Sunny Skies sleeps in the morning
He doesn’t know when to rise
— the prophet james vernon taylor
As I settle into my tiny home for the next six hours or so on my first day of dancing the Chemo Mambo, I am greeted with a spectacular view of what appears to be greater Seattle.
Not exactly, but it’s raining today for the first time since August, and my plan of spending the day gazing contentedly out the window at the mountains up north has been dashed in the same hazy fog as all things 2020.
The infusion center offers a glimpse of what things must be like in the COVID areas. An abundance of caution; fearful people with uncertain fates glancing warily at one another. My stereotypes of cancer are shattered for the millionth time. My small area is shared by a super-fit guy about my age in a backward baseball cap and T-shirt, a middle-age fellow who looks to be the stereotypical Type A businessman, and an Arizona State University student who can’t be much past 20 years old, sporting a huge wool beanie, a breast cancer support blanket and a laptop with at least 200 stickers on it.
Me? I’m just a old guy who hopefully isn’t all that sick, alternating between petrified and hopeful and man I hope I don’t need to go to the bathroom while I’m hooked up to all this stuff. Not unlike flying in the window seat of a long Southwest flight, back when long Southwest flights were a thing.
Reality sets in when the little plastic tub arrives with a huge yellow-and-black biohazard sticker on it. The nurse dons an extra layer of protective gear before hooking me up. You want heroes? My medal goes to the folks who deal with this every day — handling radioactive poison that’s only a needle away, all day, and then adding constant COVID concerns on top of it. Only to be questioned by almost half the nation as to whether there’s anything to worry about. Read their faces through the masks and goggles. There’s plenty to worry about.
Because of the restrictions, Mo is unable to come in. We text back and forth from afar, hers a string of veiled messages with the same underlying question: “Um, still alive there?” and mine with the same hopeful reply: “All’s well.” And it is. I’m not feeling any side effects, other than an overwhelming urge to go find their Lorna Doone stash. Maybe I’ll be lucky with the chemo fallout. Maybe.
The hours tick by. The trick for maintaining sanity is to avoid looking at the IV drip, where the little bag empties at an excruciatingly slow rate, one drip at a time. One trip at a time. Trial of miles. Miles of trials.
I try to read my book, but the story of an old, inebriated church deacon shooting off the ear of a neighborhood drug dealer isn’t quite as uplifting as I had imagined it might be. I listen to Keith Jarrett for a while, but I’m on the 15-minute plan with the nurses, in which they constantly stop by to ask the underlying question: Um, still alive there?” I answer with the same hopeful reply: “All’s well.” A master conversationalist if you give me enough Benadryl, I detect a theme for the day. Success is survival, the prophet Murphey once said of desert rats. I wish I had a Whole Earth Catalog to read.
And then, a nudge under seven hours later, it’s finally over. The ASU student has moved on, replaced by a fifty-something woman in a similar uniform. The businessman appears to be conducting business, which is what I suppose businessmen are wont to do. Baseball cap guy sets out pushing his little lifeline cart and comes back with Lorna Doones as I prepare to leave, bringing my seat back to an upright and locked position. He doesn’t share.
I call Mo as they unhook me. I don’t feel any different, other than maybe a little more hopeful. I break into the fridge and steal some Lorna Doones on the way out. I figure Blue Cross paid for them, so what the heck. I’m not much of a person to pray, but I send my most positive thoughts to the folks I’ve shared the day with. We’re all in this boat together, paddling as best we can.
I walk outside and find Mo in the parking lot. She pretends not to look worried. I’ll be seeing that look a lot. I’m so, so lucky to have a best friend to share this with. I hope she buys me Lorna Doones.
The forecast tomorrow: Round 2 of the Chemo Mambo. And the promise of Sunny Skies.
Looking at the snow and trees
that grow outside my window
Looking at the things that passed me by
Wondering if where I’ve been is worth
The things I’ve been through
Ending with a friend named Sunny Skies
at least i didn’t get cubicle 13 …