Life in the circus ain’t easy
But the folks on the outside don’t know
The tent goes up and the tent comes down
And all that they see is the show
— the prophet ani
“Do you want a better view?” asks Jill, my House of Chemo RN.
I have an OK spot and I’m already settled in. I don’t want them to have to clean up things, so I say nah.
“Come on,” she insists. “You’re going to be here a while.” She drags me over and sets me up by the window. It’s a lovely view of the mountains to the north, but mostly I’m struck by their reflection on the whiteboard. What should have been a dull reminder of the daily med is now a silhouette of the desert. I thank her profusely. “Well,” she says, “I always try to think of what I’d want if I were in the chair.”
You read a lot about health care workers on the frontline and their herculean efforts. But sometimes it’s the small things that made a big difference. Doing unto others as you would have them blah blah, I think some guy said a long time ago during a sermon on a mountain not unlike the ones I’m looking at. They should really have a holiday in his honor.
“YOU’RE WEARING CHRISTMAS SHOES!!!!” another nurse squeals as she searches in vain for a vein that seems to have taken the day off for the holidays. She is wearing Christmas shoes as well, some green Asics with wreaths and stuff. We have to wear blue scrubs, she says, so shoes are the only place where we can show our Christmas colors. She is glad to have found a kindred soul.
Except I had no idea I was wearing Christmas shoes. I had picked up this month’s Atreyus, which come by subscription every three months, and they happen to be red soles with green laces because they ran out of the plain white ones I wanted and they’re based in Austin, which means they can do whatever they want. You have to respect the Austin attitude. But I say, well, of course, because it’s almost Christmas. And if you would like to get me a gift, find that vein. And, of course, she does. A Festivus miracle. (and the rig for having IV bag makes the perfect Festivus pole. Although apparently wrestling isn’t allowed.)
Looking out the window of my luxury suite, I can see the circus in the parking lot. It’s the Mayo COVID-19 (no, it’s not Covid or COVID, dammit. AP style) testing site. When you’re undergoing chemo, it’s easy to forget about the virus. Except for the mask. And the interrogation at the front door. And the 10-minute screening by each person you come in contact with. And that nagging worry in the back of your head that you are on a mission to completely wipe out your body’s immunity, which might not be the best thing when trying to avoid a virus that will kill you in a week should it decide to visit.
It’s quite a show here. Three buildings form a line, the medical equivalent of the three-ring circus. We’re all putting on our little performances, death-defying acts.
We can make something bigger
Than any one of us alone
And then the clowns will take off their makeup
And the people will go home
We can make something bigger than any one of us alone. Chemo is a team sport.
From my luxury suite I can see the Big Top in the parking lot, the folks in their Contagion hazmat suits, sticking mops up noses in a heroic effort to fight this thing. I hope they get their shots soon.
Five hours, one blah book (“Writers & Lovers” by Lily King — a writer writes a novel about a writer writing a novel — how daring), a chocolate brownie Clif bar and a contemplation of life. Sitting silently for five hours allows a perspective. For better or worse.
When it’s over, the judges rule Round 4 a draw. “Beat the shit out of this,” Tracy said as I was preparing to climb into the ring. Cue the Rocky music. It’s important to have good people in your corner. I hope he doesn’t make me chase chickens.
And that’s Christmas. Rudolph has resigned himself to social distancing this year. We figure it might not be the best time for a deranged reindeer to be sauntering up to strangers. They say the key to recovery is good nutrition, so we have chocolate chip cookies and gelato and too much chocolate fudge. Because if you have to die, dammit, die with chocolate in your mustache.
Just another day in the freak show …
It’s about freedom
It’s about faking
There’s an art to the laughter
There’s a science
And there’s a lot of love and compliance
Welcome to the freak show
Here we go