‘The Old Man’
‘The Old Man’
On this trip to 5 South, Skip was given, among several other drugs, the drug Adriamycin, referred to as the “red devil” in chemo circles. It was by far the worst of the lot and difficult to face. In fact, in later treatments, Skip asked the nurses to put a pillow case over the red bag of poison so he didn’t have to look at it flow. Just the sight of the chemical sent Skip reeling and pressing the nurse’s button for extra nausea medicine. Visits in the hospital from friends and family were few and far between. Ashley was busy at home, and his friends and colleagues seemed to have their own lives going full tilt. Anyway, it didn’t really matter; Skip was usually so sick or so out of it that he wouldn’t have enjoyed the company anyway. Skip rarely left his room, but often he would feel the need to stretch out his legs or find a nurse who wasn’t responding to his beeper. Did those beepers really work? Anyone who has been to a hospital wonders whether those beepers to the nurses’ station are really connected. Even though the economy was tight, it was a little unnerving to have the same nurse taking your blood as well as emptying the trash cans.
During his infrequent hallway walks, Skip would occasionally run into another patient either out in the hall or walking to the nurses’ station. On one such occasion, Skip was walking to the nurses’ station to see if he could get an Ensure to drink, when he saw a nurse with a Budweiser beer can in her hand. He wasn’t sure if it was time for “happy hour” on the floor or what. Not that Skip had the stomach for a beer at the moment, but it piqued his interest to see who was drinking on the floor. Wasn’t this a chemo ward, thought Skip, and not the Copacabana? If an Advil ran $5.50 apiece, that Bud must be costing at least $100! Skip wondered if it was covered by insurance. It turns out that the beer was being delivered to a patient, a crusty old sort with a generous smile who welcomed Skip into the room. The gentleman in the room was also a patient of Dr. Barker. Names were exchanged but quickly forgotten by Skip, who never did have a memory for names. Faces were a different story. The old man told Skip that Dr. Barker had written him a prescription for two Budweisers a day. The nice old man offered one of his two to Skip, who politely declined. The thought of drinking alcohol was about as appealing as chewing lead chips. Skip and the old man became friends and met frequently in the elder’s room. It was spring and the old man was a big Red Sox fan, and Skip would often walk with chemo pole in hand down to his room to catch a game and watch the Budweiser being consumed. The old man had some type of blood cancer and appeared to be a semipermanent member of 5 South. Skip would regularly look in on him on his biweekly visits.
Skip had returned to the hospital for another week of treatment and decided to force himself out of bed and take a walk to see what the old man was up to. There was a game on that night and Skip was feeling down and thought he might use some company. On approaching the old man’s room, it was instantly apparent that something had changed. The bed was made and the television was off, with no sign of the old man. Skip thought that perhaps they moved him to another room or that he was undergoing some type of MRI or other test on another floor. Skip waddled to the nurses’ station to inquire about the old man. The nurse told Skip that he wouldn’t be coming back; he had died in his sleep two nights ago. He had finally succumbed to the disease. To be a patient on 5 South or any cancer floor brought an innate comradery among its patients. They all had something in common, though it was something they did not want. Hence, a fraternity of sorts. Even though he knew the old man for only a few months, they had quickly bonded and had become friends and cohorts against the disease. It was difficult to control his emotions in such an environment. The majority of the time sadness was the devil’s tool. Other than an occasional visit with a fellow patient or pleasant conversation with one of the nurses, there was no happiness on 5 South, only agony. But it made the short time Skip spent with the old man all the more special. They were brief moments of pleasure mingled with a deluge of grief. Skip, his eyes welling with tears, went back to his room. A new wave of despair was rising. It would be a long night.