Saturday, March 25, 2006

March 24, 2006 - Looking Sick

Yesterday my missing CT scan films finally arrived from Sloan-Kettering. This afternoon I notice them sitting by the front door, and I know Claire will be out for the rest of the afternoon doing hospice ministry, so I decide to drive them over to Ocean Medical Center myself.

It’s more tiring than I would have thought, just walking from the parking garage over to the main building. I go slow, huffing and puffing along the way. I have very little stamina for physical exercise. The only experience I have to compare this to was last spring, when I went out to a national Presbyterian pastors' retreat at the Snowbird ski resort in Utah. That place was around 8,000 feet above sea level. With the thinner air at that altitude, I had the unaccustomed experience of thinking consciously about my own breathing.

I find my way to the X-Ray File Room, which is where CT films are kept. A staff member from that department is coming out of a side door as I’m walking down the hall with my large envelope, and she asks me if I’m returning films. I say, yes I am, but also explain that Dr. Lerner wants me to ask her to pass on the word to the radiologist that these are now in, in case that doctor wants to make a supplementary report, based on the actual films (rather than just the narrative report from last fall). Evidently, there’s no release to sign, no form to fill out – so I just hand over the envelope. (All the films have my name on them, and the date, so there doesn’t seem to be much chance they’ll get lost – but the whole transaction still seems very informal, especially since it's happening out in the hallway.)

She says she’ll take care of it, and not to worry about it. She seems unusually solicitous, and it occurs to me that I may not look too good at the moment. I’m feeling tired, my eyes are glassy, and my complexion is probably closer to gray than any other color. She’s treating me like a sick person, I think to myself. Well, that’s what I am, especially just a couple of days after chemotherapy. Sometimes I forget that I don’t look the same as I always have.

Is that a good thing, to be treated as a sick person? I’m not sure. On the one hand, the hospital staffer seems very kind, but on the other, I feel, in that moment, somehow set apart from the rest of the human race. I’m different, I think to myself. I look different, and this person is treating me differently.

Thinking back on the experience later, I wonder if that’s how older people feel. I’ve seen people fussing around and being solicitous of the elderly. At times I’ve done so myself. Those actions are of course well-meant, but I suppose that, from the standpoint of the recipient, they could unintentionally contribute to a sense of isolation.

File that one away as a lesson for the future, I think to myself. One more lesson from Cancer: that stern, master teacher.

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