Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Waiting Room

"The doctor is reviewing your images. We'll let you know as soon as he's done."

Word for word, that was the fourth time I'd heard the phrase in the last two hours, each repetition less comforting than the last. A safe, plastic sound bite meant to be consoling that in reality was, in all its emptiness, downright frightening.

I was angry at the nurse for thinking a pre-packaged comment would console me. Of course she couldn't tell me anything. But she knew I wasn’t stupid enough to believe everything was fine. And must she smile when she told me that? I certainly didn't return the grin. I probably looked stunned at her canned callousness, that she wouldn't tell me more. Although I'm sure she didn't mean it that way, I took it personally. I took the stupid lump personally, too. Nice timing, God.

I was being scanned and rescanned, a small lump in my left breast repeatedly scrutinized. Waiting for the results gave me so very much time to dwell on things I'd prefer to avoid. I had just separated from my husband. I was alone with two small boys. Now, in this chilly examination room, I was alone with my thoughts, and they were not behaving.

This worry-wait was too grey, too unboxed, to wrap my brain around. Shockingly, the People magazine they gave me wasn't enough to keep me distracted. Instead, my mind was racing ahead, jumping to conclusions, and flattening any synapses that got in its way.


Although somewhat housebroken, my thoughts behave best when shackled to ideas. Off a leash, they tend to scamper off to scary places, running roughshod over weaker ideas. So after several hours of unfettered playtime, imaginary graffiti covered the walls of the examination room and saccharine-sweet, politically correct captions lay bleeding and broken on the floor, mementos of my thoughts run amok.

Anger blanketed my fear. Fear of leaving. Fear of losing control, losing life, losing all. I had recently bought the cutest shoes and not even worn them yet. Lump or no lump - no way would I go with shoes unworn.

What were the odds? Fifty percent? Ninety-five? How much time was left? I was clueless and truly in the dark. At least in a sport, you had an idea of whether you were winning or losing, and you knew how much time you had left. Each breath was now measured, each click on the game clock so loud. Nice timing, God.

Yesterday my main concern had been whether the Yankees’ pitching would carry them through to the playoffs. Today, I wanted to make the playoffs.


As I lay there, I had time to prioritize, to separate the wait from the weight, hold close to the vital and let the rest go. When you are suddenly reminded out your time here is measured in finite moments, what do you do? You cut to the chase, speak to the heart, say what you mean, and skip the fluff.

I did not have time for lumps, for cancer, for tolerating politically correct terminology. I wasn't about to make time for any of it either, but no one seemed to be consulting me about whether I could fit it all into my schedule.

"Thanks for being so patient. You may go now."

I could go? Not just go, but dance, and blink, and breathe, and live, and shop. From zero to gone, just like that.

The lump ended up being nothing more than a dense spot, of which I have many, mostly in my head. Soon I was back to my daily grind, quickly forgetting my long moment dwelling in a bottomless unknown.

But that wasn’t right, either. Once in a while I think back to that cold room that my thoughts trashed, and am reminded that the game clock is running. Quietly and slowly, but still running. So I run, too. In simply fabulous shoes.

I've gained perspective and lost my ability to sweat the stupid stuff. Since the worry-wait, I’ve worn my new shoes right through and joyfully bought more. Now I try to remember that ‘lump time’ could come anytime. I waste less, live more.


Nice timing, God.

3 comments:

Mad Scientist said...

Annie,
I've played that waiting game too. And then I got called to the nurses office instead of being dismissed. Then the nurse left me waiting after telling me she was going to schedule a biopsy!!! I was panicked. Finally, she returns telling me they found my films from 2 years ago and nothing had changed so I could leave. I should have asked for them to examine my heart before I left on wobbly legs. I'm glad everything came out ok for you. And thanks for reminding me it was 2 years ago this month and I am due for another wait!

PracticallyJoe said...

Can't beat a story with a happy ending ... live life to the fullest ... buy more shoes!

Melody said...

Wow. That was intense. I'm very glad you are okay.