March 10, 2009


Do you ever hide something so well that you cannot find it, no matter where you look? Whether you’ve blocked it from memory, or hidden it away in a cardboard box in the attic, you just can’t remember where you put it. And right now you really want to find it, because it’s part of a story you have to tell, and are now ready to share. But you can’t remember. The memories are nowhere to be found in the cobwebbed nooks and crannies of your mind. You hid them too well from yourself. I am still looking, but I did find this, written by someone that I once was.


The waiting is the hardest part. It seems that every time you go to Stanford you wait. Patients should be called waiters. That’s what they do. Wait. Sit. Wait. Maybe they should be called patience instead. You watch the clock. They put the clock on the wall next to the television that’s attached to the wall with a bracket. Why is the clock so near the television? It’s torture. Watching the slow moving hands make their way around. One…two…three… Some clocks have a sweeping second hand. Others have the tick, tick, tick of small movements. Either is equally slow. Monotonous to watch. Time passes so slowly. Sigh.

The television does not offer respite from the boredom of life in a hospital room. The remote control, attached to the bed is archaic. No inputting channels here. You must scan using the up and down arrows. Scan through seemingly hundreds of dull programs, looking for the least inane. God, something to entertain your brain while you wait. Wait. Wait.

You are sleeping. Sleep…finally. Throughout the night they come in to check vitals or clean urinals. How is a person supposed to get any rest with all these interruptions? Don’t people check into hospitals for recovery purposes? Is rest not a requirement for recovery? Ironic. They have a job to do. Everything it seems, is on their time. Awaking you from sleep to check your blood pressure, temperature, and urine output. “How much water did you drink since 10 pm?” You can’t remember. A minute ago you were finally a sleep. Not a care in the world. Dreaming you were home sleeping in your own comfortable bed, one cat at your feet, the other on the pillow. “Where am I?” you wonder. Oh yeah, Stanford getting chemo. Again. Cancer. Oh yeah. Sigh.

Why are nurses so available when you’re sleeping? When you’re awake and need something to help you sleep, you buzz the nurse button on your archaic “remote control” to the television. It’s the large button on top. The one with the outline of a nurse, wearing a hat. The little cross signifying an ambulance or something decorates her hat. None of these nurses wear hats. “Yes, may I help you?” says the receptionist. “Hi, can you send the nurse in? My machine keeps beeping.” It seems like it beeps ALL The time. “I’ll let the nurse know.”

Sometimes it seems as if you are calling Siberia. The nurse is just outside your room, yet it takes sometimes hours to get her to come in. Does she not know you’re asking for her? Did the receptionist relay your message? You press the “silence” button on your infusion machine. It will stay silent for 2 minutes. Heavenly. You are so tired. You drift slowly back to where you were dreaming. You want to go back to that place, your warm bed, under the down comforter. That’s it. You’re there. So comfortable. Sleeping. BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! Fuck.

“Keep the machine beeping and call the nurse again,” She says. Maybe the actual sound will make it real to them. What an annoying beep. Why is it so loud? In today’s high tech world, one might expect some sort of alarm to go off at the nurse’s desk. “Mr. Godwin’s machine is beeping.” The nurse can see what bag is empty on the monitor and bring in another saline dose. Where is the suggestion box? “I’ll let the nurse know.”

The nurse enters. She looks groggy. When does she sleep? Her hair is now in a ponytail and she is wearing an aqua sweatshirt over her scrubs. “Hi,” she whispers. She presses the magic buttons on your “chemo machine.” Ah, silence at last. Damn. You wish you knew that code. “I’ll be right back,” she says. You won’t know it though. It’s 3:33 in the morning. Once again surrounded by silence save for the slow cycling sound of the chiclets pressing the tubes to allow more poison to flow into your veins. You’re asleep again. Snoring even. That’s when She knows you are not worried, afraid, or in pain, when you snore. Music to Her ears.

Sleep comes in small spurts, so when it comes, you relish it. At 5:30, Colleen re-enters the room. She tries to be quiet. Depending on how much Ativan and Benadryl you have had, you may sleep through the routine blood draw. She’s considerate. If a noise rouses you while she uncaps the valves to collect your blood, she apologizes, whispering, “Hi. I’m sorry.” You mumble, incomprehensibly “s’OK.” You’re out again. See, it didn’t hurt. You almost didn’t know it happened. Colleen always leaves the lights off if she can. You both like her.

Every day, breakfast comes around 7. Once again, you’re asleep when they open the door (loud latch, the light sneaks in, eventually drenching you). All you want to do is sleep. While asleep, you are unaware of what time it is, what day it is, how many hours you’ve been attached to these tubes containing rat poison, and how many more hours it will be until you can go home and feel like shit. Something to look forward to. It’s bad enough that breakfast comes so early, but unless you eat the awful concoction now, it’ll only be worse later, after the eggs have become even more rubbery and the bacon is cold too. God. You don’t even want to make the effort to wake up enough to eat. They should know this. Maybe they need some input from a food stylist. If the breakfast was more appetizing, maybe you’d even wake up before the hair-netted man brought it in. It’s so institutional. The hairnet pulled too far down his forehead, the apron, a uniform for a glorified janitor. They should wear nice white waist aprons, and bring a tray with a silver lid-covered plate of china. The silverware would be real silver and not in a hermetically sealed baggy atop a too-thin, too rough, one-ply napkin. No, the napkin should be linen. Maybe a small bud vase containing a single flower. Different bloom for each day of the week. Oh but what if you are neutropenic? No fresh flowers. Fine, silk will do. A pansy, or poppy, or daisy to cheer you up and welcome you to another day. Another day inside Stanford Hospital. What will you do today? Maybe there is a concert. No, that’s Thursday. What day is it anyway? A newspaper would be good. This is supposed to be breakfast in bed, after all. Sigh.

After breakfast, brush your teeth. At least you have your Sonicare. Those sponges on sticks are useless; like brushing your teeth with a cotton swab, real effective. You look at yourself in the mirror as the Sonicare makes its gentle vibrations on your teeth and gums. Never far away is that chemo machine that you are tethered to. Sometimes the cord will reach and you don’t have to unplug it from its power source on the wall to get to the sink. Does it feel less confined when you are unplugged? There isn’t much room to roam around anyway. The room is so small. Barely space for the foldout “bed” She sleeps in. She has a pink blanket on the bed. She is now folding it, demolishing her temporary housing for the day. She piles the bed linens wherever She can find room for them. She folds the bed back into chair mode, ready for your mom to sit in and read Newsweek or do crossword puzzles. She has to go to work. You’ll be alone here. Sigh.

What if there was no TV? You would go insane. Daytime television is so bad, but you look forward to it. How sad existing in this room is that you must look forward to watching two people on a Blind Date, or sit through reruns of news stories by Sachi Koto on CNN. Sigh. It’s only 8:30. What do you do after the Today Show is over? Matt and Katie are your company until 10 am. They do not realize how important a part of your life they have become. They are as much a part of your day here as the cold breakfast you get every morning (sitting on your tray table).

When Katie and Matt sign off at 10:00, you wake up and realize you slept through it. Bummer. They’re entertaining at least, and now they’re gone. You still have 2 hours before Saturday Night Live starts on Comedy Central. Your mom will be here soon. She’ll be bored. She’ll sit here all day and help you to the bathroom if you’re too wobbly. You pretend to feel better than you really do when your mom is here. Sometimes you don’t want her to come. You want Her instead. You want Her to play hooky from work again. She says no because you won’t even know She’s there if She stays. She may as well save hooky time for when you really need Her, She tells you. You really need Her NOW. This is so boring and frustrating. You have cabin fever.

You look at the chemo machine. One of your bags is almost empty. Good. It’s the Cytoxan. Today is the last day for that, isn’t it? What day is it? The wall calendar says Wednesday the 22nd. The number on the calendar is huge. It mocks you, laughing, reminding you of the number of days you are stuck in this room. There will be no visits to Starbucks today. No Americano for you. No reading the papers in the sun, watching the people go. Where do they go? What do they do? Do they realize how lucky they are to not be trapped in this room? You won’t go to the Practice Place and play your horn. Not today.

The day passes. Slowly. Why does a day seem so long sometimes and so short others? They are always 24 hours long. Maybe they play a trick on you here and time passes slower. Can they do that? It feels like you should be going home today, but you still have one more day to go. One more day. So boring. You just want to sleep. Is it time for more Ativan yet? When was the last Benadryl bag brought in here? You hope that the day nurse knows you’re on round-the-clock anti-nausea meds. You do not want to get sick. You hate that. Hate it. Maureen walks in. Whew. A good nurse. Your mom will be happy too. Maureen glances at your unzipped fanny pack attached to the bed control panel. You hope she doesn’t see your hidden stash of contraband tucked inside the black leather. No, she doesn’t see it, or if she does, she says nothing. She looks at your lines, checks the toxic fluids and tells you you’re due for some Ativan. Good. Sleep. Ativan is good for a couple of hours at least. That’ll pass the time until SNL. Your favorite way to pass the time here is sleeping. If you could just come in on Monday and sleep until Thursday, you’d be happy. But there’s that peeing thing. No. You don’t want a catheter in THERE. You’ll do the usual. Just keep the anti-nausea meds coming.

The phone rings. You HATE this phone. It has no volume control and the ring pierces your brain. Your mom answers it just as you motion to her “I’m asleep.” She understands the motion and knows it well. She tells Bruce you’re out like a light so he will call back later. You are too tired to try and muster the energy to talk, and much too tired to listen…to…Bruce.

You fall asleep again.

(c) Catheroo 2002

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