Archive for Thursday, December 18, 2008

Struggles help make us real

December 18, 2008

My care team consists of known and unknown members: oncologist, breast surgeon, radiologist, nurses, and pharmacists, to name a few.

I am fascinated from time to time by the pharmacy team.

They have an area in the center where the chemotherapy drugs are mixed, tailored to the needs of the individual patient. Their area is divided into the sections; in the front section are four pharmacists and in the back section, behind glass or plastic panels, is a team where the meds are actually mixed. It is a sterile area, and when I met the team from the back section, they appeared wiping their hands and removing gloves.

I want to ask them how they chose pharmacy or, more to the point, how pharmacy chose them. In my business, that is, the practice of clinical psychology, we say be careful of the profession that chooses you because you will become that thing — meaning we become more like the profession and less like ourselves.

In the case of the pharmacy team, that doesn’t seem to be the case. I went back to their area after treatment on Halloween. Yeah, think about that. I didn’t wear a costume, I went as a bald knobber. It was so chilly, I ended up wearing a red do-rag, so I appeared to be a rapper.

Back to my story. Before I left the center, I went back to where the pharmacy team hangs out, expecting to see a team of white coated, austere, maybe even grey-haired techy’s who spoke some strange drug language.

Hey, I said. Hey back, she replied. I said I wanted to meet the pharmacy team. She turned and called to the team in the front. There was not a grey hair among them; they were diverse in gender and ethnic background. She also called to the team in back, and they were equally diverse in gender and ethnicity.

She introduced them and while we were chatting, she reached under the counter and pulled out a witch’s hat, which she placed upon her head, leaned on the counter and cackled. I burst out laughing. Trust me when I say one does not always feel like laughing upon leaving the center, having been stuck, trussed up to IV’s, X-rayed, weighed and set up with the next round of chemotherapy schedule.

That day, I left laughing, wondering how it is that in the Cancer Center people, care team and patients alike all seem so much like themselves and not some caricature. Maybe it takes a struggle with life and death to make us more real than unreal.

I thought about the Velveteen Rabbit who asks what it means to be loved (remember he has been thrown, forgotten onto the trash heap). He is told it is to be petted and stroked until your spots fade and your hair falls out. Then, and only then, are you real, really real.

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