“He needs some TLC and gentle handling,” says the assistant head nurse as she hands me the chart of a new patient. “He’s young, he’s a career soldier, and his wife just gave birth to their first child two weeks ago.”
I look at his chart. All that goes through my head is that he is seven years younger than me and has Stage 3 colon cancer. Yet again, I find myself standing there and wishing there was no cancer in this world, even if that meant, as an oncology nurse, that I would need to find a new career. I go look for my new patient in the waiting room.
“Hi! I’m Susie,” I say. “Let’s find you someplace to sit so we can talk and I can explain to you everything you need to know about your treatment.”
He flashes me a shy smile and looks at me. His deep brown eyes are friendly and assured, a facade for the pleading look that shines through. Pleading for me to tell him that it’s going to be OK.
His wife is there. His mother is there, too. His mother-in-law is watching the new baby. I don’t know how his wife is holding it all together. I was a hormonal mess right after I gave birth and I had nothing else this serious on my plate to cope with.
“You’re going to be our nurse every time, right? You’re going to be with us the whole way?” says his wife, happy to have found someone she felt comfortable with. At least that part of the uncertainty was now cleared up.
“I work three days a week. So as long as you come on those days and I’m not on vacation, yes, I will be the one to take care of him,” I answer.
“Vacation? What vacation? You’re not going to go on vacation,” she jokes, but sort of serious all the same.
“Don’t worry. I’ll introduce you to another nurse with whom I work closely and she will take care of you if I’m not here.”
I explain, I talk, I smile, I joke, I listen.
But mostly, I see. I see what they don’t yet comprehend. They don’t really understand the world they are entering. They will know soon enough, I say to myself, let them live the illusion a bit longer. Let them live in the land of limbo, not quite in the blissful past but not in the terrifying, unknown future.
His mother shows me a picture of the newborn baby, the couple’s first child. “She is 2 weeks old today,” the grandmother says proudly.
And yet again my heart feels like it’s being gently crushed. They are missing out on the joy of welcoming a new baby. Instead of bonding with a new life, they are starting a fight for a different life. Two journeys with mutual players and a common wish, to live and to love in health and happiness.
A few hours later, it’s time to go home, to cope and hope and live until we meet again in three weeks time.
“You’re going to be with us the whole way. Right? We’ll see you in three weeks?” they ask again.
“Yes, you will.” And I think to myself, I hope I’m going to be with them the whole way, until he is old and grey and a grandfather himself.
I can hope and pray.