Sunday, March 11, 2007

Jim's At His Home Away From Home

When my husband was first diagnosed with cancer three years ago, a social worker told me, "Get used to the hospital. The hospital is going to be your home away from home."

This time, it's Memorial Sloan-Kettering, or just "Memorial," or as everyone in New York calls it, Sloan-Kettering. Jim was admitted on Friday evening, severely dehydrated and with swelling in the brain from metastatic tumors. He's getting fluids and massive doses of steroids and more care than I could ever give him here at home.

Sloan-Kettering's Urgent Care Unit, where the ambulance brought him on Friday afternoon, isn't the usual ER. It's only for people getting treated at Sloan-Kettering. So instead of the usual assortment of burst appendixes, traffic accidents and bar room brawl injuries, the special terminology of cancer fills the air: Chemo, radiation, stem cell transplant, anemia, and a variety of -ectomies and -ostomies.

I'd forgotten that the worst part of ER visits is the interminable waiting, followed by having no place to sit. Stretchers lined the hallway of the waiting area as the triage nurse took information, vital statistics and body fluids. Loved ones took turns sitting or standing next to their respective stretchers or sitting in front of a large, flat-screened TV watching CNN ("Newt Confesses.") Then the stretchers are off to curtained cubicles that can fit one chair.

Over the next few hours, we get to know each other: The Class of March 9th. The two grown sons with their elderly father, three generations of an Italian-American family around the 80-year-old matriarch, a seventy-something lady with the mien of an ex-ballerina accompanying her pale and exhausted husband. And of course, Jim and his posse, consisting of myself, his sister, her boyfriend and a mutual friend.

The loved ones may be talking, laughing, joking or resigned, but the look in our eyes speaks volumes and sounds exactly the same: Is this time going to be it?

More, when I get the chance.

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