There are lots of places in life you end up waiting, for lots of reasons. Doctor's office, DMV, in line at the grocery store, stuck in traffic. The reasons shift with each place, but there's a common thread. These places are synonymous with helplessness. Whatever's going on, you can't actually do anything about it. All you can do is sit and wait for someone you hope knows better than you to do whatever needs done. Doctor's offices in particular.
I'm home right now, but tomorrow I'll be writing from one again. It's a special lounge provided for family members of people in the cancer unit at OHSU.
It's a pleasant room, decorated like the rest of the facility in that faux-Swedish-modern style medical buildings seem to be designed around these days. Since I consider even fake birch panelling a huge improvement over institutional beige tile, I approve of the move. It's just outside the unit so I am right there if she needs me but still off where I won't bother people. It's setup for what I need; it has several power outlets and tables some of the chairs aren't too bad. I'm grateful for that. It's far enough out of the way I can do my job from there while she's napping and stuff but close enough I can be there for her. If you're careful not to think too hard, you could feel like you were sitting here waiting for just about any sort of professional visit.
But it's not an accident that all the chairs and tables are faced away from one wall; it's covered in informational pamphlets about how to deal with the symptoms of various types of cancer and the accompanying chemo and radiation treatements.
I've been here a lot this last month, and that's where the measurement comes in. It shows in the trashbins full of empty cafeteria coffee cups and crumpled, damp tissues. You count it out in laps paced when I couldn't stand that chair or the contents of my own head anymore or the percentage of charge I've gotten on my plugged-in phone since the last time someone called for an update on her condition I don't have.
There are too many uncertainties for my mind. I mean, in the grocery store you can see the front of the line and you have a pretty good idea of the outcome. I stand here behind that lady with the squalling baby for X amount of time. Then that kid in the polo shirt will do his chants and dances with the point-of-sale system, and if the gods of the inventory control system are kind I leave with an empty wallet and full trunk. That will let me cook meals and run my household for X amount of time. There are complexities to it, but I've
worked those out over the years. Here you got nothing. I know people aren't cars, with interchangable parts. But when you don't know precisely what's wrong, have no real way of knowing what needs to be done about it (or, say it softly, if there is anything at all that can be done), and don't know where you'll end up afterward it's maddening.
I'm trying to blame this on the room and I know that's not fair. But it's not just the terrible things. Even waiting for the best stuff ever like babies to be born drives me straight up the wall, and for very similar reasons. The stakes are just too high and I can't do anything but sit there like a jackass in a hailstorm and take it.
And sometimes knowing doesn't help. You try to keep hope alive, but I can tell you exactly when that took what may be a critical hit. 1:12pm today, when I was staring at my iPad when they told us the tumor they took out of her was pancreatic cancer and had already spread to her colon, stomach, and lymph nodes
rather than starting in her duadanum and just filling in the available space inside the digestive tract both directions from there like they had hoped. I've got stage numbers and stuff now. It's not the worst it could be, but it's a lot worse than we'd all hoped. From what they said, they'd taken the hit to theirs earlier in the day and were trying to figure out how to tell us as kindly as they could.
So I'm sitting here trying to figure out where a new line between "keep your chin up" and "STFU Pollyanna" should be drawn based on this information as I prepare to head back to that room for a couple days to try to help her weather the news and keep going. I have to figure that out for myself first, though. I've got a long drive ahead of me to work on it and I will do it. She and her boyfriend who has been with her and helped her all this time need me to. And I need to know that, whatever comes, I at least managed to do this.