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“The Old Canceroo, They Call It...”

email from Marc Olmsted, poet


Wheeling my wife out of surgery after 6 hour cancer removal

and prophylactic chemo/ hot water wash, they stopped the

gurney near waiting room where we stood.

First sight of her—head lolled to side full of tubes down

throat, eyes shut hard against it all—I began to break,

relief tears, the tension of past year first not knowing

then knowing it was cancer two months ago, and all I carried

being strong” wrung out of me, knees buckle in hospital hall

literally held up by my friends.

“We have to get going,” the gurney man said.




“Bram Stoker” she smiled looking up at me

first ICU words uttered after ventilator removed

by blue pulmonary team, then:

“Don’t let them give me morphine!”

But the god of dream was already on board

and she was anxious

“You know they could help me with ativan,”

she whispers conspiratorially.

The kind surgeon comes to check her scar—

wicked Frankenstein zipper from belly to chest—

where he cut out what doesn’t belong.




Hospital ICU corridor teams of magenta, pale green

and sky blue polyester CNA, RN and MD’s pass, chat

nonchallant where I stand speaking cell-phone news:

“She’s doing great!”

A gurney pushes past, bright purple and white

blanket covers dead body—a woman by size—

brown and grey hair peeking out.




The four pin-prick holes left bloody in my thigh—

this morning’s surprise kitten leap to lap

while I sat on toilet—look like sideways happy face

or maybe the Pleiades I think, 11:30 p.m. bathtub

after all day bedside wife’s post-operation ICU vigil.

She’s in cartoon morphine spa where the

kittens are all angels instead of breaking glass

Buddha on sink shelf and wrassling

like drunken cow-pokes on Saturday night.




Moving Nancy from ICU to oncology ward,

Good Samaritan Hospital, San Jose, California

where Mother had hysterectomy and brother Tim

recovered from assorted childhood traumas.

“You’d think they’d have bigger elevators,” our

kind male nurse David says rubbing his shaved head

to figure out how my wife’s gurney and assorted

tubes and machines will all fit in.

“They didn’t have so much technology forty years

ago” I offer, “everything was smaller...”

“Nothing but fun!” Nancy chimes in.




Easter Sunday chaos, I arrive at usual nine a.m.

the friendly Jamaican CNA Darryl is concerned:

Nancy got up by herself in the night and pulled IV

fluid line out—everything now wet, bedclothes and

floor—alarms ringing on the six-legged stand

holding computer monitors for pain, liquids,

minerals, nutrients...

She looks sheepish and sad, I sit on bed to

stroke her worried forehead when a loud alarm starts

up—they’ve armed the bed itself to ring if she tries

to get up again—now I’ve set it off, my neck

tightens like vise.




“I dreamed we were on a British reality show called:

‘So You Have Cancer!’ and I had to guess which

fluids I would get from the IV stand,” Nancy relates.

“Peter had entered us to pay the medical bills and

we were bickering in front of the hidden cameras,”

she says to Daryl, replacing her damaged tubes.

“I got up in the middle of the night to pee, thinking I

was on the set because I had to empty the commode

myself in the sink and that’s when I tore out my IV





11:15 a.m. Easter Sunday Nancy asleep

after walking, eating, and pulmonary treatment. I ask

busy nurse Shelia about the chest-tube pump, which

looks almost full of red watery fluid, if it should be

emptied. “Do you know about this model?” she


CHEST DRAIN I read silently)

“No, I’m just concerned it’ll back up or something”

“Don’t worry about it!” she hisses.




Don’t Enter Elevator Alone With Robot in bold

script on the five-foot high rectangular cast metal

DRUG DELIVERY SYSTEM I walk next to in hall

(mistook it for some kind of floor buffer first sight)   

what if I got in the elevator first?

Would it ask me to leave?

Vision of junkie gangs with crowbars stopping

elevator between floors—is the ‘bot armed?

electric shock delivered like C3PO Star Wars

future now?




Eleven days after surgery we’re going home!

Insurance won’t cover portable commode so I’m

shopping Walgreen’s waiting for Nancy’s drugs.

The sun shines blue sky outside, her tubes all

removed—staples too—the long scar her tattoo of

the real world, no need to buy cool skull t-shirt,

Death is only my shoulder/neck knot, unraveled, she

naps waiting for wheelchair ride out the door.



[Originally published in NHS 2009, http://www.poetspath.com/napalm/nhs09/Peter_Marti.htm.]