Three women sit at the reception desk. More glass separates the sick from the well. Masks make everyone look like no one. A hand reaches out to grab my parking ticket and stamp it. Cancer is the price you pay for free parking.
This winter, it seemed to me that silver linings were popping up everywhere, like starbursts cast as fairy dust from Tinkerbell’s wand. Everyone seemed to be finding them, but few had any meaning for me. When the vaccine first became available in the new year, I was desperate to get it. Newly diagnosed with cancer, I wanted all the extra protection I could get. I have now received both vaccines and do, indeed, feel safer.
But I’m still not seeing any silver leaking from the sky. Like a horse with blinders, I can see only straight ahead, and everything leads towards a doctor’s office, hospital lab or treatment room. No sunshine, no clouds, no silver linings in any of those places.
And yet… masks! Being immuno-suppressed from chemotherapy means I need to be wary of going out in public. I’m quite sure it never would have occurred to me before to wear a mask, but now that they are mandated, it’s become welcome silver armor for me.
Then just last week a different color lining burst through the clouds of my despair. I learned about an organization for women with breast cancer. It …
“You’ll feel better after the surgery,” my psychiatrist said, “and the cancer is cut out.” I scoffed. He knew me too well to think it would be that easy to quell my escalating anxiety. Cognitive behavioral therapy has never been my thing, and there weren’t enough pills in my prescription bottles to make my fears fly out the window as neatly as that 6 mm tumor would be excised from my breast.
The surgery was easy, as was the recovery. The wound healed quickly. Just five weeks later, my scar is a smooth, scarlet sliver that looks more like a careless scratch than evidence of the purposeful cutting that it was. If I were an optimist, I’d say this is a good sign. Things are going well. I’ve also gotten through my first round of chemo with relatively mild complaints. My body is responding, and healing.
Is it my imagination, or is everyone talking about silver linings these days? By now I’ve heard the phrase spoken so many times in so many different contexts that I’ve begun to expect it as an explanation whenever people mention a COVID-related restriction in their lives. In the midst of despair, misfortune, or even just plain frustration, they find something positive that offers them comfort. I truly admire such vision. Where they see soft, white clouds floating overhead, I see grey ones, spiked with danger—a herd of elephants stampeding across a leaden sky.
But now the vaccine has come along, and even I am beginning to feel optimistic. Reading the eligibility requirements in my state’s plan for phased distribution last month, I saw right away that I did not fall into Phase 1A. Next would be Phase 1B, including (among others) those at increased risk for serious illness. Fortunately, I thought, I suffer from none of the underlying health conditions described in that category.
Or at least I didn’t think I did.
I don’t know when I’m going to see my daughter again. When she left with her family this morning after a two-month stay, she hugged me tight, sobbing softly into my shoulder. Trying to keep my own tears in check, I reassured her that I’ll visit soon. “We’ll find a way,” I whispered. Though neither of us knew exactly what that might look like in a few weeks’ time, we held on to hope as we let go of each other.
His voice was serious and stern. “You can’t visit, mom,” my son said. “I’m a vector.” In fact, he’s a doctor working at a big-city hospital, and while not on the immediate front lines in terms of direct contact with COVID-19 patients, he is very involved in the logistics related to the ventilators in the ICUs. Walking the common halls and entering the secure isolation areas daily puts him at risk not only for contracting the virus himself but also for transmitting it unknowingly. He could be asymptomatic but test positive for the virus. He absolutely would not consider putting his seventy-year-old parents in danger.
So… no visiting. Not him, not his wife, not his two teenaged children.
Last night I dreamt that New York City was gone–that it had disappeared into a billowy horizon. I was walking on some unknown highway and looked over my shoulder and saw nothing but grey-white layers of clouds. No blue sky. No brown earth. No Big Apple. A real nightmare.
I woke to huge snowflakes dropping from the sky. My family is safe. But I am sad and scared. I can taste the fear, and I don’t like it.
“So, how much do you love the new knee I gave you?” he asked as he walked into the exam room. I stared at the doctor in disbelief. This was his introduction at my first post-op visit after knee replacement surgery? My husband had been an orthopedic surgeon himself, and I’m quite sure that, in his thirty years of practice, he never said that to a patient.