Thursday 2 February 2012

The wait.

Waiting rooms are dangerous places. Sure, they might look innocuous enough but, over the many months I’ve surely spent sitting in them, I have in fact discovered them to be pretty bloody dicey. I’d even go so far as to say that they’re actually bad for your health – especially so in hospitals where they’re every bit as perilous a place as a gorilla enclosure at quarter-to feeding time. Don’t be fooled by the helpful leaflets and the welcoming magazines and the muted television that’s seemingly always showing The Jeremy Kyle Show (as if that’s not scary enough) – hospital waiting rooms are treacherous, worrisome, harrowing places; the real-life equivalent of a decrepit underground car park in a slasher movie, with buzzing lights casting flickered shadows on rats scurrying through musty puddles, and a screechy violin soundtrack playing over the footsteps of whichever unsuspecting idiot’s chosen to park there.

Might that be a little dramatic? Well… yeah, okay. But when you’ve spent as much time in waiting rooms as I have, you can’t help but look at them with a naked knowing; a wary trepidation bolstered by that smart-arsed voice inside your head that warns ‘don’t go in there!’

The problem with waiting rooms, see, is that they’re a kind of parallel universe in which anything is possible, where everything is a conspiracy, and in which you can cheerfully convince yourself that the meaning behind even the simplest looking deed is altogether more sinister. In any other space with chairs, for example, the act of two people with clipboards in their hands casually walking into a side-room would be absolutely nothing of note. See the same thing happen in a waiting room, however, and you’ve just witnessed two consultants minutes away from having to impart bad news.
‘Poor them in there,’ I said yesterday, nudging P as we’d just watched this happen.
‘I know,’ he said, immediately understanding. ‘It’s never gonna be good when there’s two of them.’

Across the way, a woman was chewing the rim of her spectacles, her eyes darting from the wall clock to each of the patients called forward as she silently hypothesized about the outcome of her own appointment, and what the significance might be to the fact that she got here before the last three people who went in. Beside us, a specialist approached a worried-looking couple, asking: ‘You did get that scan on Friday, right?’
‘Yeah,’ nodded the woman.
‘Thought so,’ said the specialist, walking off.
The woman’s husband turned a shade paler. ‘What does that mean?’ he asked of his wife, each of them now attaching worrying weight to what, anywhere else, would have seemed such an innocent question.

And then it was our turn.
‘Lisa, hi,’ said the registrar. We grabbed our coats, preparing to be ushered into the side-room in which we’d hear my MRI results. (But which side-room? Is there a favoured room for bad news? Are the ones around the corner where they take you if you’re most likely to cry? And what about the special room on the end; the one with the cushions and the comfy chairs? What if we were going in that room? Then it really would be bad news… they only save that room for the truly terminal consultations – and we should know, we’ve been in there twice.) ‘I’m afraid we’re having some trouble locating some of your scans,’ she said. ‘The other hospital don’t seem to have sent all the images across, so we might be another half hour to an hour chasing them up – I’m really sorry.’
I wasn’t in the least bit surprised given that, the day before at said hospital, my MRI experience had descended into the kind of painful farce that would make me far too angry to write about… but even so, was the problem really that my scans weren’t ready? Or was it instead something they’d seen on the scan that they weren’t happy with? Maybe they wanted to get a second opinion before telling me that we had a whole new problem to deal with? Or maybe – gasp – they were waiting until two consultants were free…?
‘Oh. Okay,’ I said.
‘Are you all right to hang around for a bit?’
‘Sure. Sure, no problem.’
‘Or maybe, to save you waiting here, you could nip out and get a coffee and I’ll give you a call when everything’s ready?’
‘Okay, we’ll do that,’ I said, suspiciously noting to myself what an unnecessarily kind offer that was. Clearly, I surmised, something was up… and with more than just missing scans. But hey, at least she hadn’t told us to nip out and get a tea, eh? For of course we all know that, in waiting room language, ‘get yourself a cup of tea’ means you’ve got three weeks to live.

You don’t need to know about the loos that were blocked in the meantime, nor the hot chocolate that barely filled five dawdling minutes, nor the insane conspiracy theorising that went with it. You don’t even need to know how we’d mentally scripted every possible phonecall we’d soon be making, how my stomach felt as though it was slowly being eaten away by ferrets with blunt cutlery and disgusting table manners, or how fast P drove back to the hospital after we’d got the phonecall telling us to return. What you do need to know is simply that this waiting time – this excruciating, insufferable, torturous waiting time – is, daft as it may sound, worse even than hearing bad news. Because bad news you can deal with; bad news you can do something about. No news? No news is pure purgatory, and whoever said it was better than bad news is a twatclacker of the highest order who deserves to be strung upside down by the scrotum while holding out for life-or-death scan results in a waiting room that’s running three and a half hours behind schedule.

On our way back into in the waiting room, we caught sight of our favourite consultant. ‘I shan’t be long,’ she mouthed to us, as she ushered another patient into a side-room.
‘Is that good?’ asked P.
‘I think it’s going to be okay,’ I lied.
‘Lisa Lynch,’ announced a nurse, at which we leapt straight out of the seats that had barely touched our arses. ‘Sorry about all the waiting today,’ she said, as we followed her into a room around the corner. (A crying room?) ‘If you just grab a seat here, someone will be along shortly.’
‘Someone?’ asked a concerned P. Did ‘someone’ mean someone other than our favourite consultant? Or did it mean someone plus our favourite consultant?
‘I hope it’s just her. It really needs to be just her. It’s got to be just her.’ I repeated it like a mantra. ‘No, it really must be just… shit, I need the loo again,’ I huffed, carelessly slinging my bag into P’s lap and storming out of the room.

By the time I came back (there was a queue – of course there was a queue), the door to our room was open and P was in tears. Before there was even a split second to ask why, Favourite Consultant was ushering me back into my seat with words that P cheerfully nicked right from her mouth: ‘Everything’s okay!’

And that, in a nutshell, is why she’s our favourite consultant. Not because she then revealed the news that my disease hasn’t progressed; not because she told us that there’s no nerve damage to my spine; not even because she grinned as she explained that not only has the spread of my brain tumour halted, but that it even appears to be a bit smaller than at last look (a teeeeny tiiiiiny bit, like, but still: smaller!). No, she’s our favourite consultant because she completely understands not just The Bullshit, but the bullshit that comes with The Bullshit – like the waiting and the nervousness and the heartache. Which is why, when I saw my chance to block another loo, she saw her chance to put a husband out of his misery, popping her head around the door to say ‘don’t worry; it’s good news’.

I doubt they know how to teach that kind of compassion in medical school; I guess it’s just something you’ve got or you haven’t. But Favourite Consultant hasn’t just got it; she is it. At every stage of the grade-four process, she’s been the one with all the shit stuff to deal with: telling us that the first type of chemo wasn’t working; revealing the awful news of the brain tumour; having to be the one who gave us the months-and-not-years talk. And given that most of the occasions on which we’ve seen her have been miserable ones, you might’ve expected us to have come away sticking pins in a Frightening Consultant voodoo doll. Far from hating her guts, though, we’ve instead fallen a bit in love with her (okay, a lot in love with her), simply because she’s human; because she gets it; because she gets us. The loo-break instance is example enough, but when you add to that the hugs she gave us the first time my blood results revealed good things, the tears in her eyes as she held our hands during that talk, the pre-new-year phonecall she made to tell us that my tumour-marker levels had gone down, and the speed at which she’ll demand the return of test results to save us from the waiting-horrors above… well, you’d fall in love with her too.  

And so, as we left the hospital with relieved tears freezing on our cheeks, we felt as chuffed for Favourite Consultant as we were for ourselves. What’s more, we knew she’d appreciate – and never judge us for – our joyously unconcealed celebration of what, essentially, is a maintenance of the status quo. It’s odd rejoicing the fact that nothing’s changed, but that, alas, is just another of The Bullshit’s twisted rules: no news isn’t good news… but, when you’re in these shoes, no change definitely is.

It’s not that what we heard yesterday isn’t good news (because, by ’eck, it’s the best news since my nephew was born); it’s simply that our definition of good news has had to change. To the uninitiated, then, good news might perhaps be the total disappearance of my tumours. But, alas, that’s neither realistic nor possible. What is possible, however – if treatment does its thing – is halting in its tracks the cancer that was spreading uncontrollably, damaging whatever it could in the process. That damage is now done – and can’t be undone. What can be done, though, is ripping out The Bullshit’s engine and keeping it from doing any more damage for as long as we possibly can. And since that’s exactly what’s happened, there is thankfully only one conclusion to make. So no hidden meanings, secret significances or sinister conspiracies here – just three little words that were well worth the wait: treatment is working.


Lauren said...

Well that just made me cry at my desk!! So happy for you and P!! And a good reason to get moving on your march for Marsden :)

Lauren (@lrns88)

little_ape said...

This is freaking fantastic news! So please for you all and especially you LL x

Mean Mr Mustard said...

You know, just those last three words would have been enough to put this massive shit-eating grin on my face, but then you go ahead and spoil us with a brilliant post too.

Show off ;)

Sophie said...

Been thinking about you all day yesterday. Truly glad that your treatment is working. It will make your next waiting room wait, less stressful.
Your waiting room description is (as everything you write) ever so right.
Take good care of yourself

Sophie said...

Been thinking about you all day yesterday. Truly glad that your treatment is working. It will make your next waiting room wait, less stressful.
Your waiting room description is (as everything you write) ever so right.
Take good care of yourself

Callie Di Nello said...

That is FANTASTIC news that treatment is working *whooohoooo* ... and goodness, that is exactly how I feel about waiting-rooms, too *hehe*

Some consultants are heaven-sent; I am so happy that you have a "real person" as a consultant, same as my angel-surgeon. No bullshit, just honest facts but delivered with such care ... amazing. Thank heavens for them!!

Keep it going, girl - you got a whole lot of living to be doing!!!

Burly Chassis said...

Fuddy Blucking EXCELLENT! xxx

Nonamoose said...

*Tears* So VERY glad to hear that Lise :-) Love and hugs to you both xx

Unknown said...

Bloody marvellous! XX


barbara said...


another reason to smile and enjoy the good days....


MBNAD woman said...

Wonderful news, that status quo thing. And they DO teach them compassion when dealing with bad news these days. Twenty something years ago, I had to sit while a tired junior doctor had to give me bad news about my small son. She was so ill-equipped that she told me she had some news to give me but it would be better if my husband was there and could he just pop back to the hospital (no, he was looking after our daughter) or, perhaps we could wait until the morning when the consultant could explain the options. Noooo - I couldn't imagine struggling through the night not knowing.
Just one thought - if this is a status quo thing, will you be able to shake your head and demand "whatever you want"?? Sorry ;-)
Mad x

gemmak said...

'Smaller', that's about the best word I've heard in a long time 'The treatment is working' is the best sentence! :)

Titus 2 Thandi said...

Whew! What a relief. Though by taking so long to tell us, you put us through a mini-version of what you went through while waiting.I didn't know if I was going to have to be strong, or dissolve in happiness.Glad it was the latter.We need your writing for a long time yet..yes, and you are important too ;-)

Sam Currie said...

Oh phew xxxx

feline9 said...

Bloody marvelous xxxx

janjan said...

Thats so good that all the treatment thats making you feel ill is doing what it says on tin xxxxx

Judowidow said...

That's fab news, so Pleased for you, and I know what you mean about the 2 consultants, scary x

The Impatient one said...

I am so very very very very very very very very very very pleased to read this news... very pleased indeed. Thanks for bringing a ray of sunshine into what hasn't been the easiest few days.
Hugs, hugs, and more hugs xx

Yoga Troll said...

what a bloody brilliant three words lisa....
as ever, fab blog, and keep on kicking cancer's arse... xxx

A Hong Kong Gardener said...

Such good news.

Btw, I do appreciate what you're saying about Favourite Consultant, but I'd also like to point out that you guys are most generous in saying it aloud, too.

Have a great weekend


Unknown said...

FAN-BLOODY-TASTIC NEWS!! So pleased for you Lisa & family! *cried; happy tears*
You so deserve this, good luck to you Missus, love ya. xx

RachelM said...

Gotta stop reading you at work, but just couldn't wait any longer! Crying a ones desk is really no way to impress the boss's VIP guest.
Any way enough of my whittering and a big woo hoo to/for you and P!
Hugs and kisses and a little 'Oh jeah!' dance Rxxxxxx

Anonymous said...

Dear lord, could you not have put a warning on this post. It has had me crying at my desk in a very large open planned office!
That aside, so very pleased to hear your news! :) xx

Unknown said...

Fab news! Cannot to imagine how happy you guys are!

billy said...

I am celebrating your good news with cheese on toast. You rock.

Freudus said...

Fuck's sake, Lisa, you really have to stop making me cry at work. It's just not seemly.


Lara said...

What FAB FAB news Lisa! Well done for hanging on in there with all your treatment. Love Lara xxx

SoulDragon said...

Lisa, this is fanTAStic news! I could relate to all of it-probably the only difference is that I'm generally alone for my appointments:but then most of the time that's my choice. I know exactly about the waiting, the last minute "results changes" ( happened to me a couple of times: one starts to become ultra cynical of the public hospital system). And the conspiracy theories! Sitting alone in the waiting room causes all sorts of (usually inaccurate) scenarios.
Well done you that your disease has gone just that little bit! Keep going! I actually draw strength from your blogs, for which I am grateful xxxxxx

findit13 said...

yaaay! So happy for you :-)

spriglet said...

Love your blogs and extra-love this one! So pleased that it's doing its thing. xx

whatsinthebox said...

Man I know how that feels!, the room to the left is our 'bad news room' which is why at my last visit I nearly sh*T a brick when I was called in to the 'Left Room'.
The news was not bad so they must have been telling the truth that 'they had no other available rooms that day.
I have also derived meaning from various looks, whispers, clicking of heels, and cheery smiles of my consultants in and out of rooms. Also once by my registrar getting a drink of water.
Oh yes I know that feeling!:0

Gabriel said...

I think about you an awful lot. I expect you hear people tell you all the time how, quite simply, you are amazing. It goes without saying really.

When my Gabriel was ill, writing was my therapy. What you are doing (through something that no doubt is also a form of therapy to you too), is giving your little nephew Cory, (who has no idea yet how amazing you are), an opportunity to know and understand the woman you are, when he is a grown up man.

I often thought about how one day, my baby daughter would read my blog about her elder brother's illness, and understand how much I loved her too, and understand the woman that I was at the time - the mother of a terribly ill little boy.

Today, Gabriel is doing well. We have a scan at the end of the month and a meeting with his brain surgeoen the same afternoon. Your description of the waiting room is so familiar. I have been that person with a team of consultants telling me we were without hope, that treatment was futile, and Gabriel would not see Christmas 2008. He did, and today he is at school, well and happy.

Keep hold of hope. Keep being amazing. Keep being you.

Love and prayers,

Gabriel's Mummy

annoesjka said...

I was kind of apprehensive about reading your blog and had been putting it off (how stupid! I'm not the one who was waiting for these results) and am soooo glad to read this. Am so relieved for you, P and everyone near & dear to you. All the best.

attack_monkey said...

I'm glad its not just the waiting room at my Hospital that's always got Jeremy Kyle on the telly. I seriously considered going to one of his book signings not long after I'd finished chemo and saying "This is for all the poor cancer patients who have to watch you every day in the waiting room!!!" while kicking him in the nuts repeatedly :P