Waiting Room B. VA Hospital. Kansas City, MO
Dad lies on an exam table 20 yards from here, sleeping lightly while a pulmonologist searches his lungs. Lights. Camera. Action.
Mom sits beside me, stitching down the binding on a quilt she’s making for great-grandchildren she does not have. A TV drones directly above our heads, some faux-court parading the drama of the lowest common denominator—questionable paternity, trading sex for car repair, destroying the windshield of a cheating boyfriend's car.
A tiny black woman sitting opposite us contributes to the sound track.
"Girlfriend, if your son curses, he learned it at ho-o-o-me!"
"Ah...he won't give her no mo-o-on-ney!"
"I hear you, child. I KNOW that one!"
Her smile reveals as many gaps as teeth. Her delight in the program is entertaining. The show is not. Mom stitches. I type, trying to work on a magazine piece due this week.
A small Indian man appears at the door. “Farris?” he asks quietly.
Mom and I go into the hall with this man we do not know to hear news we do not want. The doctor faces Mom but turns his warm brown eyes to the wall. A large mole on the end of his nose mesmerizes me, a bouncing ball to follow for these terrible lyrics.
A slight slump in her posture tells me Mom hears his words and understands their import, but she says nothing. I wait for her to ask, but she doesn't. Tears glisten on her cheeks. Her eyes beg the doctor for mercy.
I put an arm around her and step into the breech, asking the necessary questions and clarifying a few things. The doctor negotiates this sea change without a ripple. When he sets up a follow-up appointment, it is me he consults. When he finishes this consultation, it is my hand he seeks to shake. I'm shaking, all right.
Back in Waiting Room B, Mom makes 10 or 12 tiny, even stitches on her quilt, then drops her thimble and her head. She sobs silently. I put my arm around her again. She wipes her face with her hands, retrieves her thimble and makes two more stitches before her head drops to her chest again.
The gap-toothed lady in the corner jumps up and leaves the room. Nine people in a 12 by 12 room—everyone has a front row seat for everyone else's drama. I'm afraid we've made her uncomfortable with ours. A few moments pass, and she reappears. Nodding toward Mom, she hands me a stack of Kleenex. "I saw her head go down," she says.
Her simple kindness overwhelms me. I thank her through a flood of tears. Mom nods in thanks as the woman returns to her seat. She's not talking to the TV anymore, but any time Mom or I look up, she speaks to us. "Yess-um. I pray for you. Take it to God, yes sir."
I smile at her and she comes to stand in front of me. "Let's aks Jesus," she says. For a few seconds, she's motionless, praying for a man she's never even seen. Sincerity radiates off her the way heat shimmers in the desert. Send me an angel. Send me an angel. Right now. Right now.
The fellows, whom we met before Dad's procedure, appear at the door. We step into the hall with Mark and Raj, our new best friends. Their explanations are more direct, their language more open than the doctor's. Honesty has not yet been trained out of them. Raj is a small man and the white doctor's coat he wears looks like something he stole from his father's closet. Mark looks more the part—his coat is embroidered with his name and he wears it over a layer of confidence. He tells us Dad has lived beyond anyone's expectations and that he knows many of those unexpected years have been good. "I guarantee you there will be more good times," he says.
Back in Waiting Room B, more drama plays out over our heads. The television "judge" says to a troublesome woman, "Thank you for coming here today. Seeing you makes me so grateful for my own life."
When the nurse summons us, we go to the Recovery Room to collect Dad. He's sitting on the edge of the bed, dressed and ready to go. Mom helps him gather his things while I get the car. It's half a mile and several large hills away, and by the time I pull up to the entrance, Mom and Dad are seeking shelter from the merciless sun under a pitifully small tree. They walk to the car holding hands. Dad opens Mom's door and helps her get seated, then gets himself in the van.
"So what's going on?" he asks as he puts on his seat belt.
"What do you mean, Dad?"
"Well, what's got your mother so upset? What did they find?"
The fellows told him, but they mentioned he may have been too sedated to understand. Apparently, they were right.
Dear God. Not this, too.
I face Dad but turn my wet brown eyes to the road. "Part of your left lung is collapsed. They found an abnormal growth obstructing an airway."
Let's aks Jesus.
I stop the car and look into my father's eyes. "About 2 centimeters, as far as they can tell. They did three biopsies. We'll get the report next week. You have an appointment next Wednesday to discuss the pathology reports and select treatment options."
I put the van into "Drive" and, ever so slowly, we turn toward home.