an Instagram addict.  But mostly the thing is either tethered to my iMac or lost in the bottom of my purse under wads of used Kleenex and other female essentials and paraphernalia.

During those wee hours of December 6, I amused myself by watching the monitor behind E.  It was hypnotic.  And almost as compelling as watching C-SPAN.  The endless minutes ticked by.  I spotted a miniature box of Kleenex on a shelf beneath the monitor and handed it to E to wipe his mouth.  He had the small bowl the nurse had given him resting on his chest to collect the steady flow of drool.  It’s funny the things that capture your imagination at times like these.  The bowl appeared to be made of the same material as take-out holders for drinks at fast food joints.  I wondered if it was sturdy enough to hold all that liquid pouring from E’s mouth. Would it turn to mush and melt all over him?  That’s all we needed on a night such as this.

Fatigue and weariness became intimate bedfellows, wreaking havoc with my emotions, which were fragile at best.  My body felt burdensome and heavy.  At one point I laid my head on the edge of E’s cot and closed my eyes.  I prayed for just five minutes of sleep. Just five lousy minutes.  Oh God, let me escape.  Get away from this insidious nightmare that held us captive.

With sleep turning it’s back on me like a jilted lover, I got up and tiptoed over to the nurse’s station.

“Do you think the doctor will be here soon?” I asked politely.

“Give it fifteen more minutes,” Nurse One replied patiently.

“My daughter has an exam in the morning and I have to work,” I said.  Not that it really mattered.  I just felt compelled to say this out loud.

“It shouldn’t be too much longer,” she assured.

“Okay,” I said, as I slunk quietly back to my chair next to E.

I was overcome by the 3Ds.  Defeated. Deflated. Depressed.

Then just like Nurse One promised, fifteen minutes later a lanky older man appeared suddenly out of no where.  The doctor had arrived. Hallelujah.

One of the other nurses emerged from behind their station to consult with him.  We were less than ten feet away so we could hear everything.  She gave him a quick rundown on the patients waiting for his attention.  There was the old lady in the wheel chair, the drunk guy sleeping on the gurney, and there was mouth guy.  Everyone was identified by their condition.  It was fast and efficient.

The doctor attended to E first.  Perhaps because he was one of the few who were conscious at that moment, or maybe my earlier query on when the doctor would arrive made me a squeaky wheel, or perhaps it was just our proximity to the nurse’s station.  It didn’t matter to me why E was the first to be treated.  I was simply grateful.

I filled the doctor in on the events that had transpired in the previous twelve hours — from the secret biopsy in the afternoon to the episode in the bathroom earlier that night.  A blow by blow account of E’s symptoms.  E interjected with the odd garbled comment.  No one really knew what he was saying.  The doctor scolded him for keeping secrets this big.

Then he asked E to open his mouth.

I peered over the doctor’s shoulder and got my first glimpse of what was causing all the grief.  E’s tongue was the size of a two-year old’s fist.

“Whoa,” I blurted. “Holy crap.”

The doctor sat down in my chair and crossed his long legs in a relaxed easy manner.  I stood across from him with M by my side.  We hung on his every word like he was our lifeline to hope and salvation.  He’d prescribe pain killers and call the surgeon who conducted the biopsy.  He teasingly proposed that M and I go home and get some rest.  E was in good hands and would be able to sleep once the medication kicked in.

Truthfully, M and I were relieved to be sent home.  The doctor was right.  E was in good hands.  There was nothing more for us to do that night.

M drove the truck home while I sunk into the passenger seat, thankful to be driven.  The rain had stopped but the streets were slick and wet.  We discussed the events of the evening. We were both a little shell-shocked.  M had been quiet and said very little during our vigil in the ER.  But in the shelter of our Ford Ranger she was able to share some of her feelings with me.

“I didn’t appreciate the nurse referring to Dad as mouth guy,” she said.

“I know,” I said.

“They shouldn’t talk like that in front of people’s families,” she said.

I understood my daughter’s hurt feelings.  But I also understood that this was just the everyday language of the ER. The nurse’s comments were not intended to cause harm. In fact, just the opposite was true.  They were merely the parlance of dispatching critical information with as much speed and economy as possible.

But I was too tired for explanations.  And she was too tired to care.

Silence filled the truck.  M and I were consumed with our own private thoughts.  As we were floating across town in a semi-dream state, I remember this horrible feeling of dread pass through my body.  Like thick black tar.  I flashed back to a year earlier.  To the week in September when our sweet little Jack Russell, Andy suffered a heart attack and died with me by his side.  E was in Nova Scotia burying his father, while M and I were thousands of miles away on the West coast.

It was just the two of us that week. Taking care of Andy. Watching him slip away. Overwhelmed by sadness. Paralyzed by grief.

This felt just like that.