Palliative Care, Fluorescent Sky Lights, & Gratitude…
Who knew two words on a little sign above a non-descript doorway could make my blood run so cold it feels like someone has ripped an icicle spear from a wintery roof and stabbed it into my carotid artery. Every second I stare at the sign, the drip, drip, drip of fear slides through my veins.
I look away in case in some messed up way, staring at it for too long will foreshadow my future. An image crystallizes in my mind of my friends and family bringing their young children to see me in my prison while I spend what’s left of my youth, waiting for “it” to be over.
To escape this morbid thought, I search for the Information Desk and speed-walk under florescent lights installed in the shape of sky lights to get there. Patients in draughty hospital gowns lean against IV poles and visitors wear the masks of soldiers in the midst of battle.
Just make it to the information desk…just make it to the information desk, I whisper to myself. When I get there, a white haired woman wearing a Wal-mart inspired blue volunteer vest gives me a bright smile and asks how she can help. I almost grab her by the wrists, stare into her grey eyes and say, “you can help by promising me I DO NOT have the start of ovarian cancer on top of my recent breast cancer and I WILL NOT end up in Palliative Care. Ever.” Instead, I ask her to direct me to Diagnostic Imaging area for my 2pm ultrasound appointment.
She points past the jaunty “Walk of Honour” sign, through the corridor I just came from, to a bank of elevators directly across from the Palliative Care wing. I give her my sweetest, I am not terrified thank you smile and don’t look up again until I am on the elevator descending into the bowels of the building.
* * *
“Theresa Wingham?” What a pleasant surprise! It has been less than 15 minutes and the little sign when I checked in promised me a wait time of up to 2 hours. As I follow the scrub-wearing ultrasound technician around a dimly lit corner, she asks if my bladder is full and I nod. A vision of this same corridor over a year and a half ago when I lay in my hospital stretcher with a bladder so full, my face glistened with sweat and I wondered if I might explode, flashes through my mind.
She doesn’t need to give me instructions as I lie on the bed, lift my shirt, and pull my jeans low on my hips. As she squeezes warm jelly on my stomach, the fear of what she might find is so thick, I can almost chew it. In order to prevent myself from jumping off a mental cliff into complete hysteria, I ask questions.
“How’s your day going? How many outpatients do you get here? Usually I go to the medical center across the street. I wonder why I had to come here. Do you know?” I can’t stop talking.
“Almost no outpatients, except for emergencies, the rest are all in patients,” is the only response that registers as she presses the probe deep into the tissue above my left ovary. Although I have tried to forget about the results of my last ultrasound, her answer confirms how serious this is.
When I crane my neck towards the screen in a ridiculous attempt to evaluate the health of my ovaries, the blackness broken up by shadowy grey blobs and white squiggly lines scares me even more. Is that grey blob, right there, the start of cancer?
In the midst of imagining a revival of my bald head and grey chemo complexion, she says, “well the good news is the cyst is gone. I need you to roll over because I want to check your kidneys.”
Is she lying? Is she incompetent and has somehow checked the wrong side?
“You mean I have no cyst anymore? On either side? Really? It’s gone?” Shock makes me skeptical of her expertise.
When she nods and I almost leap off the table, her eyes dart between mine and the screen and she clears her throat in an almost nervous way. ”Well, I’m not your doctor, so you need to wait for your official results, ok? But yes, no cyst.”
My grin feels like it could split my face in half. She tells me I can go and light headed with relief, my hands press up against the deep purple wall for support as I wait for the elevator. Back under the main floor’s “skylights”, my knees give out. On a padded bench in the carpeted corridor, I lean towards my shoes and breathe in the recycled air as I listen to the buzz of the pop machine, the ping of the elevator, and the click of sandalled feet.
When I look up, the Palliative Care sign is still there, but this time I am grateful to see it. Grateful for today’s reminder to live in the moment. To seize every opportunity in life because none of us know what tomorrow might bring.
So, it’s back to plotting my next adventure and I hope in October I can somehow take you on a round the world journey, but for now, I will put one foot in front of the other and appreciate every moment of my cancer free (hopefully forever) life.
What about you? How do you plan to take advantage of the time you have left on this planet? A friend posted the photo above on Facebook and I had to share it with you. As Mary Oliver says, “What is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”