Dear Hospital Staff,
I would like to extend my sincere thanks for choosing a career that supports people with cancer, like myself. I cannot imagine how you came to the decision to spend each day in a capacity where you see and hear from some of the saddest, angriest, and most frightened individuals. I have assumed all of those titles at one time or another.
I am confident that you did not accept your position lightly and accepted it fully knowing that your days would be hard, tiring and even heroic at times. And, I know you are under appreciated and under paid. Please know that you are not under valued. And, while we simply don’t tell you enough, it matters if you show up today to check our vitals, answer our calls or access our ports. When you are not there, you are missed. I notice the new faces that sit in your office. Your familiarity brought me peace when I otherwise felt in chaos.
I would like to apologize for when I am in your place of employment, I am simply not my best self. I sure try to put a smile on my face when I walk through those doors, albeit you cannot see it under this mask. I wear extra make-up to cover up my chemo-pale skin. Ironically, I won’t allow myself to “look sick” in your care. It is my way of saying, “great work” and “you’re the best at your job”. Let my make-up ladened cheeks and smiling eyes serve as the words of gratitude that tears have robbed from my mouth. And, I am trying to be brave for you. I am trying to not waste ANY of your time with silly questions and redundancy. I am trying to understand your big words and my scattered, confused, chemo-brain is sure trying to follow along with your directions.
I promise I do not call until I fear it is a life or death question. Sadly, they all seem to be in my head. When I sit on hold for twenty minutes waiting for you to say hello, I try and remain patient so I don’t sound as panicked as I feel. Cancer makes me mad sometimes. I take that anger out on you and I am sorry. I hope that does not ruin your day or cause you to take your frustration out on the next patient. They are just as scared.
I know I am a metastatic patient and I should be a pro at scans by now. But, it will never feel as routine to me as it might to you. When you strap me onto that table each time, a new set of fear sneaks into my already muddied brain. I crack stupid jokes to try and appear okay. You do not have time for my silly humor, I know that. And, when you cannot find a vein in my arm for the contrast, well…every time that needle enters and exits searching for that tiny vein I get a little angrier. It’s not you. Forgive me for the deep breathes and for closing my eyes. As you leave to go get help accessing my body, my anxiety begins to enter center stage and a bright spotlight shines down. The performance is about to begin…You come back with your co-worker telling her I have “bad veins”. I am sorry. I will work on that. You talk among yourselves as you wipe, poke, bandage, repeat five more times. What a shitty day at work for you.
You were hired to answer the phone not talk a cancer patient off the ledge or listen to us vent our frustrations about not hearing back from our nurse. But you see, we are scared. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. We only call when the fear overrides logic and panic sets in. When you ask me why I am calling, I try and envision what you look like so the embarrassment of telling you that I cannot control my bowel movements won’t feel as humiliating. And I have to be honest with you, I know that phone is ringing off the hook all day but I still feel like my call is the most urgent. Can’t you hear it in my voice? Of course you can’t for I am one of many.
I know you are tired. I know it is late. I know how hard it was to “fit me in” tonight. I am sorry I am walking at a snails pace. You just want to go home to your family. I too wish this damn fluid on my lungs did not happen tonight.
I am like a 6th grade student trying to become the teachers pet. I am trying to be your best patient. Your most successful star. But alas, I am growing sicker. I am weakening. It isn’t your fault. After all, you’re just doing your job.
Please know that your worst day ever, is mine too.