The monitor beeped and the nurse with the ponytail came to administer the next intravenous drug for my sister-in-law. I leaned forward in my seat to take it all in and Linda opened her eyes. The steroids were doing battle against the Benadryl and the steroids were winning. She couldn't sleep. The nurse touched Linda's feet, which were crossed at the ankles, and softly spoke. "You feeling okay, Hun?" Linda smiled and nodded. "Okay," she replied, returning the smile, "but if you feel any nausea, cramping, or sweating, let me know right away." And with that, she spun on her heel, stepped toward the adjacent patient's monitor and busily pressed more numbers.
They call it the Chemo Suite and, until I actually experienced it for myself, I was a skeptic. The rooms that surrounded the nursing station were lined with new LA-Z-Boy recliners, each with a little table and I.V. pole. Music played quietly and the nurses I encountered only donned kind and gentle countenances. Somehow, despite cold poison flowing through tubes into bodies wracked with disease, the room seemed warm and inviting, more inviting than any hospital I had ever been to. The jovial nursing staff were leading patients to their places like they were spa beds. I pulled my chair up closer to Linda.
"It really does seem like a living room, doesn't it?" I felt insensitive as soon as my words hit the air but my easy-going sister-in-law agreed.
I was an observer only. I was not the recipient of the life-saving toxin that would send each of these people home with the kind of side-effects that make them wish they could disappear. I thought of my neighbor, Jill, with four children and a brain tumour, just like Linda. They were depending on this deadly stuff trickling through the port in their chests, to give them more time with their kids, their husbands, themselves. I could watch her and fluff her pillow and pray but I hadn't really understood how this living room suite, where prison and freedom mingled, slowed their lives to a shocking halt.
The suite was packed with patients. A woman was knitting a small, purple square and Linda explained that you could pick up needles and yarn in the waiting room and knit for the patients. There was a couple of about eighty, who were sitting facing each other and looking comfortably accustomed to this routine. Almost all of the patients were accompanied by a partner, as I was privileged to be for Linda that day. But it was a man of about forty-five who entered the room with his special needs, teenage daughter tripping along behind him that caught my attention. He swept her hair back from both of her shoulders and told her it was time to play her iPad game for awhile and that she could look at the nice magazine he bought her. He was set up in a La-Z-Boy too and attached to the flow. I wondered about them. He was so attentive and caring of his girl. She seemed unaware that her father was very sick. She sat and slowly turned her head to the side and stared as he spoke loving words to her. I tried not to stare myself but I wanted so much to receive a message in my spirit about this place and what God was doing here.
The two women on the left side of Linda laughed quietly together and alternated between English and an Asian language. A nurse pulled up a chair beside them and explained to the one in the La-Z-Boy all that was about to happen, including the nausea and difficulty eating over the next few days. She administered the I.V. and stepped away. The two women giggled again and finally opened their books to read. It wasn't long--maybe an hour--until the nurse returned and unhooked the chemo patient. The Asian woman smiled and raised her hand and whispered, "Praise the Lord." I don't think I remember what happened for awhile after that because I sat and soaked in that moment of her gratitude.
The nurse with the ponytail stood near us and beckoned her student who had just transferred from the E.R. to come to her. She asked if she wanted to switch lines at Linda's monitor or set patient number five free. The student chose to release the patient, whose light was blinking like a ready airplane on the runway. She unhooked all his tubes and congratulated him for completing another round. And then he was gone. I silently prayed for God to truly set him free. He needed a miracle in his body but I didn't know the state of his heart. I turned to Linda. I prayed again for her, as I always do at home with my children, for God to heal her thoroughly. And He does. Over and over she receives good news and we thank Him for every little progression, every little hope to cling to. From stage four cancer to aggressive chemo, brain surgeries, radiation and tests upon tests, she's arrived at more life. We're grateful.
Suddenly, a buzzing sound shook me from my thoughts. It was an email alert on my cell phone and I noticed it was from Molly, who was at home. I quickly opened it to see if everything was okay. She wrote: "Oliver found something under the sink that looked like cotton candy, so I think you can guess what he did after that, and if you guessed eat it, you were right."
Yes, I began to panic.
I texted Terry and told him to check our son immediately. He was on it in a jiffy. Linda stirred in the chair and I shared with her (I'm sure with deer-in-headlights eyes), at what had just transpired. She thought perhaps it could have been insulation but I couldn't remember there being any opening under my kitchen sink where that would be sticking out. I waited impatiently for the text from my husband with answers I could only surmise. Finally, he discovered it was an S.O.S. cleaning pad (steel wool covered with a blue, powdery substance) and he had only licked it.
Well, that's much better then. I relaxed... a little... with full assurance my husband was making that young lad quite aware of the dangers of poison.
People willingly ingesting poison. It hit me again... and my inability to control anything--my son's actions when I'm far away, and my sister-in-law's illness. Oh, how I desired to control both.
The large digital clock on the wall flipped to 3 p.m. and Linda received a text that one of her daughter's had fallen off of the monkey bars at a park and might have a concussion. We both laughed and admitted to helplessness. We were trapped in the Chemo Suite, she, hooked up to tubes and me, a willing servant, but grasping at how very small we are. God was demonstrating His power in those hours and my need to lean on His very capable arms. As in other helpless times in my life, I cried out to Him within my heart and asked for the mercy I knew He so desires to give. I wasn't worried, just concerned and praying for His loving care to surround our families and oh... to put an end to this terrible disease once and for all.
A lovely, plump white-haired woman popped out of her chemo chair. She had just been set free. She exclaimed to her nurse, "Thank you for this day!"
The nurse replied, "What a good response... to be thankful for each day."
One by one, each recipient was set free and the room emptied of all but Linda and another couple at the far end. It was dinner time and the cancer spa was closing. I marveled. I had expected depression. I had expected fearful faces, wide eyes, death's scent, truly. But, I encountered joy in the Chemo Suite. I encountered loveliness, kindness, hope and gratitude. I encountered a deepened relationship with my sister-in-law. And I understood even more how small we are and how big our God is. He was there comforting, healing, and perhaps even whispering "Come home." to some. I didn't fully get it and I certainly didn't want to belittle their ravaging pain with my simple observations, but I couldn't help but sense something much less than despair. As an awe-filled spectator, I discovered beauty in the ugliness, joy overriding the enemy's attempt at defeat in this place.