Contents

1. The Change
2. Nurse Ratched
3. Hair

Chapter 2

Nurse Ratched

By JULIE SMITH | Published: March 15, 2010

It's raining. I’m alone in a new city without friends or relatives, diagnosed with breast cancer and going to my first chemotherapy treatment. Whew!

I stomped up the steps to the hospital entrance, trying to lessen the squishy feeling in my sandals. It was hot, grey and humid.

I pushed open the door, and ran my fingers through wet hair, thinking I had about four weeks left before I'd be swishing water of a bald head. I looked up at the front desk where two cloned blondes were talking.

“Excuse me. Where is the Oncology Department?”

They both looked up, surprised. Clone one said, “Your name, please?”

“Anna Marshal.”

Clone two looked at her screen, bent down and handed me some forms. “Please fill these out, both front and back,” not even a hint of a smile.

Completed, I brought them to the desk. Flashback: what were you doing when you heard about 9/11? I remember every detail… just like today.

“Around to the left,” Clone two pointed, “and through the double-doors. Follow the red line. You can’t miss the sign.”

I carried my dairy and a book like a teddy bear, clutching it to my chest, trying to keep my heart from jumping out. I followed the ‘red brick road’ to the second checkpoint and disappointment sagged me down. There sat a plump, steely-eyed woman in her mid 30’s, in deep concentration looking like she was filling out a post mortem.She frightened me and I didn't know why. Gut instinct? No, she isn’t Mom, Grandma, The Old Woman in The Shoe…not St Raphael or Mrs Kringle. Nurse Kath had just changed into Nurse Ratched in “One Flew Over The Cookoo’s Nest.

She looked up and smiled. “Oh, you must be Anna Marshal,” and glanced at her watch. She came around and motioned for me to follow.

“My name is Kath. Just sit there, in that chair and I’ll be right with you. It’s Tuesday, and I’m all alone, so you’ll have to excuse me if I have to rush away for a moment.”

I sat in the recliner which refused to recline. A fresh, white pillow supported my back and I breathed a sigh of relief. As I looked around, the first thing that hit me was an A-4 yellow and black, laminated sign in bold print, fresh off the printer: SPILL KITS - BLOOD CYOTOXIC. Shit I put my possessions on a table with wheels, obviously, once a moving meal tray. I summed up my environment as drab and depressing.

I took out my diary and did a ‘tick and flick’; a cute little obsession I’d recently acquired about time. Going backwards…Today, Chemo, three weeks ago, surgery, five days before that, breast surgeon...thirty three days ago. I’m sure I was known as ‘pushy Anna’. Gone was the caring of what people thought. If I had left it in the hands of the medical profession, I’d still be waiting to see the oncologist. I found out later the lump had grown twice its size in 6 days.

Ratched was smiling now as she waddled importantly towards me, holding a stack of handouts like a happy nurse about to hand over a baby to his mother. She fanned through a folder, a relaxation tape, schedule for medication and support group stuff.

I stupidly jumped in, “I just want you to know, I don’t want generic information. I have a stack of stuff about nothing to do with my condition. I won’t remember the pharmaceutical names and well, it’s just information overload. It’s actually like taking a beginning computer coarse and learning everything you won’t use and forgetting everything you wanted to know..

She wasn’t happy. She went through her ‘talk’, discarding three-fourths of the ‘educational props into a nearby ‘normal’ chair – the sin bin. But she couldn't help herself. "Avoid small children, sick people, malls, and remember, shopping carts carry more diseases than you can imagine. Wash your hands before and after you go to the bathroom and eat. You can join our "WIGS" support group, and there are some headscarves," she said, pointing to a basket of assorted material that looked like it came from remnants of a Quilting B. I was at least four weeks off from baldness. Little did she know I could care less about my hair loss...or covering it up.. She left to answer a ringing phone with an answering machine.
I looked around and noticed a familiar man standing in the doorway like he was waiting to be seated in a restaurant. He was late 40’s, tan, bushy beard with a twinkle in his eyes. We both stared at each other. “Jack?”

“Anna?” He ran over and gave me a gentle squeeze on the shoulders.

“Your back, Jack,” Ratched said without an ounce of emotion.

His head went down and he stammered, “Just had one of those moments.”

I had known Jack for 5 years. It’s funny, but when people say they have ‘known’ someone for a period of time, just how ‘known’ is that? I met Jack in year 1, saw him 10 times in year 2, twice in year three and 2 years without a peep. He had been head of produce with an organic store and had encouraged me to get certified if I wanted to sell my fruit and vegetables. After I sold up, I heard he’d left the store because he was sick. No one knew what the problem was or wouldn’t talk about it. I was to learn later, the worst thing about cancer is other people’s reactions – or non-reactions - or lack of normalcy.

He sat down across from me and got hooked to his portal. Ratched was a busy, professional beaver while we talked, ears flapping all the way.

My turn. She brought over an intravenous unit, hooked up some clear liquid, swabbed me down and stuck the needle in my left hand, but not before she jerked the pillow from behind my back and put it on the arm of the chair. That little sting of the needle was the worst part…and it wasn’t anything.
“You’re feeling a bit better, Jack?” Ratched asked, nudging a fine-line between condescending and sarcasm.

“Yea. This isn’t bad at all.” I could see the way Jack snuck a quick look away – embarrassment flooded his cheeks.

Jack and I laughed and brought each other up to date. The two hours went by quickly, and my face muscles hurt from smiling. He took one of the most frightening days in my life and turned it into a pleasant memory.

“I write poetry…got boxes of the stuff at home.” My eyes lit up. I’m not into poetry, but his energy was so positive, reflective and wise that it was an addictive drug . “But I don’t do computers or typing.”

I wanted to be the one who gave Jack’s poetry to the world, the one who typed it and submitted it. Dear God, that's the least I could do after such a wonderful reunion.

“Do you think you can bring some in?”

“Yea, no problem.”

A lady came in and asked if we wanted anything. “You gotta try the chocolate cake.” And I was hungry, craving chocolate. Who would have ever thought two months ago, I’d be hooked up to chemo, eating chocolate cake with Jack? I nodded to the lady and she left. Just looking at Jack made me feed good. He was grinning and giggling like he’d just won first prize for the biggest pumpkin. He also reminded me of a skinny Zen monk, tripping-out on the China Wall with one sandal looped over his ear. Was he…okay? Were things alright with the grey matter?

“It’s okay, Anna. It’s suppose to get better. I gotta go. My wife is waiting in the car - she's sick and can't come in here. I gotta a poem for you." He started to recite with a thespian flare..

"Living in the past is living too far behind
Living in the future is unknown to mankind
Life is now this moment, is and always will be
What we make and what we take
Is up to you and me.”

Hey, Ratched. Come here and tell me a funny story.



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