Monday, July 19, 2010

An Encounter in the Waiting Room

I continue on the raw food diet. I'm not perfect at it, but I do stick to it most of the time. I try not to be obnoxious about it, though I may have crossed a line last week.

I sat in the waiting room near a family of four. The father was in his late 50's or early 60's. He was joking about waiting so long to see the doctor that they probably had pajamas waiting for him. I looked up and laughed.

From there, the parents and I started chatting about the things most chemo patients share. He looked good to me, but shared that he lost 40 pounds so far. His wife told me that she was 59; I could feel her positive energy, as well as her disbelief that they were even here. His daughter and son, in their late teens or early 20's, sat next in the line of chairs, each occupied by a book or their iPhones while they listened to our conversation.

We chatted about the length of the appointments, the fact that chemo wasn't working for him, how we both hate the IV fluids they give for dehydration. She was more factual, though cheery. He tried to make light of it all.

At one point, the snack cart came around, filled with items that I used to think were totally yummy: roasted peanuts, Lorna Doones, potato chips, apple juice, V-8...I declined. The family members each took a few treats. They advised me, in a friendly way, that I should take what I liked and save it for later.

"Like we just said, you don't know how long you'll need to wait here."

In response, I blurted out, "I'm not doing sugar right now."

They all stopped; even the kids looked directly at me. They all had hope in their eyes that broke my heart. I recognized that feeling; I do it myself, looking for a "cure" that might be out there, something I don't yet know or haven't heard about, a lifeline.

After what felt like a long silence but was probably only a moment, the wife softly asked, "Did the doctor advise that?"

I wanted to reassure them. Even more than that, I wanted that look in their eyes to go away. Plus, what do I really know. I am trying everything I can do that feels right to me, but maybe it isn't right for everyone.

"No, this is something I'm doing on my own." It is true, but even as I said it, I wondered, should I share more information? Is this something that could help him?

Then the father joked, "Sugar will make you even sweeter."

Again, something I recognized. The patient telling a joke to make everyone else feel better.

It broke the mood and we chatted lightly again until we were all called back into our doctors' offices.

As I was leaving my appointment, I caught a glimpse of them in their doctor's room. Their mood was no longer light, there were no smiles, and I said a silent prayer for them as I walked away.


Joanna said...

Alternative medicines put you in a strange place. Some of them are even well documented as having impact, yet some people won't talk about them in a clinical setting. One of my friends who was an anesthesiologist told me about this-- you ask all the medications people are on, and then they don't tell you they are taking psychoactive additives to calm yourself down, while they mention every "medicine" possible.

You reminded me of that with a treatment you were willing to try yourself, but that you didn't want to raise a potentially-false hope in another family with. I think in situations like that you should go ahead and tell them it's something you enjoy that you know might not have any effect but there's whatever kind of evidence that it might and you think that hope is worth some trouble.

Not to in anyway criticize your response -- you've written a well-observed anecdote and I can see exactly how it had to go that time.

Diane Bond said...

Marie, what a sweet, tender spirit you have. I can't imagine how difficult it must be to spend such long hours on chemo, and here you are in the waiting room focusing on someone else (wanting to reassure them) and praying for them as you leave. This is one of the reasons I love you and am so glad that we re-connected after so many years. You amaze me!!! I wish I was more like you. Love, Diane

Unknown said...

You have such a gift for writing from the heart. I feel it in every story you share. I've always known you are an amazing woman, but your writing lets even more people know. And I am sure it can help so many people, too.
Thank you!

ruth pennebaker said...

Oh, Marie -- What a powerful story. I felt I was there, with you. Those waiting room experiences are so moving, aren't they? I always felt, with other cancer survivors, that you barreled past any small talk to very important things almost immediately. Thinking of you, Ruth