I had the chance to visit with my parents several days this past week. As luck would have it my mother got sick and called warning me to not come. Of course I told her that this would be the perfect time to visit, when she was sick and couldn’t take care of Dad (and she wouldn’t get him sick taking care of him). As your probably aware, chemo treatments lower a patient's immunity and in return improve the odds of catching a bug that might lead to health related complications.
So while at my parents' house there were chances to buy groceries and fix some meals, along with the opportunity to rake about 13 bags of leaves (my arms are still sore even today).
Then I had the chance to take Dad to a chemo treatment. Like I mentioned my mother has been sick this week; my sister-in-law and brother have been doing a lot and I was glad for the chance to help. I’ve known many people over the years that have done chemo and I have been aware of the mechanics. But like I’ve said before, talking about it is different than ‘talking about it’. An emotional connection always enhances an event and that is what I had, another emotional connection.
Let me draw a picture.
My dad has reached the stage in life where a walking stick or walker is needed. He can go for short distances with no problem but for safety he uses one of the devices (or should use one). So when we arrived he ‘walked’ into the office, signed-in and found a couple of chairs. We chatted while waiting to be called and he greeted a couple people as they entered the lobby (remember my other posts that mentioned how he knows people everywhere?).
While waiting I took note of how many people arrived for some sort of cancer treatment or testing. This caused me to think, what are we doing to solve this? I’ve read about research and millions in financial support being spent on research, but come on! There were a lot of people in the lobby and this was only one office. I know the people are sick, maybe some even did it to themselves by smoking or consuming other carcinogenic substances, but this was a long, continuous line of patients with hope for a successful treatment.
Of courses my first observation was that each of them is somebody’s dad, brother, grandfather, uncle, aunt, mother or sister. Being me I sat and looked directly in their face trying to generate some empathetic understanding of what I saw on their face. There was even one man that got the official indoctrination to the program, it was his first treatment. I am sure that was fear on his wife’s face as she completed the paperwork and he poured himself a cup of coffee while chatting with the people sitting next to him (maybe trying to adjust to his diagnosis).
I watched at least 40 people walk in, get labs done, and then go in for some treatment. My second observation of the day was that less than 15 percent were alone, no one came with them for the doctor visit; 45 percent had one person with them (their wife or husband). It seemed so lonely for the two groups of office visitors.
Then they called Dad back for stats and labs. Up he stood, I placed the walker in front of him and off we went. After a short hall-walk he sat down, did the stat review, stood again and then walked back out to the lobby for another wait. Once there we found a couple chairs (not together) and he started talking to a stranger. I sat checking for text and read email; then he was called back for the treatment.
We walked into the ‘back room’ (it was the infusion area where chemo and other drugs are administered) - he sat down again and I returned to the lobby. It was there I continued my observations and questions as to why more advancements in the fight against cancer have not taken place or been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Is it because enough money is not invested in research by the government or private sector? Is it because the medical industry generates jobs and income, a cure would not be as profitable? Or is it impossible to cure cancer at the level of medical care our society has developed?
Why no cure?
People continued to process through the lobby. People come-in, do labs, step into the back room and people go out. Now the majority of the people did not walk out on their own power (so to speak). They were holding on to walking-sticks of some fashion, walkers (the steel kind with 4-legs and a handle to hold onto), or they were sitting in a wheel-chair. This was no club-med, although it was a type of ‘club-medical'; a club of despair and one that I silently grieved for while sitting among them.
The patients that had family or friends with them were a different type (at least my perception of them was different). For the most part the patients sat quietly, talking on occasion. The family members on the other hand were much more talkative and animated. I heard conversations dealing with college football, politics, work, and on occasion talk about the smaller children that were sitting with them. I figured the kids were young and had no one to keep them when the parents or grandparents came in for the treatment.
Were the people accompanying the sick trying to make the visit seem normal? Were they trying to distract the ill from the reality of the situation? Maybe the supporting family or friends were trying to distract themselves?
For me the reality of the situation was that I had allowed myself to not be callus of the situation. I had pulled the one last, raw nerve out of my chest again, allowing it to lay bare and experience this moment.
But I was distracted from my observation assignment by several people that were there for a treatment.
I always say, “Sit with a troubled person and you will learn his woes.”
This is when my heart cracked open like an egg. There was a lady who sat with as scarf wrapped and covering her head that had been balded (probably from treatment). She never said a word, I learned very little from her (but my imagination developed). Then there were two more ladies that arrived together, both with a scarf wrapped around their head. They were smiling when I saw them get out of a vehicle in the parking lot and enter the lobby, but after they sat down their domineer changed (maybe they became quiet out of respect for the others in the room, maybe it was something else). There were numerous people that arrived in wheelchairs and people who appeared to be sons, daughters, or grown grandchildren pushing them. I talked with many of them, or I should say that each talked with me and I learned a portion of their woes. But how much can you learn of a life’s story before the person heads to the ‘back room’?
Several times, before heading to the ‘back room’ my dad was greeted with a “Hey Mr. Bryant!” After the second or third time I started to feel like I was with a rock star. Sitting in the lobby 3 people came over and sat with him, catching-up on different things. While standing in line to leave 2 more came over and talked with him. While I was proud that he is a liked person my single nerve got brushed by the fact that I was looking at the end of something special. But in each instance I pulled the nerve back in and continued my mission of observation.
Another thing I noticed; during all the greetings no one asked the question that is most often part of a normal greeting between friends, family and even strangers – “What’s going on?”
After we got home Dad talked with me about what happened in the ‘back room’. He didn’t mention needles, blood pressure checks, or how bad he felt. He told me some stories about people that were in the room. If you remember from one of my previous posts he takes a sack of snacks with him. This time I had the privilege of carrying the sack of goodies for him into the room. It contained a soda, some crackers, a bag of grapes, a sandwich, and couple other things that I don’t remember.
He shared with me that a lady sat quietly in the ‘back room’ (maybe the lady I noticed in the lobby) and he never heard her say a word until he offered her some grapes. Knowing that chemo patients are supposed to protect against others with germ he was careful to offer the grapes to her out of the bag. She smiled, took several and thanked him.
There was a man sitting behind him who was also quiet but as time passed they struck-up a conversation and dad learned that he had no wife or children, but that he did have 3 sisters. Dad thought that maybe he would be alone on Thanksgiving so he asked the man if he would like to come over to the house and eat with the family. The man told him that he expected one of his sisters would bring him something to eat, and that he appreciated it. But he did not take Dad up on his offer so we’ll pray that someone will love the man today.
I asked my dad what he thinks about the people that go there. He told me the people are nice, but that they have cancer and need to get well. He told me that he likes to make friends with the people there and if it makes him feel good to know that some of the people are not doing good and that they take his crackers and snacks. He is ministering in his own way.
Today is Thanksgiving Day in the United States; a day where our nation celebrates our freedom to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. We celebrate our opportunities and blessings. Please enjoy your day and consider helping someone that may not have it as good as yourself – there is always someone. Maybe you will only get a smile, maybe not even that. But charity is not about getting it’s about giving and a moment of your time can mean so much to many people.