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.
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