Smell

I spent my Friday afternoons suffering in an oncology waiting room (that smelled sterile and like bad air freshener) for Andy. Other patients and their caretakers sat in the uncomfortable chairs waiting for treatment, too. The “plus-ones,” caretakers invited in for moral support, were waiting for their loved one to be called in for treatment – and they usually were loved ones – only to wait again for them to come out, sedated, and carrying the discharge instructions.

I stared off into the TV, trying to ignore the sensationalist news. Is there radioactive waste in the sewers? More after this break. This cable news channel had the senior demographic wrapped up – preying on fears of big government taking away rights, medical malpractice, inferior vaginal mesh. There were commercials for medical implants and personal injury lawyers, perfectly curated for a hospital. My favorite was for a catheter: an old woman (on a couch) and a middle aged man (in a wheelchair) sat, knee to knee:
“I use catheters. It’s so messy and expensive!” the white haired woman said, wringing her hands together.
“I’m worried about infections,” the man said and reached out to touch his costar.
“I wish there were a better way!” they both cried out.

I leaned back and wondered where I could get these magical, easier to use catheters for all my pissing-in-a-bag needs. I wrote myself a note: order catheters. Neither Andy nor I needed them, but we were never sure what the next side effect would be.

The door to the treatment room opened and a man hobbled out and crumpled into the chair across from me. He smelled like he had been sterilized and doused in the same bad air freshener. But the smell of sickness still oozed out of his pores – it was in his hair, on his breath – the smell was thick and hung around my head like smoke. I watched the man out of my peripherals – he was waiting on his significant other, his loved one.

He was just like my Andy waiting for me. Maybe she would walk him down to the cat, drive him home, and tuck him into bed. He would sleep all of the next day, she would leave him alone and go to work. By Tuesday or Wednesday he was coming out of his pharmaceutical stupor. By Thursday he felt great and visited work, but was never strong enough to actually finish anything. Then he got the treatment again and the cycle started over again. I knew after laying in a hospital bed, hooked up to an IV and with that week’s worth of poison flushed through his system to kill what ailed him, Andy would smell like that when he came out, too.

2014.

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