Dana Farber was busy yesterday. It was hard to even find a seat. There should not be so much cancer in the world.
Soon after I sat down, in rolled a man in a wheelchair, being pushed by another man. The one in the wheelchair joked that he comes with his own seat, and the two of them settled in by me.
Chuck, the patient, was thin, and I would guess he was my age, with more hard partying behind him. He had the yellowed teeth of a smoker (though I don’t know if he smoked) and the twinkly eyes of someone who knows his way around a party bar.
Like the rest of us, though, his heart was cracked wide open. He told me the story of his diagnosis, and then how life unfolded from there. How his best friend, who had moved away, returned for a visit. How his college girlfriend, who he hasn’t seen in years, came from NYC to see him yesterday. He was touched by all this, and sometimes, these extreme visits make him feel like he is dying. But mostly, he enjoys the connection.
He said that when people come to visit, he doesn’t know how to entertain them anymore. He used to take them out to a fun restaurant or the latest club scene. But now he can’t drink and doesn’t have the energy for going out. So they hang out and talk. And that seems to be enough.
Throughout our conversation, he would touch my hand or arm. I’m not a big toucher but then I realized that he needed to be touched, so I held onto his arm through his worn, brown leather jacket, and that seemed to work for him.
We talked about God and angels, prayers and parochial school – all things we have in common. Then our names were called and we went our own ways.
I turned to the man who was with him. “I’m sorry that I didn’t include you in the conversation,” I apologized. “Are you the driver?”
“Yes. And the father. He is my son.”
I cannot begin to imagine what it is like for a parent to witness all this.
For me, though, Chuck was a blessing in my day. In spite of his physical condition and prognosis, he carried true emotion – both joy and sadness. He displayed the ability to laugh and to cry. He worried about daily things and was grateful for small things. And, on that sunny day inside Dana Farber, we had a good conversation that connected the two of us. Regardless of the surroundings, that connection is the kind of thing I live for.