Patients with cancer aren't the only ones who need a little levity in their lives.
My husband and I are riding in the elevator to the sixth floor for his third chemotherapy treatment. We’ve got the routine down. Every three weeks he goes in for four to five days of nauseating, lose-your-hair, diarrhea-inducing, yet life-saving chemo. The wheelchair is filled with things that will make his stay more comfortable: his own pillow and blanket because the hospital ones smell funky to him, his laptop, headphones, ginger chews, knit cap to keep is bald head warm, water bottle …. But the most important item, the one that will help him the most, doesn’t fit into the wheelchair. It’s his sense of humor.
“Quick,” he says handing me a pen. “Write something on my butt.” He pulls his sweat pants down just enough to reveal the upper portion of one cute buttock.
“What?” I’m flummoxed. Not because of what he’s asked me to do (I’ve known him too long for this to be a surprise. We have pictures of him with a Sitz bath on his head celebrating Cinco de Mayo), but because I don’t know what to write.
“For the skin check,” he says, “Quick.”
I’m not quick enough. The elevator stops and the doors open. Thankfully no one is standing there to witness this mid-day mooning. Fran pulls up his pants and I pocket the pen and we head down the hall.
Once we’re shown his room, we have just a few minutes before the inevitable skin check. It’s kind of like inspecting a rental car for dings before you drive off the lot. Two nurses will do a quick visual scan of a patient’s back, elbows, knees and feet for signs of pressure sores.
As neatly as I can, I write a greeting in blue ink. I toss the pen and stifle a snicker.
Barb and Mary, who have cared for Fran before, come in. Fran does his bit showing them his back, his elbows, his knees, feet, and.... He turns and drops his sweats.
The nurses reel back laughing. One leans out the door. “Hey, guys. You have to see this!”
The way Fran sees it, these nurses need levity just as much as the patients. Nurses pump toxic chemicals into folks who are scared and in pain. Some patients lash out in anger. Some don’t make it. Nurses all deserve a jolly howdy once in a while. And so does Fran. For the next few days these beautiful women will be measuring his urine and rating his stool. How humiliating.
Now that Fran has established his reputation as the smartass that he is, he has to keep it up. On his fourth visit to the floor I write, “6 West is the Best!” And the fifth time a simple smiley face decorates his derriere. What I should write is, “Thank you!” in bold, all caps.
"Thank you for taking such good care of me! Thank you for being gentle when you stab me in the chest to connect the mediport. Thank you for laughing at my stupid jokes. Thank you for talking me down when I’m scared in the middle of the night…. "There is just not enough room on his tight little tukhus.
There is a special place in my husband’s heart for these women who have shared some of the worst moments of his life. And I’m not jealous. I love them, too. He wouldn’t be here without them. And as evidenced by the big hugs and smiles Fran gets whenever he goes back to visit, I think the feeling is mutual.
As one nurse said, “I tell that story to everyone. He’s a legend.”