Saturday, February 12, 2011

Coming Attractions

The better part of this week found me in a hospital setting. The upside, for lack of a better word, is that I wasn’t the patient but a "caregiver" instead. Anyway, without going into too many details, patient and I landed in Memorial Sloan-Kettering’s Urgent Care (triage) wing. This hospital space perpetually brings together a diverse group of cancer patients who are feeling unwell for a variety of reasons, but who are, in most instances, not unwell enough to be Emergency Room caliber.

Having arrived there at around noontime, I didn't leave the premises until ten o'clock at night. (Lucky her: The patient got to stay over a couple of nights to knock out a spot of pneumonia.) It was an extraordinarily long day of uncomfortably sitting around mostly—waiting and wondering, but also observing and listening to the never-ending theater all around us. The place filled up in a New York minute—hey, it’s winter and a bad one at that—and men and women were lined up in the corridor, with some looking more worse for wear than others. Most of the assembled had family or friends at their sides for moral support and physical assistance if needed, but a handful did not. I noticed an elderly woman all alone and seated on chair in the hallway for hours. I took an educated guess that she had both cancer and nobody—an incredibly sad one-two gut punch in life’s waning hours.

I overheard doctors visiting patients and discussing morphine drips and other painkilling options. One man was informed that the drug cocktail given to him wouldn’t rid his pain altogether, but hopefully make his day-to-day existence at least tolerable. I heard another poor fellow feebly cry out, “I don’t want to die.” His doctor reassured him, “We don’t want you to die, either.”

It’s difficult not to reflect on Coming Attractions, and the less than harmonious last legs of life’s journey, while amidst this stark reality snapshot. Really…there just aren’t very many happy endings in store for us. Looking on the bright side, a trip to Urgent Care can be an enlightening experience, too—an eye-opener. (I’ve been there a few times.) While in this milieu, I am always reminded of the endgame, and why it’s absolutely essential to make the most of what's in-between our beginnings and endings.

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