Wednesday, November 9, 2011

'An Angry Man'

The receptionist at the front desk welcomed me to the Department of Urology and apologized that the Doctor was running 15 minutes late. I took a seat among the six or seven others in the waiting room.

My visit to 'Urology' was a follow-up to a recent exam, and was to include a scope procedure for a closer look at my prostate. I was, understandably I think, less than eager to have a scope inserted into my body through a catheter but I had arrived in the office at 9:15 a.m. as requested, 15 minutes ahead of the scheduled procedure. A nurse took my vitals and asked me to return to the waiting room until the urologist arrived.

I picked up a sports magazine and began reading a piece that seemed to be lobbying for Stanford's young  quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy for the 2011 season. I was distracted by thoughts of the catheterizing process but noted the 22 year old football player's list of personal goals like improving his completion rating, winning the Heisman and leading Stanford to the 2011 national championship.

Looking up from the magazine, I thought of making a second trip to the bathroom. I had skipped my morning coffee to avoid having to 'go' during the procedure which I would have found embarrassing.

A second receptionist popped up from her desk behind the horseshoe shaped counter shouting my name like we were in an auditorium. I stood and walked to the counter noting by my watch that I had been there for about thirty minutes.

I was annoyed at the delay, which was unusual for me. I was annoyed that I had paid $13 for a taxi instead of walking to be on time for the appointment. I was annoyed (unfairly I know) at the youthful ebullience of a 22 year old quarterback planning his triumphal life. Mostly, I was annoyed to find myself waiting for another procedure, the results of which might suggest a panoply of dignity crushing events.

Like others with multiple myeloma, certain treatments had weakened me but I fought back each time and regained my strength. I realized that if the 'scope' procedure found prostate cancer all treatment options were radical and the effect would compromise my notion of manhood. I decided that I would decline any new treatment.

I stood at the end of the counter while the receptionist faced the room calling variations of my name; "Steve, Stephen, Mr., ah..." All the while the people in the waiting room pointed to me standing six feet to her left.

"I'm here," I said, which gave her a start and she hopped back a step while turning towards me. I got the sense that she was tense, like Lucy Arnez futilely struggling with chocolates moving too fast along a conveyer belt.

"Are you Stephen," she asked?

'I am,' I answered.

'OK, well the doctor is still tied up and will be for about 15 minutes, so why don't you take a seat and…'

'No,' I said.

She looked up, a bit taken back and asked, "What do you mean?" A big nurse in the background whispered too loudly that she should, 'tell him to sit down and wait!'

 I explained that I understood the doctor was busy but a second delay would make me late for another appointment.

She picked up the telephone, finger hovering above the keypad and said, "Tell me who the other doctor is, I'll explain you'll be late and it will be …"

"No," I said, 'I don't have an appointment with another doctor... I have a business meeting and I'm leaving now. I'll call to make another appointment'.

"OK," she said, and a murmuring huddle formed as the receptionist was scolded by the big nurse for letting a patient get away.

I left the building and decided to walk part of the way home. My favorite route took me by a little, red brick school, its window sashes painted in bright red and gold. The school sat next to a park the size of a city block where Moms and Dads helped little ones on the swings and the slide. A cold wind tried to find its way through my skin and around my ribs looking for my pounding heart though the rush of air felt good on my face.

My pace quickened as I passed the leaf strewn park to my right, and on my left, across the narrow street, old Victorian houses that had been broken up and sold as condominiums. A slow burning anger was unravelling from within like a giant python releasing its suffocating grip. I began to shake, lightly at first but then violently until my legs stopped working and I had to grab onto the back of a park bench, gripping with all my strength to steady my hands.

I gritted my teeth at the momentary pain and felt tears form in my eyes. I turned to hide my face from those hurrying by me on the sidewalk.

"Probably the wind," I told myself.

I stood up straight as the shaking eased and stared out to the grass, yet green, around a little baseball diamond, and thought of the young Stanford quarterback, Andrew Luck.

"I hope you take the Heisman, Luck!" I said out loud, though there was no one to hear me.


  1. This anger may serve you well Stephen. Anger flows like a river at times, increasing the vitality of our lives and pointing us in the direction we need to be traveling. In her book, Kitchen Table Wisdom, Rachel Remen wrote that "In chinese, the words for becoming angry, shen qi, mean 'generating the chi,' or increasing the life force." I like to think that there may be times that anger will help us get where we need to be. Love your story. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  2. Dear Miss Elizabeth, Thank you for your clear, supportive comment. I hope you're right about where anger can take us. Your words are hopeful and make me think of "where I need to be."

    Blessings Elizabeth.