Today was a long walk down a short hall. Today, I visited the long-term survivor’s clinic called The Tomorrow Fund. Don’t ask me what the ‘fund’ part stands for in clinical terms.
There I was standing in the new clinic. I propped myself against a wooden railing and waited my turn at the front desk. I expected a long process. What I wasn’t expecting was the sudden rush of memories.
Gone were the soft yellows and taped tigers that dotted the walls surrounding me. Pictures of sea turtles, and birds, along with supple chairs set to a soft green hue all vanished. The hardwood flooring evaporated and moldy, gray patterned Formica took its place. Carefully laid dropped ceilings twisted into asbestos covered rusted piping and the yielding warm glow of nested CFLs transformed into laser-bright incandescence tubes.
Off-blue vinyl with fake wooden legs took up more room than needed. The Playstation mirage faded into a stack of aged Highlights with all of the workbook sections answered. Worst of all, the sweet smell of cut flowers was supplanted by the acrid perfume of sinus burning alcohol that often announced the arrival of pain.
I was back in the original clinic. Back where the nightmares began. Dank and cold even in the summer. Dusty and rank with sickness in the winter.
One thing didn’t change at all however. The children were the same.
Three, five, seven years of age. All struggling to sustain their childhood energy, taken for granted by millions of non-afflicted children. One little girl played with a Justin Bieber doll that kept snagging on the IV that protruded from her tiny arm. In a fit of dark comedy, the doll’s hair was thicker and fuller than her Raggedy Ann tresses that fought to regain what once was a full head of hair. Her father watched on but I could tell he was elsewhere. Hell, I wanted to be elsewhere. He woke from his stupor only when the little girl demanded it.
A mother, followed by a doting father and a grandmother who made herself up no matter what the destination, carried another bald boy in. His large blew eyes and simple blond strands took in the whole room and rested on me – the oddity in a room of oddities. I harkened back to my parents and wondered if they had the same countenance as those sitting beside me. It’s the look of worry. The look of sleepless nights. The look of hating everything about their situation. The endless search for hope. I don’t remember what my parent’s state of mind was back in those early years but I suspect it was the same visage of desperation.
I was back in the present. The warm hues surrounded me once again. There was no smell of alcohol permeating the air. The children still hustled about with shouts of Iron Man beating the tar out of Spiderman.
A nurse came in and picked me out of the crowd. I got up and waded through the marbles and paper. All eyes were on me fore I didn’t have a toddler in tow. My son was heavy on my mind. He is perfectly healthy and strong. The exhausted faces trailed after me as I left the room. Even the boy playing with the hospital DS Nintendo stopped for a moment to look up. No hair overhung from under his ball cap and his eyes were naked of their brows.
The nurse practitioner took me into a private room and begged forgiveness at being late. She sorted through the mess of paperwork and I took in the photo collage on the wall of children who have passed through this place. I didn’t want to think it but I did. How many of them were still alive?
Here it is - My new routine. More questions. More historical answers. The message being Long Term. The NP judiciously jotted down everything from my supplements, to long-term meds and workout routines to finally “what’s next”.
Still, as I coursed through my banter with my new NP mentor, my mind remained with the kids in the hall. I wanted to stab a flag in the Earth for them all simply stated – I am still here.