The tumor institute quickly became far too familiar, an unsolicited home away from home. He’d press the down button on the stainless steel elevator, lowering us into that stark, beige basement–the waiting room. An ordeal. I pretended to be brave.
The smell in the unit was a combination of baby powder and rubbing alcohol, probably from the hand sanitizer dispensers positioned everywhere on those bland beige walls. Fox News blared from a 12 inch television in the corner— while stunned patients and family members stared. Health magazines and pamphlets were scattered on cookie cutter office chairs and faux-wood end tables.
We didn’t belong in this surreal place and neither of us were prepared for what was coming.
Walking phantoms, hairless and fragile, shuffled awkwardly, angular-ly across the nondescript carpet, escorted by unnaturally jolly nurses dressed in flowery scrubs.Patients ambled down one of two passages traversing this subterranean ward. A straight hall toward the right led to the radiation wing while to the left lay the chemotherapy suite.
I might have giggled when I imagined we had entered an episode of the Twilight Zone, encountering wraith-like aliens in a windowless underworld. But there was nothing humorous about this place. People lived or died here, and I somehow grasped that I couldn’t accept this room, with its contrast of sick men and women tended to by a cheer leading squad.
And that marked the beginning of my own hell–a disassociation reflex that formed to shield my mind. I couldn’t process this unexpected, horrifying reality.
For Chad, well, he was just all eyes, trying with all his might to make the hospital and his condition seem smaller, incidental, a bump in the road—but our surroundings betrayed his assurances.