Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Return of Cancer Man

The coordinator on the phone joked about why she hadn't called to schedule me to drive a cancer patient.

"You probably thought they came up with a cure, didn't you?" She laughed and I squirmed.

I hadn't driven in ages, at least a year. My last patient was a woman living in a tiny, cramped house that smelled like an open carton of Winstons. She'd looked like she was: a woman dying very slowly and clinging to life with waning interest.

There had been a long time when I thought it would be fine if the Cancer Society didn't call. All of my patients, all three of them, had succumbed. They'd died and all within a month or so after my last visit with them. That kind of thing sort of makes you question the efficacy of modern medicine or makes you feel like the angel of death. I'd taken two of the three hard. I'd gotten to know them some and I'd thought if nobody called me to drive again, I'd be okay with it.

But I took the call and took the assignment.

My new patient is a mother in her early 50s, diagnosed with breast cancer in July. Doctors had already taken her breast. She'd been through her first round of chemo.

"The hardest thing wasn't the surgery, it was shaving my head." Absentmindedly, she touched the ugly, pink cap she wore. "I had to do it," she said. "You have to do it, you know? Your hair is falling out and it's better to just get rid of it than watch it come out in clumps."

She told me she appreciated the ride. Her husband had been out of work for a while and was part of some sort of government training program. The hours were weird.

"He told me he'd ask for the time off." She talked him out of it. "We only got one income coming in right now."

Her youngest son took the diagnosis hard, grew angry and found himself in a juvenile home, where he'd been for most of the fall. She hoped he'd be home for a visit at Thanksgiving. She implied he wouldn't be staying --not yet.

She was glad I was willing to do the driving. Being sick scared off some of her friends and brought a new class of people into her life. During the first round of chemo, one of the women she used to work with at a grocery store stepped up and took her to treatments.

"Then she started asking me if I'd give her whatever pain pills I didn't want."

She decided it was better to take the bus after that, but it left her weak the first time. She couldn't do it a second time, she was sure, not without help.

"If some Samaritan could just walk me across the street," she laughed. "I wouldn't need nothing else."

I told her she didn't have to worry about the bus or waiting in the cold. I'd get her there just fine and be waiting for her when she was done. The car would be warm and I'd get her to her door. She could also keep her pills. I was more of a coffee drinker.

"OK," she said. "You're hired."


Buzzardbilly said...

Now that keeps a reader reading!

You're on a good path here with this writing.

Anonymous said...

You are a hooker with a heart of gold.

And a better man than I.


eclectic guy said...

Again, I could see a collection of stories based on this and other true tales.

But, what do I know?

It's good read. Bill.

primalscreamx said...

Yeah, maybe one of these days. What I really need is a unifying theme. I've read a couple of books exploring a particular subject as a series of personal stories, like presidential assassins, candy bars or whiskey.
I just need an idea to rally around.