We live in the Boston area, so when I considered hospitals for chemotherapy, I looked at Dana Farber. At the time, everyone was squeezed into Dana Farber’s old building. Though the staff was unbelievable kind, patients were crowded into small waiting rooms.
I saw many tired faces. I noticed people with walkers and in wheelchairs. I saw people who clearly depended on others. I didn’t notice much conversation and people seemed to be each in their own world, reading a magazine or zoning out.
Scanning the faces, I worried that that would be me. Would I become resigned? Tired? Yellow? Would I become dependent? Would I have anything to offer the world?
Soon I was called for my appointment and my husband, our friend and I met with the oncologist, then left the building. As we waited for our car, I saw an older woman on oxygen, slumped in a wheelchair while she waited for her ride to pick her up.
That was the final straw. I freaked out and decided to get my treatment at a more general hospital, where I could feel like one of many kinds of patients.
Eventually, for my own reasons, I switched my treatment to Dana Farber. Since my first visit, they built a second building, so it is less crowded (though it is getting more and more crowded and harder to find a seat).
This time around, I still see many tired faces, but I feel more compassion and I notice the patients who are upbeat. Those in walkers and in wheelchairs make their way and even make the effort to consider the needs of others. One woman actually moved from her much-needed wheelchair to a chair because the wheelchair was blocking in the aisle and she wanted to accommodate others.
I am generally less wrapped up in my own fear and panic so notice more of the conversation among folks. I hear the husband remind his wife about the lovely things she told their children that morning, his tone reassuring her that she is showing them her love. I hear the couples who nervously bicker while waiting for an appointment and can feel the long-time affection in their voices. I can feel the love from the son who is ferrying his mother and holding her hand.
It continues to be difficult for me to see the patients on oxygen and in wheelchairs, but now they look more like people to me and a little less like my fear of the future.
No matter how ill they are, I assumed that each of these people must be offering something, because their companions clearly didn’t want to let go of the person they love.
I am honored to bear witness to all this. And recently I noticed that, when everything else is stripped away – our potential to be useful; our ego and the façade we create for the world; our quick minds; our ability to have a coherent conversation; our memories; our personal fashion sense; our ability to walk, stand, and breathe unaided – when these and even hope are stripped away, what remains, and comes through loud and clear, is love.