“Hip, fedora-wearing mom” is 31.
She’s got a few small kids who aren’t quite sure why all her hair fell out, but they like her funny hats. And her friends keep giving them to her in all different colors. They say it’s the only way they know how to help.
“Tall, grey-haired black guy” is in a lot of pain. He usually goes straight to his chair and closes his eyes. He comes in every week with his younger brother who always brings along a Sports Illustrated. Younger brother will occasionally read an interesting paragraph or two out loud, but mostly he just sits and reads, unsure of the role he is to play in all this.
“Too Tanned” is late forties, but dresses early teens. Plaid over-sized shorts that hang down to his socks, gigantic neon basketball shoes, negro league baseball jerseys… if Turtle from Entourage was dipped in bronzer and fighting cancer on a weekly basis? Yeah, that’s “Too Tanned.”
We the Wednesday Regulars, the citizens of the Day Hospital at USC are indeed a motley bunch.
A large open room filled with barcaloungers and IV poles, the Day Hospital is like the epicenter of Cancer World. It’s chemo-central in the fight against cancer. We park it in a chair, we’re hooked up to an IV and wait patiently while all manner of manmade horrors are pumped into our veins.
Drugs that make us sick, drugs that make us run fevers, break out in hives, give us headaches and joint pains. Drugs that wear us down, destroy our white blood cell counts and generally make us feel as if we are, in fact, slowly dying.
And yet nobody misses an appointment. Nobody is even late. Fact is we’d double-down on the stuff if we thought it would help. We’d sip it from a cup or drink it with a straw if someone told us that were the cure.
Yes, it’s essentially poison, but poison we’re scared to death to do without.
In an effort to provide some measure of privacy the chairs are spaced out around the room and aimed in different directions. But all that ends up doing is putting you in the awkward situation of staring directly into the eyes of someone sitting twenty feet away. Too far to have a conversation, but not far enough that you can’t read their every expression.
People read, sleep, watch TV, surf with their iPads, but every so often… fear makes a house call. You can see it coming over them as they stare up into their IV bags or fiddle with their central lines. You know exactly what they’re thinking because you’ve thought it too. Cancer is a battle not everyone wins and nobody knows that unfortunate reality better than the Wednesday Regulars.We don’t talk to each other, we don’t exchange emails. We smile, we nod and we go back to our naps. What’s there to say really? We are members of a club nobody wanted to join with dues nobody wants to pay.
When the bags are empty, we are unplugged. One by one, the Wednesday Regulars exit on uneasy feet, stepping gingerly at first as if the halls were uneven terrain. By the time we hit the front door there’s a bounce to our step, one more Wednesday behind us.
“Too Tanned” gets in his Escalade with the spinning rims, “Hip fedora wearing Mom” her Prius. There’s no need for “see you next weeks” because we know we’ll all be back.
We wouldn’t miss it for the world.