Over the last two years I think I have sat in one of these rooms with one person or another about forty times. They are all pretty much the same. Same grey, blue chairs with easy clean fabric, same blonde wood finishing, same light blue walls, and even the same faded Robert Bateman prints. Rows of chairs face each other with enough room for a walker to get through and sometimes a window to look out but almost always a TV to watch with news you can’t quite hear.
As I sat today at the Juravinski Cancer Centre in Hamilton with someone I love waiting for blood work I began to look around at the people. They are pretty much the same people every time except the faces are different. There are the ones who look anxious, even frightened, those who are tired from treatments and others who wear a distant look of resignation. There are sometimes younger people and that always breaks my heart. Cancer in children is often very bad news. There are couples like us who share little quips and laughs though at first we fit more into the anxious and afraid category. There are people who spend the time knitting those little squares they leave in the baskets. Some hide behind magazines but I don’t think too many words are actually read.
Today there was a young man with his Mom and he was spouting to her about some atrocity he had heard about on the news. The three couples close by were enjoying his rant because we all knew it was a distortion of the news with a lot of Hollywood added to it. We had a little private giggle about it but he was so caught up in it he didn’t notice. His Mom was not paying as much attention to him as we were which I felt a little badly about because I would give anything to hear my son rant about some silly thing again.
In the one waiting room we have to take numbers which is a little dehumanizing but it’s efficient. When we went in our number was 61 and they were calling 29. It was a long sit but we made the best of it.
The next wait was at the doctor’s end of the visit. Of course we managed to hit lunch hour so we were waiting while the doctors and their staff had lunch before we finally got to see her.
Again in that room a TV, faded paintings on the wall, with the addition of live entertainment in the atrium below us. Nice to hear a piano being played but even that gets a little tinny after being there 20 times or so.
The people in the room were from all walks of life. It’s hard to tell much about people by their clothes any more unless they dress according to cultural or religious beliefs. People don’t dress up to go the doctor any more. (My mother always did because she wanted to look her best but I never really understood the logic.) You can tell a lot about people by their shoes though and when you are spending most of the hours looking down toward the floor so you don’t make much eye contact with anyone you see a lot of shoes. Some are worn out, some stylish, many are running shoes and the price is directly proportional to the amount of leather on them.
For the most part though it is just a sea of people. People like us, who’s lives have come head on with an obstacle they didn’t expect or want but who are making the best of a very bad situation. Some we will see again but we are careful not to get too friendly because we don’t really want to know if they make it.
And so we all sit holding our fate in that little ticket in our hands and waiting to hear, “Next”. We are wishing we didn’t have to be there but so glad the place is there because for most it has bought a few more months or years. In there we are all the same. The blood is all red. All are faced with the inevitability of death. The room is a great equalizer. .