Oncology

The St. Vincent's hospital oncology building is a uniquely unsettling place. There's a garden area with an artificial pond, old person swings, and a stone path winding up to the entrances. Plaques on pillars had quotes from the Bible, from Gandhi, Emerson, and so on, all with a hopeful, inspirational glint to them. "Seek hope in strength and confidence." was my favorite, though I don't remember who it was attributed to. In my mind, it was the most vague, contrived line of shit I'd seen in at least a few hours, prominently displayed next to a swing. I've always thought to myself that when people really think that they're probably going to die soon and have to confront the reality of their mortality and impermanence of everything that they'll become logical beings to whom phrases like "Seek hope in strength and confidence" will seem appropriately empty and meaningless, like a campaign slogan. But just when I thought this, a middle aged woman and her adolescent daughter walked by it and both started sobbing, saying how beautiful it was.

The season added a nice touch, to the whole picture. The artificial pond was bare and the basin was snow covered, the swings were covered with a thin layer of frost, and the stone path was much more slippery than the grass beside it and covered with the distinct prints of old people slipping.

Through the doorway was an overly friendly desk attendant whose position seemed to be about as important as that of a Wal-Mart greeter. She stopped mom and I to ask if we needed help finding anything and, when we said we knew where the office was, she insisted on giving us directions anyway.

In the waiting room, the coffee and end tables were covered with cancer information booklets, support magazines, and hospice advertisements. An older man was telling his wife that she could "beat this thing, just like the other times" as she cried and explained that she didn't want to. He was insistent that she had to, that he needed her to.

My mother was distracted by paperwork at the time and didn't seem to hear the conversation, but I suspected that she'd had the same discussion with herself. She's said dozens of times over the past few months that she doesn't give a damn what happens, as long as it stopped hurting. With the colon cancer, eye cancer, and colon cancer again, she decided that it wasn't going to change her life and that she had to keep going regardless of what doctors said. But now she doesn't seem to care. With her children older and her husband mostly estranged, she doesn't see any utilitarian purpose for herself after spending the majority of her life tending to us.

In the exam room, waiting for the doctor, I again tried to bring up the topic of her writing a will, and she again tossed it away, saying that she didn't have the time or the money for a lawyer. I reiterated that if she didn't want to end up being made into a morbid doll, put in a box for people to gawk, and then lowered into the ground to decompose slowly at, she needed to have it written down. There's also the little brother factor, which probably can't be totally solved by a will. It will probably take a court battle to keep his father from being the legal guardian anyway, but her expressing a wish for that to be me would at least be good for my resolve. With her wavering on who she wants to take care of him, it's hard for me to be confident that it's right for that to be me. If I can't get my own life in order, can I help a 13-year-old develop into a healthy the healthy adult that I'm failing to become?

The doctor's striped bowtie immediately gripped me by my sense of sleep deprived cynicism and pulled. I spent the whole time with my eyes fixed on it with a combination of disgust and indignation.