H e a r t S o n s & H e a r t D a u g h t e r s of A l l e n G i n s b e r g
N a p a l m H e a l t h S p a : R e p o r t 2 0 1 4 : A r c h i v e s E d i t i o n
“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,
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
snaps (it’s the ATRIUM OCEAN WATERSEAL
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
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.]