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A group of very different looking individuals

Get Cancer, Meet Interesting People

In my thirty-some-odd years of medical adventures, I have met more than my share of characters. Any of you who have spent time in the hospital knows that nurses, doctors and techs are a special breed. They deal with death and dismay on a daily basis so it only stands to reason that their coping mechanisms are working overtime. What that means in plain English is that you meet some, um… interesting? Unique?  Err.. unusual people during your time as a cancer patient.

The exceptional individuals I have met range from simply odd to really weird to angry. Of course, since you are dealing with cancer it’s accepted that your entire perception is a bit skewed. You are trying to beat a killer so if you don’t realize at the time the comedy gold you are being handed it’s totally understandable. It wasn’t until I sat down to take stock of the rogue’s gallery that I had actually dealt with on my lymphoma journey that I grasped it was worth writing about.

The stand-up scan-tech

The PET scan – a ubiquitous tool when dealing with cancer. It helps to tell oncologists how active your disease is and whether or not the treatment they have you on is effective. Part of the procedure is an hour wait while the injection circulates throughout your body. I usually use that time to write.

Sometimes when people find out I’m a writer, a bizarre thing happens. Somehow I suddenly become that big wig with a cigar who is “gonna make you a stah kid, a stahhhhhhhhh.” This happened at my first PET scan when the tech saw me writing. He said, “oh, you’re a writer?” “Yes, a writer/storyteller, actually.” I said. He responded, “oh, man, I am a storyteller too, I do stand up comedy, all my friends say I’m so funny…” and waited. And waited some more. He was obviously waiting for me to ask him to do his act for and I was waiting for him to spontaneously combust. I just wanted to do my work and digest my fears. Alone. For the whole hour. Comedy tech kept standing there, though, until the silence began to get so awkward that I would have agreed to an audiobook of Richard III read by Gilbert Gottfried to make it stop. Seeing no other alternative I said, “oh yeah? I’d… love? to hear one of your stories. Probably?” He smiled, stood up, and then the marathon of words began.

Have you ever seen a comedian die on stage? It’s excruciating and everyone is embarrassed for everyone. Well, this wasn’t a comedy club, and there was no heckler to shout out “you suck!” I sat for the whole hour and listened. Listened to unfunny anecdotes with no punchlines and jokes that wouldn’t have made sense to a high person. It was some of the worst talking I’ve ever had to sit through and I was once told I may not ever walk again. I tried the old “welllllllllll… I gotta do some work sooooooo…” but he would just say “oh I’m almost done.” By the end I was seriously contemplating running out of the office and just rolling the old cancer dice but just as I was about to run another technician came in and said I was ready for my scan. A reprieve! I guarantee no one in the history of PET scans was ever as happy to get into that metal claustrophobia donut. I quickly scooted out when I was done for fear of being trapped for another reading of War & Peace. Ugh more like Bore and Cease.

The angry nurse

The failed comedian wasn’t the only oddball I met during my time with cancer. For a while, before they had officially diagnosed me with lymphoma, they had me in the ICU. The intensive care area generally has nurses that pay a bit more attention to what’s going on, which stands to reason, but the one I got for three days went beyond attention straight to scolding.

By the time I was in the ICU, I hadn’t eaten solid food in over a week. I was so hungry. Starving. Trying to distract myself, I turned on the TV. Bad Idea. You don’t realize how many commercials on television are actually food commercials until you’ve had only chicken broth for eight days. Pizza, hamburgers, fried chicken, pasta, even crackers – it’s a virtual smorgasbord and absolute torture for someone who hasn’t had solid food in a fortnight. I called my mom and asked her to sneak something into the ICU next time she came. We had become experienced hospital smugglers by then, mainly because we always think we know better than the doctors (we usually do). When she came that night she brought some chocolate. It wasn’t much but to me it might as well have been pheasant under glass. I dove into the candy bar like I was poisoned and it was the antidote. Just as I was savoring it, in walked the angry nurse.

The look on her face said it all – she was mad. She ran over and grabbed the chocolate out of my hand and tossed it right into the garbage. Now, I would have gone diving into the used needle bin to get it back and she must have known that because she took the bag with her and left the room like a weird anti-Santa, clutching her sack full of my broken cocoa dreams. My mom even went to try to talk her into asking the doctor if I could have something more than broth but when she came into the room my mom just looked at me and shook her head, like she’d seen a ghost who also denied her a loan.

For the next two days, I might as well have been a five-year-old and the nurse my stern governess. Every time my mother came to visit she would man the door like the East Berlin stasi at Checkpoint Charlie. I understand that nurses have to put up with a lot but I was in full supermax lockdown. After that, it was like Oliver Twist – please ma’am, may I have some water?

The moral of this post is: Don’t forget to take the time to smile. Talk soon.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Blood-Cancer.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • Deb Wesloh moderator
    2 weeks ago

    Loved your post! I had to laugh at your references to the anti-Santa and Checkpoint Charlie. I agree, you do meet some characters along the way in your cancer journey.

  • Daniel Malito moderator author
    2 weeks ago

    @dbwes62 Cancer isn’t all blood tests and chemo, you meet a ton of people along the way. It always fascinated me how something can happen in your life and then suddenly there are new people that are now some of the most important people in your life. People you didn’t even know six months before. Cancer does that! Thanks for reading, keep on keepin’ on, DPM

  • Yolanda Brunson-Sarrabo moderator
    3 weeks ago

    Oh My! I tell you I’m always amazed by the experience we all face. The comedian nurse I get, but the mean nurse… well that would have gotten me saying, “I’d like another nurse please”. Luckily my nurses have been great, some better than others. Keep on smiling and doing!

  • Daniel Malito moderator author
    2 weeks ago

    @yolandabrunson-sarrabo Heh, I’m always afraid they will put me on some kind of “annoying patient” list for when I come the next time. Ha ha. Especially during inpatient hospital stays. Thanks for reading, as always. 🙂 Keep on keepin’ on, DPM

  • Ann Harper moderator
    2 weeks ago

    I get worried about that too!

  • Yolanda Brunson-Sarrabo moderator
    2 weeks ago

    @danielpmalito LOLOL I totally get it, but I think my hospital/clinic may already have me on that (possible) list. I don’t care if they feel annoyed or what, if I get any sass their manager and administrators are going to know about it. I’m not a pincushion for their delight. I don’t play… but that’s me -LOLOL

  • Cherie Rineker moderator
    3 weeks ago

    I am so sorry you had to deal with nurse AB (angry you know what lol). I have never had a comedian nurse, would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for that one. I have had a lot of characters as well. I remember my first appointment when I was super sick, super drugged and super scared. My oncologist nurse did not speak very good English and made up for it by speaking louder. As I sat in his office, door open because apparently he was claustrophobic, she kept coming in a bugging him about other patients and orders that needed filling, DURING MY PRECIOUS 15 MINUTES! He never much looked at me and gave her more attention than he gave me. When I started crying from being so overwhelmed, she looked at me with a stern face and said : You must not cry. Crying no good for cancer, You can die. You must be happy. Okay, I know being positive is better in any situation, but can I have some time to digest all this. Needlessly to say that I told my husband I could not go back to this doctor and his nurse. We called the hospital and I was given a new oncologist who is the absolute best doctor in the world :>)XO Cherie

  • Daniel Malito moderator author
    2 weeks ago

    @cherierineker That sounds like an awful day, on top of the usual cancer awful. I have been to some bad docs and bad doctors appointments myself, and you always leave feeling overwhelmed and un-listened to. It’s trying, to say the least. I hope it get better for you. Thanks for reading, keep on keepin’ on, DPM

  • Ann Harper moderator
    3 weeks ago

    Wow! That’s horrible treatment. I’m glad you found a different doctor.

  • Crystal Harper moderator
    3 weeks ago

    I love your writing! I laughed while reading this and trying to imagine someone doing a stand up comedy act in the middle of a waiting room lol! You’re so right though. People in any situation are always going to be interesting at times, but I think being around those with cancer makes people even more awkward and uncomfortable and that’s when the odd comments start flowing. I have my fair share of mind boggling comments I’ve received and like you, I’ve learned to just laugh them off. Looking forward to your next post, Daniel!

  • Daniel Malito moderator author
    3 weeks ago

    @crystal_hu LOL, glad you got a laugh. For some reason we seem to meet more of the world’s characters than the normal, everyday, person walking down the street. Except my brothers, he meets some bizzare people. ha ha. Keep on keepin’ on, DPM

  • Jim Smith moderator
    4 weeks ago

    @danielpmalito Daniel I really enjoy your writing. You somehow manage to weave humor into even the most difficult times. Now that you’re free of that nurse go enjoy an almond roca on me.

  • Daniel Malito moderator author
    3 weeks ago

    @jim-smith I will enjoy one, thanks! I think humor is the best cure for this crazy thing called cancer. Thanks for reading, keep on keepin’ on, DPM

  • Bob McEachern
    4 weeks ago

    Jeez, Daniel — now I have Gilbert Gottfried’s voice going through my head. Thanks a lot.

    Classic stories, though. “I just wanted to do my work and digest my fears.” — Awesome.

  • Daniel Malito moderator author
    3 weeks ago

    @bobtalisker Wah wah (In Gilbert’s voice). ha ha. I hope that you get that voice out soon. 🤪 Thanks for reading, keep on keepin’ on, DPM

  • Ann Harper moderator
    4 weeks ago

    It is certainly true that we meet some characters – pretty much wherever we go. I recently had to see a pulmonologist. He found out I teach math and told me all about every mathematician he’d ever heard of. He even threw in some math jokes and a few decimal problems. All I wanted was to find out about my cough. Oh well.

  • Daniel Malito moderator author
    3 weeks ago

    @annharper LOL! “Well, I know Copurnicus, Kepler, Pascal, Archimedes, Eurypidies…”

    “Um, I just want to know if I wil be able to breathe?”

    I hope the news was worth waiting for ha ha. Thanks for reading. Keep on keepin’ on, DPM

  • Ann Harper moderator
    3 weeks ago

    Lol!

  • Crystal Harper moderator
    3 weeks ago

    Remember that anesthesiologist who tried to make weather jokes right before my port surgery? I was NOT in the mood for it lol!

  • Ann Harper moderator
    3 weeks ago

    I was told once – it’s only funny when both people are laughing. Good advice most people should hear!

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