The Waiting Room

CURE, Fall 2012, Volume 11, Issue 3

A kid can bring out the best in people.

Today we're in the waiting room of the hospital’s oncological radiology department. Elliot has had radiotherapy every day for the past two weeks, at about the same time every day, so we see many of the same people in the waiting room.

Elliot has on his superhero costume, complete with long cape, mask and, of course, a sword. He’s decided that it helps him fight the cancer “dragon.”

There are only two other people in the waiting room, and I’m hoping they are not too bothered by his noise. We’ve seen this couple every day: a quiet woman with gray hair who sits in the corner chair, always the same chair, next to a younger man who I assume is her son. He always holds her hand.

Another familiar man comes around the corner, his wheelchair pushed by a nurse who places him near the window and asks if he’s OK there. He grumpily mumbles something in reply. The man is missing one foot. He also has a bandage and patch covering one eye. I wonder about him. I often wonder about other patients, but generally people keep to themselves in the waiting room.

Elliot, however, marches right up to the man. He has spoken to him before and, for some reason, thinks he’s funny, even though he is usually in a bad mood.

Elliot has had radiotherapy every day for the past two weeks, at about the same time every day, so we see many of the same people in the waiting room.

Elliot and the man stare at each other for a few seconds, when Elliot finally asks, “Why do you have that?” and points to the eye patch.

“Well!” says the man, and you almost feel he was hoping someone would ask so he could offload his grumpiness. “If it wasn’t enough that I have diabetes AND cancer, now I have an eye infection!” He is almost roaring with anger.

“Oh,” Elliot says, looking disappointed. I am worried the man has hurt his feelings with his tone, or worse, might make him worry about his own cancer and the possible complications. He walks slowly toward me, his sword dragging on the ground.

He sits next to me and whispers, “I thought he was a pirate.” I’m not sure how to respond.

The quiet woman has heard Elliot’s loud whisper and starts to giggle. Then her son starts giggling, too. So my husband starts, too, and next we’re all sitting there laughing, all except Elliot and the man in the wheelchair. Elliot stands up and asks, “What’s so funny?”

I don’t answer right away, so the man in the wheelchair repeats the question, with a touch of annoyance. “I’m sorry,” I say, “Elliot thought…” And Elliot interrupts, “I think you’re really a pirate!” and raises his sword to the man.

We all stop laughing, unsure of how he will react.

A nurse holding a chart comes around the corner just then and calls for Mrs. Waters. Then she looks over and says, “Oh, Mr. Johnson, what happened to your eye?”

We all freeze. After a few seconds of silence, he replies, “Nothing at all.” His voice is still grumpy, but with a different edge. “I’m a pirate.”

And time starts moving again. Mrs. Waters and her son start moving toward the door, both smiling crazily.

Elliot slowly comes back to me and whispers, “I knew it.”

Mrs. Waters pops her head back in and sings out, “Oh, I’m a mermaid! Did you know? I’m just in disguise today,” then leaves again. Elliot looks at me skeptically. I shrug my shoulders.

And just for a moment, we all have escaped the cancer world.

Editor's note: Elliot is in remission from stage 4 Wilms tumor. His mom, Nicole Scobie, is a Canadian living in Switzerland. She blogs about cancer at nicolescobie.com.