It was just a routine Tuesday at the oncologist. Larry and I headed back to the chemo lab and sat in two of the empty chairs. Across from me was a new patient, an older woman. I checked her out while I was waiting for them to get my mediport ready for chemo.
White haired, I placed her age as late seventies. She was wearing a housecoat, the kind that was popular at one point in the seventies, white with little flowers on it and the snaps running up the front. It gave me pause to see that housecoat, since I equate such outfits with jammies or other things that you wear around the house but never in public. Most of the people we'd seen at chemo were dressed in their every day clothes. I myself usually wear loose fitting pants with a V-necked shirt for easy access to the mediport. No fuss, but certainly not jammies.
So the housecoat stood out, but the lady was otherwise unremarkable as she sat there sound asleep, a blanket covering her upper body. She snored a little, but that's pretty common in the chemo lab, too. Because I like to create stories in my head, I hypothesized that this lovely woman likely lived in assisted living, and the facility had brought her over. Then the nurse got busy inserting the needle into my mediport and I had to focus on that.
Not because it hurts. They have this wonderful numbing spray that anesthetizes the area around the mediport, so when the needle breaks the skin, all you feel is a little pressure. And not because of my historically obnoxious needle phobia, either. No, I had to focus because when they start to pull blood into the tube...sometimes nothing comes out. That freaks me out a bit, and I have to focus on not completely losing what tiny bit of sanity that I have left. There's a perfectly logical explanation for the lack of blood, and that is because the needle did not go where it was supposed to. I know this, but I still freak out when it happens. Larry is no help, because his needle phobia is worse than mine. By the time I was hooked up and had the IV running, the lady across from me was awake. I smiled at her, and she smiled back.
And then she decided that she wanted to recline. She pushed and pushed and pushed, but like most of us, her strength was limited. Larry and I watched; it would be a violation of chemo etiquette to offer unrequested help. Finally, one of the nurses came over and helped recline the chair, and everything got quiet again. Larry started answering emails on his phone, and I got a magazine from the table next to my chair. Before I started to read I looked up at the newcomer. She was directly across from me, her feet up, her legs slightly spread. Right at my eye level.
It was a bad day for me to be a short woman.
The housecoat was apparently all this lady was wearing for her chemo appointment. It took a moment for my brain to fully comprehend the horror that was right in front of me. This elderly lady, who looked like a stereotypical grandma, wasn't wearing underpants! My eyes protested vociferously this visual invasion. It was all I could do not to throw my hands up over my face and scream. I got flashed by Grandma.
My first instinct was to grab my husband's arm and share my torment, but I managed to smother that thought with a coughing fit.
"You okay?" Larry asked. I merely nodded, my eyes watering. He didn't need to share in my pain.
I decided the better course of action would be to pretend that I saw not a thing. Deep breaths, I told myself. Take deep breaths, and try to forget. That's it... Just shove that retina-burning image right down there in the dark with that one night in Nuevo Laredo when I did drink the water. I buried my face in an old magazine, until I calmed down.
I do not think that this woman was showing off her hooha on purpose; I just happened to be looking in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was an unhappy accident, at least for me. She did speak to me later. I was polite, and we traded medical information regarding our cancers, just like I have done with all the other patients. When I see her next time, I'll pretend that it never happened.
But some things just cannot be unseen.