Thursday, November 25, 2010

"The Back Room" - 11/25/10

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?

I digress.

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.

Happy Thanksgiving!


L'Aussie said...

Hello Andy. I'm doing my housekeeping now that I've finished writing my NaNo novel. I see you have begun following me on PichetsinParis. Thank you. I'm following back.

Both my parents have now passed but your post brought back memories of how things change and sometimes so quickly.

I'm Australian and we don't have a special day for Thanksgiving, but I celebrated it this year by joining 2 blogfests on the topic. Great fun.:)

Andy said...

Thank you for reading and commenting on my post. I am glad you enjoyed it and it gave you cause to think about your parents. Parents are special characters and provide us with great memories; I am glad to have shared mine with you. Take care!

Loz said...

Andy I lost my Mum to cancer back in September. I hope your Dad does OK

Andy Bryant said...

Loz, thank you for taking the time and mustering the strength to post; I believe my emotions would get the better of me. But I do hope that my blog entries, and comments shared with me (like yours)will help me understand and cope with my Dad's issues. Thanks again for sharing. Take care!

Draven Ames said...

Very beautiful to see someone who can find beauty and long lasting memories through writing. You will always have your father in a very real sense.
You will live your memories in a way that not even a camera can do justice. Nice to read your blog again and I hope things get better. Thanksgiving is for giving and you give a good message.

Happy thanksgiving, a bit late

Sarah G said...

We recently lost a dear friend - a physician (!) to cancer. Trust me, the docs DO CARE and want to beat cancer.

Cancer is a great, sprawling disorder with many 'causes' and different types of natures. I've seen some very interesting research in the works, but some of it isn't ready for animal testing, much less human.

I wish the best for your father. Cancer took three of my four grandparents (don't know how the other one died). It is evil.

Sitaraman Swaminathan said...

Hi Andy,
What a positive blog this one. The message that comes out is very very positive. The environ that you explain when the relatives try not to feed a negative thought too much and hence struggle for other ways.. very natural..been in that situation myself several times..
Now I am late for this visit here..But take this opportunity to wish you and your loved ones a great new year ahead.

Anonymous said...

I loved your post. I am a Breast Cancer survivor myslef so I know exactly where you are comng from about the sites and sounds of the Chemo room. Been there done that.
I met a lot of folks during my six treatments and one that tore my heart out. I knew him. He was there and his wife with him. He worked for the county roads dept and had been to my house and in my neighborhood WRITING UP A REPORT ABOUT ROADS SIGNS WE NEEDED.
He died last year as he had been through treatments 2 previous times and it kept coming back. It was colon cancer.
He had 2 small children and a lovely young wife.
As for myself, I am in remission. I try not to think about it coming back but I know that there is NO CURE for Cancer and one day it may show its ugly face again. I just try and keep the faith. and yes, when I was going through treatment I was bld as an eagle in the dead of winter. LOL.
Thanks for sharing your story.
I enjoyed reading it.

Beckye said...

Hi, Andy,

As another breast cancer survivor, may I give you my perspective having been to that back room many times? (I not only had six rounds of traditional chemo, with my kind of cancer I got another chemo weekly for 18 weeks then every three weeks until I had completed a year of treatment. So I was a 'regular' back there!)

I had a friend who told me when I was diagnosed that she was going to take me to treatment and that we were going to have fun! I looked at her like she was from outer space. What was she talking about?! But she was exactly right.

I was so grateful she took me (especially the first time). That place can be pretty grim, and people look like they're near death back there. Those you saw were smiling in the parking lot before, but quieted down when they got there. Often we'd go in and no one would be talking and they looked like death. But we would enter and I'd hug the nurses (got to make relationships with them over time) and we'd laugh and talk and bring others into the conversation and get them smiling and talking. Cancer is a scary thing, and those IV's are dripping strong poisonous stuff right into the veins! Those discussions made it much more bearable and actually became something I looked forward to! I had friends or family take me every time, and we had a ball (and spread the joy!). Who would have guessed?!

When I asked my friend how she did it, she said she could talk about anything to distract someone from the hard thing they were going through. It wasn't denial; it was just getting me through and helping me look on the bright side when the dark side seemed so ominous.

Sounds like you aren't there with your folks all the time, so you get a break from it and can NOT think about it all the time. So probably when you're there it all hits so fresh again.

Just wanted to let you know that those people, though bald, are doing okay inside -- and so are your dad and mom. You can actually talk about the things you're wondering with your dad. You're not going to bring up things he probably hasn't thought about already himself. People don't know whether to say things to cancer patients in fear of upsetting them. Believe me, we are sometimes upset. It's not usually because others asked honest questions. It is because of the realities we're facing. But we've thought about and faced those fears (we have no choice but to trudge on), and have hopefully gotten a little wisdom in some of those areas or would like someone to discuss those things with. It could bring you and your dad closer in being honest about your concerns for him.

Hoping the time you have together with him will be a treasure trove of memories later.

Andy Bryant said...

Draven, thank you for sharing kinds words of support and encouragement. i love to write and my dad is a good subject to discuss. :-) I'm glad to hear from you.

Andy Bryant said...

Sarah, I am sorry for each grandparent you have lost and your recent loss too. Just writing the words to you have resurrected my 'demon' stranger that chips away at my heart. Thank you for the good wishes and encouragement.

Andy Bryant said...

Hello Mary, thank you for visiting my site and sharing your a piece of your personal experience. The sounds of the backroom are haunting as people walk in and out. I am HAPPY for your remission and pray that it will remain for many month and years. We can only pray, but that does not take away the pain (at least it has not for me, yet). Take care of yourself and visit me again. ;-)