Chemo does funny things to people. With radiation, the side effects seem to take a while to kick in. I've never had anyone throw up in my car, never had anybody lose control of their bowels, but with chemo, they always come back a bit weary, a bit drained and disoriented.
I'd been gone for an hour and a half, but the nurse told me to have a seat. Gina wasn't finished yet.
She looked back toward the small woman curled up on the recliner. A syrup the color of an off-brand crayola red slowly drained into her.
"About another half hour?" She seemed concerned when she asked, like she thought I might bolt.
I shrugged. I was supposed to be talking to a jazz legend in about an hour. He'd keep or he wouldn't, I supposed, took a seat and started leafing through a copy of National Geographic. I read about the greening of Greenland and thought for the millionth time about how much I like National Geographic, but would probably never actually read it at the house.
The minutes crept by. A pharma rep came in and chatted up another patient as she was plugged in, which seemed weird.
"How are you enjoying your chemo? Have you tried the new pomegranate flavor?" God knows what she was talking about.
Gina finished, but she didn't snap out of the chair with quite as much spring as she had as we came in. Her movements were staccato and rushed, but delicate. She didn't feel well.
In the car, she thanked me again about taking her for treatment.
"I wouldn't mind taking the bus," she said again. "But I just don't want to ride there alone."
"It's no problem. I don't mind doing this."
"My daughter's boyfriend used to take me to these things," she said. "There was a time when he'd do anything for me. He couldn't do enough."
Things had changed over the last few months. They weren't getting along and it sounded like his relationship with her daughter was coming to a sad conclusion. None of them were getting along and she'd moved to the other daughter's place, which wasn't much better. Her daughter was working at a motel. The boyfriend had legal issues and he wanted her to watch the kids for them a bit more than she felt up to.
"I used to drive," she said. "But I never liked it. I didn't even get my license until after my husband died."
Then she told me about him again, her husband, how he'd died in a car accident when he was 37. She'd raised two daughters on her own and they'd scraped by. It was hard. She'd never wanted to have to do that. She missed him something fierce.
She rambled and I told her I didn't mind taking her back and forth for treatment. She didn't have to worry about that one thing, at least.
Before we got her home, which she reminded me again, wasn't her home, she didn't have a home any more, she was living with her daughter, she told me, "I'd take the bus, but I just don't want to have to there alone. I think I'd be scared."
"Gina, you don't have to go there alone." Nobody should have to do this alone, but God knows how many do.