When I was young, I loved mornings (still do!) On Saturdays I’d tiptoe to the kitchen for a stack of crackers then settle onto the floor in front of our 13-inch black and white television. With the volume barely audible, I became completely absorbed in the adventures of Mighty Mouse, Flash Gordon, and the little guy who played guitar and used cat whiskers for strings. (I can’t remember his name, but he stuttered when he sang “C-c-c-combo.”) Oh yeah, I was an intellectual.
All these years later, I still like to see the meek triumph. I still get a lump in my throat when someone displays kindness for that reason alone, and I still root for the underdog. The only thing that has changed is my playing field.
When we were plowing through the second regimen of chemotherapy, I was given a hefty dose of Benadryl prior to each treatment to prevent an allergic reaction. The treatments lasted for about three hours, during which time I worked and reclined in a vegetative state.
At the time, Duke Medical Center was remodeling their Oncology Treatment area, increasing space and giving the entire floor a facelift. On one particularly memorable Thursday I was in a small room in the old area, sandwiched between three other chairs and a makeshift aisle of two nurse’s stations, a variety of utility carts, and John (bless him) sitting contentedly in a straight chair. Against the wall across from me was a row of beds for patients who need to lie down during their treatments, each one with a chair for their guest, and open to the room.
On this particular day the four beds were occupied by three men and one girl, each of whom appeared to be accompanied by their spouses. The girl was young (I’d guess late 20s) and the men older. The wives read or watched television or looked around for friendly faces, and the young husband read and occasionally looked up as if to ask, “What are we doing here?”
It occurred to me that this disease and it’s treatment is much worse on the husbands, wives, moms, dads, siblings, and friends than it is the person who gets the plastic bracelet or the clean, white blanket. The spouses watched as the lethal fluids dripped into the plastic lines feeding directly into the veins of the person they married 40 years ago, or two years ago, knowing only this – that it can have very negative repercussions and that it may not work. They also know they’ll do it again next week because, for now, it is still their best option. (John admitted that it was always hard for him to watch them start the flow of the red stuff during my first chemotherapy regimen, knowing what the consequences would be in the days following.)
I settled into the recliner and thought of how helpless these spouses must be feeling, unable to fully understand a disease that requires two medications simultaneously, because it acclimates itself quickly enough to counter the first. The doctors offer percentages and recommendations, but their information is strewn with educated guesses. The only thing these spouses know for sure is that this is the person with whom they remember their first kiss, their first house, and their days before cancer was in their everyday conversation.
At the end of the day, it was the spouses who checked to make sure all their bags were retrieved before leaving. It was the spouses who dug for their keys in early preparation and called to let everyone know they were on their way. It was the spouses who took the arms of the patients and led them slowly toward the exit, with a look of quiet resolve and supernatural strength.
It occurred to me that these husbands, wives, and friends were discovering reserves of faith and strength they probably never knew existed. They were building a storehouse of depth and tenacity that would last the rest of their lives. Perhaps God fashioned these kinds of remembrances, knowing how much they (and we) would need them.
So this rambling missive is for the true hero: the helper, the concertmaster. It is for the familial Samaritan who offers everything and expects nothing; for those who discovered that the most expeditious route to finding your life is by losing it.
So if you find yourself in front of the television on an early Saturday morning, tune in to see if Mighty Mouse has come to save the day, or if Flash is embroiled in a futuristic dilemma. And if you happen upon the little guy who plays guitar and stutters when he sings, send me his name. I know where some cats are….