Looking back on my life thus far, something really—really—stands out. I marvel now at the fact that I rarely passed through a hospital door in my first three decades of living. And that was kind of nice—the way life ought to be. I remember as a teenager visiting my grandmother in one after her glaucoma surgery. She spent a whole week in the hospital for that. And since I don't recall being born, that's the long and short of my early hospital memories. The times have certainly changed.
In my last two decades on the planet—in stark contrast with the first three—I’ve logged entirely too many hours in the hospital milieu—as a visitor, patient, and escort, the hat I donned this past week. When all was said and done, I found myself in a waiting room at New York City’s premier cancer hospital. If one needed proof that cancer is an equal opportunity disease, this was the place to be. I’ve long been fascinated at the diversity of mind, body, and soul that I chance upon in this hospital. While family members typically accompany the patients on the scene, there are always some people who go it alone. And this is particularly poignant when these solitary souls are getting up in years. Traipsing around to doctors’ appointments and myriad tests without a shoulder to cry on—or an ear to chew on—is not desirable in the golden years. Unfortunately, it’s just an unavoidable reality for some.
Anyway, this go-round I spied an elderly gentleman—all by himself—in the waiting room. Gingerly pushing his walker around the premises—the kind with a handy seat—a forlorn aura surrounded him. The man was borderline unkempt and had bypassed his morning shave and probably the one before that—a visual snapshot that considerably added to his lonely air. And boy did he ever want to talk—to anyone and everyone in earshot—which, I suppose, is understandable. Still, I was glad he didn’t sit across from me or next to me.
This guy reminded me of someone that I couldn’t quite put my finger on at first. Then it dawned on me. He facially resembled the late great character Ivor Francis. Let's call him Ivor from this point forward. Ivor was very, very interested in the waiting room’s amply-stocked pantry. I watched him in this little alcove carefully considering the various options at his disposal—coffee, tea, or hot chocolate, not to mention the saltine or graham cracker munchie quandary. A burly, grim-looking fellow subsequently joined him in the pantry. He looked like a 1960s sitcom Russian stereotype—picture Stanley Adams as Ila Klarpe in The Addams Family—as he navigated the cramped pantry. Ivor meet Ivan.
Destiny had surely brought these two men together. When Ivor at long last decided what his next move would be, a paper cup was the final piece to the puzzle—to steaming hot bliss and some tasty crackers to nibble on. As fate would have it, Ivan was in close proximity of the coveted paper cups at that very moment. Ivor sheepishly but oh-so-politely asked Ivan if he would hand him one—a simple request if ever there was one. Ivan didn’t think so, however, and glared angrily and suspiciously at Ivor. He then made a grumbling noise and furiously gestured at the stack of cups. Ivan’s message to Ivor was all too clear: Get it yourself!
Ivor meekly muttered a response, “I just asked because you were near the cups.” Well, from the looks of things, the Cold War still raged. If mutual affliction with cancer couldn't thaw things out—what pray tell could? Perhaps Ivan was just having a bad day—he was in a cancer hospital after all—but I still wish he didn’t take it out on lonely and frail Ivor. He could have effortlessly handed him an empty cup and made an old man with cancer happy.