The parking lot’s mostly empty at our departure terminal, but the sun still hasn’t risen and activity is on hold for now. Most of the shift workers have completed their important duties and are just in monitoring mode, flipping through some magazines, making final notes in their endless computer ledgers, waiting.
Me and the other Acute Leuks — as our doctor has named us — have an unofficial handoff too. I don’t know exactly what it is, but I think we’re the watchers.
The Czech gentleman down the hall who is done with chemo, yet has to stay here due to risk of infection, wanders around the ward in the evening, keeping the nurses light. I switch off with him during the day and joke around, hand out lollipops and relish the smiles as the ultra-competent care workers, amazingly gifted in their field, walk fast with an un-hurried rush to their next call.
We are watching the exiting. We are in some indescribable way here to witness the transformation.
If you walk 17 times around this cancer ward, almost a perfect square in shape, you have completed a mile and the nurses smile and say, “Hey you didn’t let your mom beat you today.”
But exercise is only a sham. Sure, I want to keep up my muscle mass. And there’s no denying my girl Ivy a nice stroll, otherwise she gets a little restless. No, my circuits around the track, while I still have energy are also done for a deeper reason. I’m looking into the souls of those on the loading platforms and wondering what they’re wondering.
Yesterday, a woman my age was clutching her cell phone but not making any calls as she huddled in the darkest corner of turn 3. The first time by I mentioned something light and she responded that her mother just passed on. The second time I slowed and offered her a hug which she seemed to melt into. The third time around, her brother exited the room and they slowly walked away. The fourth time came the Get Well balloons, a bit deflated, sure, but still remarkably mylared. Then she came out. I slowed. My pace didn’t need to be so quick. She was a young woman of 80-something and there she lay on her bed, head cocked to one side, mouth agape, eyes closed and pointing toward her next destination. I didn’t feel like a gawker or a ghoul. More like a bon voyage party of one.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t throwing streamers or striking up any celestial bands. But I did get another one of those Rodney feelings that tell me deep truths. Her time here was over but this was only one segment of her journey. I don’t say this, sitting backwards on my bed, tapping in the pre-dawn light because I want to believe it or wish I thought it. I tell you this because I can actually see it.
That’s partly why I’m here. I’m the one that’s haunting this place, not them. I’m the one who doesn’t belong, but since I’m being offered this rare glimpse along with the other Acute Leuks, I think it’s my duty to report back to you as objectively as my subjective mind can. The trains or planes or water taxis will start to arrive and the bustle of this place will pick up. I’ll fall back asleep and forget for a moment or two that I woke to write this. I’ll also try to find something funny to insert as I re-read this, just so I can feel more like myself.
Don’t let me get away with too much though. Don’t allow me to hide too deeply in that Mr. Funny Man persona, as my wife calls it. I’m staying back here on the docks and will continue to take notes. I’m not joining their journeys for a long time yet.
Am I glad I’m getting a glimpse? Heaven’s yes. Are my bags properly packed for the voyage? Hell no.