Today I spent the better part of my day at PMH. It is now become part of my life, and as such is a safe place to wile away time. I see others there who mirror my condition, while others fare worse, others better. It is a wide wide sea of faces. Today though, three faces stepped into the forefront for me. One world famous, one most probably invisible to the world, and one, well, one whose presence made a difference to me, anyhow.
The first of these faces was tall, lean, with black but greying corn-rows and a stubby ponytail. More significantly, clad in an orange jumpsuit and prison issue runners, shackles and cuffs, and two armed guards. Our eyes met in the elevator, me on my way to 2nd, him on his way to 4th. Now, for the rest of the non-cancerous world - the 4th is the CHEMO ward. This gentleman was on his way from his prison cell to his chemo. My heart broke for him. Not a soul to support him but for his two armed guards. Not a warm bed and a hand to hold when he returns to his cell. Imagine that. The elevator was silent, but for his guards, chatting to him. "4th floor, we know, we got it. You let us take care of this."
I had 3 appointments - one, perhaps moot, in the circumstances. 9 am - my radiologist, saying - well the radiation worked, and see you in a year. I sure as hell hope so. A year is an incomprehensible lifetime away. Appointment took all of 5 minutes. Next appointment, 11:00. Blood letting.
So, of course, I chat up my nurse re prisoner - and she says "yes, he always causes a stir". he is haemotology patient. The cancer in his blood. He comes to her for bloodletting too, meaning he has a PICC line or some such device. Tricky in a prison I bet.
I am rarely alone in this place. And today I am because this is all routine stuff, or so I think, more on that in a minute. So I sit in my favourite spot, outside the BC clinic, watching the foyer, and the elevators go up and down, up and down. Watching the musicians arrive for their 7th floor atrium performance (spared the torture of the main lobby "entertainment" for a change....my GAWD they are always so bad!), bald people, wheelchair bound people, an army of volunteers, doctors, nurses, a flood of human misery and hope, walking by. Up and down.
And then, somehow, I find myself walking. To the 4th. To search the 4 different chemo wards, a place you would normally only drag me to doped up on Ativan with my brother and travel scrabble. But today, I was looking for an orange jumpsuit. I wanted to sit and talk to that man, and provide some solace, conversation, warmth. Something. Anything. Now, I know what you're thinking - how bourgeois. But cancer is a world flattening playing field evening disease. Compassion is critical. I wanted him to know he is not alone in his journey. I wondered if someone from John Howard was there with him, to get his popsicle, a cool glass of water, maybe do the crossword, or get him the paper. How simple are those human acts, to show care? I somehow doubt they happened. Which makes me very profoundly sad.
The second face I saw today was perhaps at the complete opposite end of the spectrum to Mr Orange Pants. A world famous Canadian director and his wife walked into the BC clinic. It took me a sec to realize, ok, maybe a few minutes, that indeed, I did not know this person, but he was famous. Not just well known, but famous - in a Hollywood way. I will not say who -that would be a terrible incursion on their privacy - and frankly, it's nobody's business. But object lesson: no one is immune. The invisible to the highly visible. An even playing field. The same requirements for compassion and care.
Now, the third person who crossed my path today, who from the moment I stepped into his cab made a difference, was my Beck Taxi driver. Normally cabs make me queasy - too much sound, too many lights, bad driving, and annoying illegal cell phone use. But this guy - when I said Princess Margaret Hospital please, please, let the games begin - he said, I was a patient there, 5 years ago, colorectal cancer. And we began a journey of chat, personal and profound. It was about children (his much older), cancer, our lives, and what is there in front of you. We laughed a great deal, and it was very very real. He told me to have faith, and believe in miracles - and why not? why the hell not??
So I will not go down the path today of what ifs, whens, or hows and the details of the medical conversations of my day. Two doctor's spoke to me today, one bearing a glowing torch of faith and hope. The other not so much, and with a heavy heart. Empirical vs Spiritual. Both took the Hippocratic oath. Both practitioners in this fine province, where I am grateful to live. My soul is beyond fatigued. Beyond the pale.
At the end of this day - I am only happy not to be shackled, nor famous, nor frankly, a cab driver. I am happy for this moment, this day, where, while I never left the building, but somehow, the world walked by.