As mentioned in my first post (The World Still Out There), this blog grew out of succinct administrative updates I sent out to a cyber-community (under the umbrella of Lotsa Helping Hands) of family and friends eager to do whatever they could to help us after my husband’s diagnosis. The posts gradually grew more descriptive (if not outlandishly long-winded), and I found writing them vastly therapeutic.
“The Waiting Room” was one of the first posts that followed my husband’s death:
I have used the phrase “I’ve got good news and bad news” for comedic purposes, but I never used the words “I’ve got bad news” until the Monday Jim was diagnosed, when I quivered into a friend’s voice mail: “It’s Auntie Steph. I’m with Jim at the Lahey Clinic and we have really bad news.”
I couldn’t break the news to my family, but for calling my younger brother the next day and saying his name in a way that made him ask if he should pull over the car.
When I asked if he was driving, his drawn-out, somehow multi-syllabic “yes” made it clear the question had been delivered as if I had asked, “Are you sitting down?”
Jim never used the phrase “I’ve got bad news” with me or our children.
Perhaps the closest he came was the night of his diagnosis, when we both independently tried to make arrangements with our sons’ friends to get our sons home–without panicking them–as soon as possible.
Of course, there is probably no better way to ensure panic will ensue than to alert someone to the possibility of panic. (My elder daughter later apprised me I also need to eliminate from my repertoire the opening line, “I don’t want to freak you out, but . . .”)
Only after his death did I realize what it was about Jim that kept him from ever having told us “I have bad news” about himself.
I began to understand this a few weeks afterwards, when I became increasingly irritated at the way someone else’s patient was prattling in another doctor’s waiting room.
The woman was morbidly obese and in her sixties. When she checked into the orthopedist’s office she launched a loud, HIPAA-to-the-winds conversation which she made impossible not to overhear.
After checking in with the receptionist and being told she could have a seat, she continued gratuitously to discuss her past cancer treatments. No one had asked her about this: all the receptionist needed was her name. But she announced she was doing quite well, although she mentioned being uninterested in hewing to portions of her internist’s advice. (Her internist, whose name she broadcast to the room, happened to be ours.)
Jim probably had had countless patients like this one. In fact, our internist may well have inherited this very patient from Jim’s primary care roster.
I sat in a seat only a few feet away, waiting for one of my daughters.
The woman made her way to a seat in the waiting room. After a few minutes, a nurse opened the door to the examining rooms and called the woman’s first name. She looked up.
The nurse introduced herself by name, then directed to the woman the rote pleasantry, “How are you?”
“I’m a survivor,” the woman announced theatrically, in place of a “Fine, how are you?” She made the declaration as if the fact of surviving cancer evidenced some personal virtue on her part. Continue reading “The Waiting Room”