There’s a commonality of experience in a hospital which is extraordinarily comforting, in a strange sort of way. Peter went from the ER to the oncology ward at Duke Medical Center, and I stayed there with him for 75 hours. While this wasn’t my first experience of this sort, it was the ‘best’ in terms of learning, experiencing, and sharing. Regular readers know I’m not much for sharing, but in the middle of the night on an oncology ward, in the darkness of a commons room with people from other cancer families, it all hangs out. There were several of us one night, and one guy with bright red suspenders, asked for our stories. I told mine, another woman told hers, and then suspenders guy told his. His daughter, 32 years old, was dying of breast cancer. The family had been told that day that there was nothing further that could be done medically. Everyone of us told our story in a matter of fact way, and we all nodded at the common threads – diagnosis, chemo, radiation, drugs, side effects, doctors, a period of remission, a recurrence, and it all starts up again. I remembered Jasmine from UCLA – during one of Peter’s first chemo bouts a couple of years ago, there was a young woman in the next chair having a transfusion. She got nauseated, a nurse took her off to help her, and her mother told me the story: Jasmine was 7 months pregnant, had acute leukemia, couldn’t have chemo of course, and she, the mom, knew that she’d be raising Jasmine’s baby. Jasmine was 23 years old and died shortly after the baby was born.
These are tales of the wards and the clinics. This is day to day in a very intense way, as hospital stays are an out of time experience. There are a variety of emotions going on: Peter is being cared for, there are dozens of medical personnel attending to his every need, at any time. A snack – we have ice cream, jello, cheese, crackers, juices, we can make shakes. Uncomfortable? We’ll prescribe something to help. Raise the bed, lower the bed, more pillows, it’s a five star hotel in terms of the attention factor and concierge service. That’s all good, and enormously relieving for me and others in similar circumstances.
My day to dayness changed in the hospital. I didn’t have to worry about Peter’s food and making sure he had enough calories, or making sure he takes his medications at the right times, and all the home-based concerns. Instead, I joined the army of watchers and waiters, who sit by the patient, or wander the halls, or chat to the nurses at night, or to one another at night. We ask questions, we hop to when there are doctors around, we make sure that we’re present for all consultations, we ask questions, we make sure all requests are filled. We’re cheered by little things like valet parking and a real Starbucks on the ground floor, and a cafeteria open at all hours. Even in dire circumstances we feel we’re not alone, and that’s what’s so different. The burden is lifted and shared for a while, whether it’s in the hands of medical personnel, or with others in the same boat, it all helps.
Now it’s back to the day to day business of daily radiation treatments.