Too much work. Too many patients to keep track of. Three still in Infusion to see now, Number 72 first. Sure could use a coffee, something to eat, but that new nurse keeps paging me. So I’m late? Everyone here in the hospital is late. Not my fault they called a staff meeting for nine this morning just to announce furloughs. Won’t change a thing for me – as long as Jensen Martell keeps throwing money at us to do trials of their wonder drug, I’ll be hustling these floors.
Waiting room’s packed. Two cops are guarding the bathroom door. Must be felon treatment day. Prisoners get cancer too, and since we’re a state hospital, we get them all.
At reception, the patient charts are stacked in piles all over the desk. In no particular order. I pull Number 72’s chart. Where’s the damn clerk – off to lunch? Why does she get to eat?
Patients fill all the seats in the main room, two surrounded by police. They’re sipping Hawaiian Punch and watching Jerry Springer on the television. Chemo day must be like vacation for them. One of the patients is in leg chains. I don’t find Number 72 in the other, smaller infusion rooms. He’s been in the trial for nine weeks. It surprises me he’s lasted this long. Tough old guy, wish I could remember his name.
I open the chart, it’s at least 2 inches thick. Where’s his CAT scan? I need the damn scan.
I head back to reception. Number 72’s head scan is lying on the desk. She hasn’t even put it in the chart . I wonder what else is missing? His bloods? Urine? Nope, they’re all there.
I throw the CAT scan against the light box. White lines of the skull and jawbone show up clean and sharp on the right side; the left side is a black hole. Not good. Not good at all. Jensen Martell will not be happy their silver bullet’s tarnished, at least in this population. I may have to terminate the trial, this regimen just isn’t working. And that means I can’t hire a medical fellow for next year.
A nurse rushes past, carrying a tray of syringes, gloves, and tape. The ID hanging around her neck tells me her name is Marge.
“Where’s number 72?” I ask.
Marge looks at me blankly, then juts her chin towards the main room.
The third prisoner’s back from the restroom. Six cops line the wall, guns holstered. I find my patient in the fourth chair, the one in the corner by the window. He’s sitting upright, not leaning into the seat. His hands cradle his knee caps. Today a woman is with him, too young for his wife, probably a daughter. I’ve seen her before, too.
I pull the curtain and the rings rattle along the rod. Number 72 startles, his eyes look up, scared. Hers do, too. There’s no stool to pull up, she offers her seat but I wave her down.
“I have your cat scan results,” I say. He nods, almost imperceptibly.
“The tumor’s grown,” I say. “There’s mets to the lung and a blotch on your lymph node, under the ear. You know what this means?”
He nods. His daughter reaches out for his hand and squeezes it. He grasps her fingers hard.
“You can’t continue with the trial,” I continue. “The nurse will come in a few minutes to tell you about your palliative care options. We offer hospice, you know. And if you need to see a social worker, we can arrange for that.”
My stomach gurgles. I glance at my watch. If I hurry I can get to the cafeteria before they close.
“Daddy?” she asks. “Any questions?”
He grunts something unintelligible. She leans toward him but he grips the sides of the arm chair and tries to push up. When the daughter reaches behind his back, he shoots her a defiant look. She steps back towards the window. He tries again. I wonder if they have grilled chicken today, remember I need to pick up Ellie from ballet class on the way home. On the third try, he finally stands, swaying in front of the chair. His right arm trembles toward me.
Number 72 has a surprisingly firm hand shake even though the bones themselves are so frail they could snap if I grasped harder.
“Thank you,” he says. He collapses back into the chair. Sweat beads his forehead.
“You’re welcome,” I say.
I open the curtain. The cops and robbers are still there. Behind me, the woman cries softly. I pause; four minutes before the salad bar closes. Marge the nurse enters the curtained room. I walk to reception, lay the chart on the pile. The elevator whisks me down to the main floor.
“Bill,” I say out loud. “His name was Bill.”
I wrote this last night. Shortly after posting, my father, the patient in this story, passed away after a year-long struggle with a sinus cancer. I will miss him...