I was sitting in a waiting room in a hospital. I was so used to this waiting room that I started to greet the same people who sat in it by name, along with us, five days a week.
Z, my nearly three year old son, was playing on the floor at my feet. He had a plush football in his hands. Our routine was now that he would peek in the doctor’s office every time we came in for my mother’s radiation treatments to see if he could get the man to talk to him.
Everyone loved Z at the hospital. He was a smiling, oblivious bright spot to the reality that everyone here was dealing with: a scary cancer diagnosis and a treatment that brought about pain and burns and damage. Z would come bounding in, forcing my apologetic nature to offer platitudes all around, and ask the doctor for the stuffed football on his desk, in the cute speech that only an almost three year old can muster. He would ask the lady next to us with the tidy bright red kerchief on her head if she rode the “alligator” too to come down to the basement treatment center.
Z gave my mother something to distract her as we waited those long days, sometimes as much as thirty minutes or more, for her few minutes underneath the enormous radiation therapy machines. She was quiet and pensive as we waited, having nothing much more to do or think about than whether or not her cancer treatments were working. My mother hated nothing more than losing her independence; her dependence on me to take her to her appointments, to cook, to buy the groceries, to clean the house, was frustrating her at times more than the annoying consequences of her treatment protocol. The doctors prescribed her antidepressants for dark moods. That, combined with the prednisone they prescribed to open up her airways, gave her personality a flat affect that betrayed little emotion beyond annoyance.
But when Z would come up to her with the tube of cream for her radiation burns, or quietly peek under the edge of the white head wrap that sat where her hair used to be, or throw the football inappropriately across the waiting room at radiation therapy, she would smile. She would laugh and say perhaps we should go to the cafeteria after the treatment was over and see if they had anything for my sweet boy to eat. She would buy him chocolate muffins while I coaxed her to see if chocolate pudding would slide more easily down her damaged esophagus today.
And in those few minutes when my mother smiled at my sunny toddler, I would stop looking around at the other patients in the waiting room, in various stages of fighting various cancers. I would stop surreptitiously trying to see our future in their walk, their hair, their coughs. I would stop wondering if the rays that were so damaging that no one else could be in the room with my mother while they were pointed at her were working.
Instead, I would see a grandmother enjoying her grandson. I would see the pride she had in this kind, smart little boy who didn’t know or care about any tumor in her chest. I would see things as they used to be, before The Big C took the lead role in all of our lives.
“Can I press the buttons on the alligator, Grandma?”
“Definitely,” she would say as she took his hand and led him slowly down the long corridor that led there.
Want to read more? Check out my year long journey back in time at My Former Life.
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