Friday, November 16, 2007

AV: Slow Pan Back to Reveal ...

A short post today. This is because, oddly enough, words fail me when I’m here. Or anytime I really think about any of this. It’s yet another reason I surprised myself when I agreed to participate in the blog.


It’s just past noon in San Diego. I’m sitting in one of the private rooms here at the UCSD Moore’s Cancer Center Infusion Clinic. That’s a fancy way of saying “chemotherapy.”

I’m here with my wife, Aida, who’s sleeping in a hospital bed next to my chair. She’s hooked to the IVAC machine which she refers to as “Fred” (as in “Astaire”) and it’s busily pumping the contents of a sienna brown plastic bag into the port-o-cath inserted in her chest. That’s another story, but you should know that if you ever need chemo for extended time, just get the port, okay?

This room is the story for me, of course. My universe is astoundingly small these days, even as it contains the satellites of work, beloved friends, and community activism. Right now – and every fourth Tuesday – and every day, every moment when I think about it – my world revolves around the gravitational pull of this woman and her amazing bright and swirly life. Life.

And the bigger story is this place. Think in cinematic terms for a moment, won’t you?

The shot opens on a woman wearing a green knit Prana cap that reminds her of an acorn. She’s bundled in the hoody sweatshirt of her partner, worn over the sweater she chose for herself, and beneath the four warmed blankets from the Clean Utility Room because it’s so freaking cold in here. She’s wearing noise-canceling headphones for her iPod, mostly so she can hear something beautiful without being distracted by the maddening and oddly percussive soft whirr-whoosh of “Fred” – and his occasional outbursts of beeping when he runs dry or gets tangled. On her chest is a plush doll we call “Blue” (because he is); he’s one of those fabulous Uglydolls and we both highly recommend them.

Next to Fred we’ve pulled out the small TV screen which is connected to the wall by an extension arm. It’s oddly childlike, the tv, reminiscent of Playskool objects. To the screen we’ve taped a collage of photos I created for her last night of the Sea of Cortez. This is to distract her from the sterility of the environment and to remind her that she will go kayaking again someday. It also gives her something to look at besides the eggshell walls and the dusty eggplant purple of the curtain. We have reminded ourselves to bring the lavender spray for next week to mask the bandaid smell of the soap they use here.

That’s the tight shot. The camera then pulls back to reveal me (the supporting player here in this Lifetime dramedy), then quickly sweeps past the curtain to reveal the rest …
The room we occupy is the last in a row of 5 similar rooms. Outside our front glass-and-curtain doors are rows of recliners: 5 rows of 2 chairs each set up with some of them facing each other (see the accompanying crude rendering).

This is only half of the center. On the other side of a middle section where people get their blood drawn (8 more recliners), there’s a mirror image of this side of the clinic. More chairs. More rooms with beds in them.

15 stations on each side, 8 in the middle. 38 stations total.

Most days it’s busy - some people are here for 5-6 hours (like Aida) and others for 2-3 hours. Morning shift and afternoon shift. Some days this place is really hoppin’ … standing room only. Monday through Friday. Sometimes weekends. Holidays.

That’s the big pan shot, the one that continues to move further and further back, through the ceiling to encompass the hospital grounds, then the street and the hospital next door and its clinic, and the specialty clinic about 2 miles away, then back to reveal the neighborhood, and every fucking hospital and cancer treatment facility in the city where there are people sitting in all the chairs every hour of every day.

That’s the story, kids. That’s the real story.

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