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ANother excerpt from my work-in-progress “Today Cancer, Tomorrow The World!”: Attack of The Green Goblin in the Chemo Ward

August 7, 2012

Attack of The Green Goblin


A dehydrated looking and boney Green Goblin of a woman with angry body language and mad radiating out of every pore makes a noisy and agitated entrance into the Stanford Cancer Infusion ward. I called her the Green Goblin because she had sprayed green hair, a green blouse and short dress and shoes and had green-painted toe nails and fingernails. I think it was because she had come from some St. Patrick’s Day party or was getting ready to go to one. She heavily tuned-up into her high-maintenance fifties but looked worse for wear from having her share way too much fun in the sun. Her skeleton looked like it was upholstered with copper-tanned and wrinkled leather grafted from the pocket of an old catcher’s mitt. Veins seemed to crack like blue tree roots through her dry surface flesh. The crinkled skin under her upper arms flapped and folded like parchment. Gold jewelry and diamonds adorned every limb and finger of her body and probably weighed more than her. As Green Goblin flailed out her arms and stomped around the recliner near me, her gold necklaces and wrist bracelets made a slithering chain-linking sound. She established her presence by slamming down her purse, binder, and large appointment book on the tiny tray by the recliner next to mine. She squirmed in the chair and grumbled it was impossible to get comfortable in the recliner. She glanced or glared over to me for sympathy but I decide to defensively retreat into a glazed chemo game face. I hate dramas and losers live for them. But losers, can only create a drama if you respond and step on the stage with them. I said nothing. Nice people are quiet. Bad people are loud.

The oncology nurse came over and took the Green Goblin’s vital signs. While she was inserting the IV, the goblin yelped out in pain and snapped, “You’re hurting me.”

“I’m trying not to,” said the nurse.

“Fuck you,” the Green Goblin snarled. Her nerve endings were loose electric cables, wriggling like snakes and giving shocks to anyone that stepped into the shallow puddle of her being.

After the nurse left, the Green Goblin finally took out her checkbook, and consulted her notebook and began writing checks, huffing and snorting as she does each one. She was treating this place like it was her office! I thought, lady, the life you’re trying to hold onto is gone, you’re in another world now. My guess is she was pretty successful because she was so self-centered and clearly accustomed to getting her way. She could only understand life if she was consuming it, now something was consuming her. I could tell she was frustrated. She had lost control. In a way, she was no different than a Great White Shark, who are all powerful and dominant in their environment, but when they’re pulled from of it, their organs collapse inside them because they are held in place by a pressure and support of their outside world. They fall apart from the inside out. She tried to ignore this new reality by acting like nothing changed in her life. But it wasn’t working for her.

She stopped writing checks, then sighed. “Everything was going so well how could this be happening to me?”

Based on the Green Goblin’s personality, I thought, how could this not happen to her! She had no respect for the suffering of the other people here. She wasn’t learning from his experience. She was haunted by it. She could only have toxic epiphanies by whining about the injustice of her pain and why didn’t this happen to someone else instead of her? She was one screaming yawn of it’s-all-about-me. She fit the denial profile of an alcoholic. I wondered if she was behaving so rudely because she was half bombed, or aggravated because she was craving her next a drink and couldn’t have it during chemo. Then I remembered my first blood draw in Infusion, when the male nurse told me about a woman who had to see children suffering from cancer to feel better about her own condition. I wondered if this horrible patient next to me was her.

My chemo was nearly done. My oncology nurse, a young friendly lady from the Philippines, came over to unhook me and tape up my x.

The Green Goblin’s pumping machine on the IV pole started making a noise.

She started loudly bitching, “Why is this my machine beeping? Where is my nurse. You can’t just ignore me! You nurses do whatever else you want to do first, and then get back to me when you feel like it. I come here in the afternoon and you’re still you’re still short-staffed and I have to wait. Why am I fucking here?”

I said, to my nurse who had been hanging my chemo, “If you want to take care of her, I can wait.”

“No,” she lowered her voice and said to me, “I don’t go for that. There are a lot of sick people here who are not like her. She should be grateful people are here to take care of her.” My nurse stood, raised her voice and said to the Green Goblin, “This is no good. There’s no need for that language. You be quiet. You’re disturbing other people. There’s your nurse.”

When I got up to leave, the Goblin’s oncology nurse, reprogrammed the IV-drips pumping machine and stopped its beeping.

The Green Goblin loudly whines, “This is ridiculous, my pole is on the wrong side, the tray table doesn’t come up high enough for me to do my work and it’s banging on my legs.”

As I leave, I look back. When the nurse moves the pole to the other side of the recliner, the IV tube connected to the chemo bags tightens and pulls on the needle taped to the Goblin’s arm. She lets out a disproportionate yelp of pain, and flails her arms.

“There’s no need to be hysterical,” said my nurse.

“Go to hell,” snapped the Goblin, her legs kicking up the tray.

As I left the clinic and walked in the lounge past all the quietly slouched patients awaiting to be called for their chemo treatment, isolated in their own world but immersed everything around them. They were planets orbiting around the sun of hope. I thought of the unenlightened viciousness of the Green Goblin. I had never seen anyone else act like her. We all lived in the subdued world of displaced humility. We were like pilgrims in a New World. This passage we were traveling through can be a rewarding if you want to live the right life. In a way, I felt I was experiencing a private showing in a different version of the film ‘Invasion of The Body Snatchers.’ That’s the science fiction movie where aliens place pods near humans and then when the people fall asleep the pod assumes their person’s shape, the human dies, and they are alien-pod people without any emotion (These people eventually become oncologists, lawyers, or work in Human Resources for corporations.). But during chemotherapy, I’ve drifted away from my world and a different transformative pod from another world has been inserted within me, and I know if its presence is acknowledged and nurtured with hope through pain and compassion for the shared suffering and cure of others, this pod will hatch a renewed person and crack away the shell of my past alien life. This is one of the few choices I have. I’m not on borrowed time, but given time. And if I survive, and my health returns and gravity draws me back to my world, will my lips stay pressed and cling to the spiritual kiss of the universal I experienced? Some awaken without fragments of the dream. Some continue to be an alien to their dreams. They get bitter and conclude cancer was unjust and resume their past life, and go back to complaining about the weather, their income and traffic. But how can one hold the vision without hardening into habits and be limited by personality? How can every moment expand and envelope in a joyous journey? I think part of the answer is to leave your comfort zone to make others comfortable. You still need time to yourself, but not as much as you think.

Some people don’t learn. It’s all about them. They’re just pigs eating truffles. Whatever in front of them is what they want and they’ll bite at anything that gets between them and their food dish. This selfishness is the drive that enables brutal people to rise and succeed in business, and ironically, that same selfishness is the drive that fuels the self-destructive behavior of people who fail at life. I guess the Green Goblin had the best of both worlds.

It was the first and last time I saw the Green Goblin. But I knew when I returned to the world I’d see many people like her. But, I just wasn’t going to be one of them.

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