The Oncology Clinic waiting room chairs are full, the television replays yesterday’s events, and the conversation is quiet. Further down the hall, the laboratory draws blood samples from other cancer patients, guiding therapy and checking treatment progress.
Ambulatory patients and family members weave around me as I pass through the waiting room heading to my own clinic duties. The people, individually and in pairs, slow and turn at the reception area. A patient who has completed checking in drops heavily into an open seat. As I walk on, I am sensitive to the privacy of those assembled here, yet I glance up to see if I recognize any of my own patients’ faces.
The door to the clinic hallway opens and a staff member emerges. She scans the room and calls out. “Constance? Constance? Oh, there you are! You brought company today! Come on in. Bring everyone along!”
I pause as a wheelchair changes lanes in front of me. Constance looks up, smiles briefly, grits her teeth, and repositions her body — deliberately preparing to stand. She presses down firmly on the arms of the chair. Her companions, hands at her elbows, rise with her and together they move toward the doorway.
Poet Laureate and cancer survivor Ted Kooser
, in a poem titled, “At the Cancer Clinic,”
captures the moment cleanly. As those of us in the waiting room note the woman's measured steps… “…There is no restlessness or impatience
or anger anywhere in sight. Grace
fills the clean mold of this moment
and all the shuffling magazines grow still.”
(from Delights & Shadows
, Copper Canyon Press, Port Townsend, WA 2004)
We watch the patient and her companions move toward the door. We nervously scan the floor in front of them, looking for obstacles. We ache and hope and breathe along with them. We lean forward and care and dread, imagining their thoughts.
Constance disappears down the hallway where she will learn what she is to learn.