Cancer Stories

Waiting Room Questions

This piece was first published in Pulse-voices from the hearts of medicine on October 13th, 2020. 

“Happy Birthday!” Those were the first words that met my ear today. They came cautiously. They were almost spoken like a question.  A question that was trying to apologize for its very existence. It did not make sense to me then, and it circles my mind now. I was standing then. I find myself sitting now.

I had walked in the building and entered the elevator an hour earlier. “What floor?” I asked the other occupant. “3 please,” came the reply. I was going to 4. They were never going to 4.

“Have you been tested for COVID-19 recently?” the gatekeeper asked. “Yes. It was positive.” Eyebrows arch. “It is negative now.”

I approached the front desk. The forms they gave me asked me why I was here. I did not know the answer. Rather, I could not comprehend it. “Will you please take a seat?” Gladly. I am exhausted. I thought that was supposed to come after.

Time passes. Happy birthday. Happy birthday. Happy birthday. Around and around the drain it goes.

“How did I get here?” I think to myself. “A car,” comes the sarcastic reply. No. “How did I wind up here?” I look out at the sea of white hair that I am surrounded by. “Why am I scared?” “Is this the most expensive hair cut I will ever get?” “Why do some people walk out that door defeated?” “Why do some look triumphant?” “Why do we all look tired?” I look to my left. “Does she deserve this?” I look to my right. “Does he?” “Do I?”

“How did we all end up in this room, waiting silently, and blankly staring at this HGTV show at the same time?” “What binds me to these people other than cosmic randomness?”

Finally. A question that I know the answer to.

That door opens. “William?” They scan the crowd for a new face. The edges of their lips curl down. A frown, ever so slight. One of pity. I must look too young. They do not know that I am actually one year older today, or more precisely, that I will be one year older today, at 11:53 a.m., after it starts.

I grab my bag. I leave my stomach on the chair.

“Date of Birth?” I give it. It makes me 22 today. “Oh, happy birthday!”

“Are you ready for your first chemotherapy treatment?”

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