We had planned for a good day. That’s what we do on hospital days, entering the mindset of thankfulness, verbalising every special moment. Ordinary things really; but cancer taught us to celebrate the tiny, incidental stuff. We made our grateful list, congratulating ourselves for our good management: coffee in the sun, the sales on Oxford St and the closeness of specialist appointments.
The secretaries were doing their best to cheer people up about being in the cancer ward at Easter. They donned silly cardboard bonnets and handed out eggs as we signed in. “He’s running to schedule,” they smiled as we handed over our appointment card, “won’t be a long wait.”
We settled in with our sweets from the kiosk, adding that to our grateful list. The kiosk at St Vincent’s stocks all my favourite English treats from childhood: Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles, Fry’s Chocolate Cream, McVitie’s Jaffa Cake Biscuits, all at reasonable prices. I have my father’s sweet tooth.
Our turn comes and though it’s small talk and kind gestures, I get the sense that our haemotologist really cares about my daughter. We’ve been meeting like this every fortnight or more for so long now he feels like a friend. Mostly he is happy; but the liver results have skyrocketed again and he decides to increase the drugs. He says he is sorry but maybe next time we might reduce them again.
Next the ear specialist; it’s a longer wait but he stocks good magazines – we are grateful. When our turn comes it’s awkward; it always has been with this doctor. Not sure why. Maybe I am just over seeing so many specialists. We just want to get this over and done with. Every time it’s the same news. “Your ear is full of fluid, it’s a wet environment; the infection isn’t worse but not better either; keep going with the powder.” Then he whispers the amount to the secretary and she scans my card, I sign, we book the next appointment. Today it’s different. He is quiet as he looks in her ear. He looks at me, then in the ear again.
“Not so good,” he says as he rolls back his wheelie chair to meet my daughter eye-to-eye. “I’ve been concerned this might happen.” He describes the condition he is seeing inside her ear. “The scar tissue is closing over and very soon it’ll form a barrier and I won’t be able to see your drum at all. On the one hand it will prevent the infection but on the other, your hearing will be lost.”
My daughter swallows. This news is hard to bear. He swivels her chair so she is facing the wall and he is probing her ear again. All I can see is the back of her head; but I can tell by the way she moves her feet, the way she points them and steadies herself that she is doing all that she can to be strong. I watch as he unravels something that looks like the small intestines of a rat and packs it into her ear. It’s an endless coil and he manoeuvres his long tweezers until the last strand has disappeared from sight.
He tells us he is attempting to stop the hole from closing over entirely, that there are options for patients with hearing loss but if he can prevent it he will. We listen, then take the script and the instructions for what to do next. I pay the bill and book the next appointment. He wants to see her 10 days from now.
We say nothing as we walk to the lift. Sometimes we have no words. Finding ourselves at the car, she comments on what a great park I managed to find. It’s automatic to notice these things, to write them on the invisible list of grateful, but we don’t drink coffee or go to the sales; we are no longer in the mood.
Silent tears roll down her face and her lips quiver. I place my hand on her leg and say something useless like, “It’s so unfair.” She gulps air and manages to tell me that she doesn’t know what to do about tonight.
“Tonight?” I’ve forgotten what is meant to be happening.
“Every time I buy tickets to a concert this happens.”
Then I remember her plans with her dear friend to celebrate one of their favourite artists before her friend heads overseas to start a new job.
“I don’t want to let her down but I can’t go with all this stuff packed into my ear.”
Eventually she finds the courage to ring her friend. I listen to the laughter in her voice as they connect, as she tries to explain, as she makes her apology and offers up her ticket for somebody else.
Hanging up, she smiles. Her friend told her that blocked ears and concerts don’t mix. Not to worry about the tickets, she’ll bring dinner after work instead. Such kindness and understanding make us grateful.
We are grateful for so many things. Tomorrow will be Good Friday and we have all weekend to hang out. As we near home we stop at the shops for chocolate eggs and yummy things for cooked breakfasts. We tell ourselves that the doctor has to give us the worst-case scenario but that things will work out somehow.
I find myself thinking about what Barbara Johnson said, that we are “Easter people living in a Good Friday world.” I consider how easy it is to get stuck on the bad news. In Jesus’ time the resurrection happened in just two days, but in our lives sometimes it takes much longer. It feels like we get out of one trial and straight into another. It takes a determined effort to not get all hung up about this.
When I think about Easter I picture my dad in his clergy robes and I hear him saying, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” My voice echoes it back in my mind and I am grateful that I inherited more than his sweet tooth; I have his faith as well.
I feel like complaining like the Israelites did when they got to the Wilderness of Shur and there was no fresh water to drink, and then I am reminded that God gave them a strategy (Exodus 15). He knows we are weak and afraid and helpless without Him. He didn’t leave us alone; if we ask, He shows us what to do. He told Moses to throw a tree into the water so that the water became sweet. He did that for us too when He sent Jesus to the cross. That tree, that cross make me look up. I see possibilities and healing and creative miracles for Sam.
I’m not happy about the wait, or her packed-up ear, or yet another problem. But I have hope and that gets me through.
What about you? What do you need hope for?