I felt the weight of the day rush over me as we drove into the Damon parking lot for our 5th trip to Mayo Clinic in eight months. It’s surprisingly easy to become accustomed to illness, to disease, to the crazy and hard things of life, but then there are moments that wake you to the reality at hand.
This is not ordinary. Not. Ordinary.
We drove past our “normal” parking spot in Damon. Full today. All the way up to 9th floor for one open spot. We exited the vehicle quickly and made our way to the closest elevator.
As we turned the corner to wait for the elevator, I noticed a young amputee waiting with crutches. He was shaking a bit and holding some sort of therapeutic device I didn’t recognize. All I could keep thinking was how handsome he was, and why in the world do bad things happen to good people? When we stepped in the elevator, I noticed the amputee’s wedding ring. Thank God. He’s been blessed. He moved to the side, gesturing kindly and graciously to others who entered. Hardship humbles a soul.
An older woman entered in front of me, then adjusted to my side. She breathed deeply, loudly, audibly, wore a cardiac necklace and leaned into her walker. “Ay ay,” she whispered in-between audible breaths out loud. She breathed that way all the way down nine floors. I wanted to put my hand on her shoulder, ask her if she was okay and if she needed help from this place to the next. I should have. But I didn’t. We were running late for my husband’s 3-month check for eye cancer. Our day was pre-filled with five appointments, and I didn’t want to start our day later than we already were.
We made our way down the hall, past the metal sculpture I admired and the information desk I needed our first days here eight months ago, past the insightful, delightful piano player accompanied by two singers and a full house of patients and caregivers. I wanted to stop so desperately, to hear and see this holy glory, but we were late. So we pressed onward to the elevators.
All the rushing for nothing.
We checked in and proceeded to wait a half hour for the appointment for which we were late. Waiting gave us time to breathe again, to reflect on the day ahead. Seth sent a text to his parents. I kept thinking about the piano and how I needed to get down there with the healing and the holy. Then I half-woke to reality of a husband with eye cancer and broke out Amber Haines’ Wild in the Hollow, the book I’ve been trying to finish for two weeks. “Will you pray for me before I go in?” asked my husband unexpectedly. “Sure,” I said, continuing to sit and stare forward, blankly like an idiot. “Right now?” he asked. “Sure,” I said, “right here in the waiting room?” as if BEFORE the appointment was some other time than NOW. So I prayed out loud right there in the waiting room. That we’d receive news that the tumor was shrinking this time.
Finally, he was called in for his first appointment. It was brief, 10 or 15 minutes tops.
We were directed to another waiting room where we waited some more.
Part way through the waiting, a couple in their late 40s was escorted into the waiting room. I was trying to figure out which one was the patient, and nearly commented to Seth how handsome the couple was when her phone rang. “I don’t feel like talking right now,” she said. I intentionally stopped listening in on her conversation, but couldn’t stop observing her body language. She was clearly distraught. Distressed. Very upset. And so was her husband. When she got off the phone, a Mayo employee came and told them they’d have to wait longer for their next appointment, that they needed to get some lunch, that they should check back in at a certain time. He sighed, head down. She was about to lose it. I nearly cried for the two of them across the room. Seth told me he’d heard more of the conversation. This was their first appointment. She’d just received the same diagnosis as Seth, choroidal melanoma. They were clearly still in shock.
By the time Seth got into his second appointment, we were 55 minutes behind schedule. But we made up for any time lost with another quick appointment.
When Seth got out, he was worried. The photographs he saw of the medium-sized tumor in his eye didn’t look different than any other visit. The tumor didn’t look smaller. I reminded him he wasn’t a technician. I reminded him he wasn’t a doctor. I reminded him there’s no need to worry. The prognosis is good. I reminded him that I’m hopeful and there’s no reason to believe anything but good.
It was time for lunch. Two hours until his next appointment. So we made our way back to the atrium, back to the piano, my favorite, most holy place in all of Mayo. Jane and the singers had just finished performing. There they were, chatting and hugging, readying for parting. Seth ran up to 9th floor to grab his prescription sunglasses out of the vehicle; his eyes were dilated and uncomfortable. I stayed with hopes Jane would sit for one more tune at that piano. But no such luck. I waited for Seth’s return.
We ate at a pizza place, the first quick serve restaurant we happened upon. Two pieces each. And a soda. We talked about our son who’s about to get braces, who he was and who he’s becoming. We talked about plans and dreams, things that may or may not happen in upcoming months. Life’s a constant surrendering and releasing of what was, what is, and what’s to come.
He wanted Dairy Queen for dessert. I wanted piano. So we stopped at Dairy Queen on the way back to the atrium.
We had another hour to wait. Funny, we were worried about not having enough time in-between appointments for lunch. Now we had more than enough.
The piano was still empty. So we walked through the glass door to open air seating. The temperature was perfect. The garden was gorgeous. I took a seat and a few pictures of Seth to mark the moment. He seemed worried. Sad. Or maybe he was tired. He kept mentioning how he wished he could nap.
We rested. We read, although I more, as Seth’s eyes were still fully dilated making reading uncomfortable. And we recounted the remainder of the day’s schedule.
It was 2:00. Time to head up for back-to-back ultrasound appointments. Seth checked in. I broke out Wild in the Hollow and read a couple paragraphs. Seth was called in for his appointment, so I immersed myself deeper in reading, then writing. Before I knew it, Seth was back in the waiting room. It was time for our long-awaited appointment with Dr. G, the world-renowned doctor who’s been leading Seth’s case since the beginning.
We were called into the examination room at 2:50 p.m. Hallelujah! 10 minutes early.
One of Dr. G’s fellows arrived promptly at 3:00. He clicked open all the records from the day. Clicked open all the records from our last appointment in May. Looked at a bunch of images. Scratched the back of his head. And made a few notes in the records.
“So it looks like it’s shrinking,” he uttered calmly and confidently.
The fellow continued with an exam of Seth’s right eye, the eye with the cancerous tumor. “Look left. Look right. Up and left.” Etcetera. He double checked the left eye too, the eye that required laser eye surgery in late June. “The laser looks good,” he said. “There are no other breaks or tears in the retina.” After making a few additional notes in the records, he bid us farewell and let us know Dr. G would be in shortly.
15 minutes later, Dr. G whisked in and out with med student, Ine, from Belgium. They were going to look through the eye photography and would be back soon.
I overheard Dr. G explain from a room down the long hallway. “This is the top.” His voice was muffled, so I stopped listening. But later in his explanation to the med student, his tone was as jovial as a world-renowned doctor could be.
As he walked down the hallway towards our room, he gestured “shrinking” with his hands. Perfect timing for his arrival in the examination room when he announced “It’s shrinking! You’re just a slow shrinking kind of guy. It’s shrinking. It’s just shrinking slowly.”
In January 2015, the tumor was 4.6 mm.
In May 2015, the tumor was 4.6 mm.
Today, the tumor is 4.03 mm.
A 12% reduction in the height of the tumor. “We’re going in the right direction,” said Dr. G!
Dr. G examined Seth’s eye closer, just like he’s done every other visit. “Yep, you can see it’s falling backwards, which is the direction we want.” Then, in an unexpected turn of events, Dr. G called the fellow back into the room. Dr. G pulled up one photograph of Seth’s eye from May, noted some things for the fellow, asked him to take a second look at Seth’s eye, and wanted him to answer the question – “How has this part of the eye changed since May?” Dr. G pointed out this blood vessel. Then that vessel. And another one or two. Dr. G reminded the fellow not to be deceived or distracted by that vessel there, to focus in on this one, right HERE. How were they angled? How were they positioned? The fellow examined Seth’s eye even closer and responded, “Yes, I see.”
“One sees what one knows,” said Dr. G to the fellow.
It was brilliant.
I loved it.
So much wisdom in that little room.
So much wisdom for now.
And the future.
One sees what one knows.
Yes, Dr. G.
Seth shook Dr. G’s hand. Or maybe it was a high five.
I shook Dr. G’s hand firmly. “Thank you very much.” And the med student’s hand, too. “It was a pleasure to meet you.”
The nurse who’s been in attendance at the end of every appointment we’ve ever had with Dr. G bid me farewell, “Have a great weekend, sweetie.” I’ve noticed she’s noticed me and appreciated the caregiver gesture.
The day was done.
Before we left the floor, we stopped to make our next set of appointments for mid-late December, but they weren’t booking that far out yet.
Seth made a work call he’d needed to make all day. And I took a moment to release, to breathe, to photograph what was below and above.
Downstairs, we walked freer towards our car, freer past that piano where a young woman played softly. Waiting on shrinking. Healing was beginning.