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George Stubbs: Hay-Makers (1785)

"We've both come close to exceeding our patience, waiting."

"Twenty-fiveDown and five to go," The Muse whispered as she returned to the impossible puzzle on the side table in the radiation waiting room. She swore that she'd finish that puzzle by the time she'd completed her thirty dose radiation therapy, and she was down to the last week. Reduced to whispering now and without losing even an odd ounce of weight, she was entering what both of her oncologists had predicted would be remembered as her Hell week. Well, this week and the next, since the radiation continues cooking her cancer and her system for at least a week after the final application. Throat raw and increasingly exhausted, she still insists that she's feeling much better than she'd expected, and much better than almost any other cancer patient feels at this point in their treatment.

In that waiting room, there are never any exuberant patients or Emotional Support Animal spouses or children.
The place exudes serious business. Never any small talk, just patience. It's a perfectly named room, designed exclusively for waiting. A homily plaque on one wall says it all, "Faith doesn't fix anything, it just makes things possible." Radiation therapy doesn't directly fix anything, either, and nobody even distantly mentions cure. The goal seems more a modest remission, which means 'forgiveness of sin,' but connotes a replacement purpose, a re-missioning from destroying toward receding. Nobody speaks of cure because that's a future prospect, long removed from any actual treatment. While The Muse's tumor has been steadily shrinking, cure can't come until the tumor proves incapable of dividing, sometime in the future. They'll be monitoring that if not forever, for a long time into her future.

I wait in that waiting room. I do not work the puzzle. I do not know anything about where The Muse goes when she's escorted down the hall, other than that she returns frazzled a few excruciating minutes later. I've been busy distracting myself from the experience at hand, probably surfing Facebook Watch, an utterly useless godsend of a method for expending unwanted time. The patients buy time down that hall, and pay dearly for the chance. Their Emotional Support Animals waste their time there, desiring only distraction from the ramifications of what they can only imagine their loved one experiencing down that hall. I agreed to accompany her there, not to subject myself to parallel therapy. I wear my sticker proudly. I got close enough, thank you very much.

The Muse complains to her oncologist that the regimen has failed to help her shed a single pound when she was sort of promised that she might easily lose fifteen percent of her weight. She had been kind of counting on that as a welcome benefit from the awful treatment. She smiles an ironic smile and insists that she nonetheless feels fortunate. She readily agreed again to continue in the clinical study. Suppertime's become difficult. She's hungry when she's hungry now and she's finding many foods unpalatable. She lost sweetness yesterday. Her French Toast tasted like sawdust. The mushroom soup I'd made from scratch would not slide easily enough down the hatch. She pleaded to drive through McDonald's for a cheeseburger with just pickle and ketchup after her radiation treatment. I bought her flan and pickled pig's feet, both intended as treats. She picked at a foot and found it palatable but didn't touch the flan.

She's down to barely whispering now, frustrating for both of us. I managed to frustrate her into a screech or two, though she winced through them both. I'm stupid enough when I can hear what she's saying. Worse when I can't. We both forget that we need to make eye contact if we expect the other to understand. She remains an extrovert frozen within an introvert's dream. She's been invited to an election night party but we both know she could not attend and remain mute. Talking more than the odd statement leaves her throat even more enflamed. She's exhausted right now, anyway. I've been building fires for her to sit in front of and finding other places to be. I imagine my absences therapeutic but I only know for certain that they are for me. We've both come close to exceeding our patience, waiting. That puzzle's only got four more days left unfinished.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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