Reception is Lousy

Reception is Lousy August 10, 2021

Today, I went to the surgeon for follow up.

Eleven of twenty-three lymph nodes they removed, indicated cancer.  Bone and Body scans to follow.
As a rule, doctors like to give a resting neutral face when they discuss things, and all around them follow suit.  It used to bug me, but I learned the value of it today.

The surgeon told me, her prognosis for me was, “Excellent.”  and I left feeling shaken but not overwhelmed.

Waiting in the lobby as it was too hot to go out, the receptionist in the lobby proceeded to discuss something of a personal nature, apparently unaware the atrium echoed her every word.   It shattered the otherwise still nature of the front entrance, and felt bracing and rough to hear, “You’re a liar,” and other things that indicated the person’s displeasure.     No one dared tell her they could hear everything, because it didn’t sound happy.

I sat thinking, receptionists should welcome you, and how I needed welcomes, softness, quiet, and none were possible.  My husband picked me up and we started trying to make appointments to deal with the latest needs of the doctors for my treatment.

Calling the doctor office, I left a message on the phone tree.  The words radiation therapy and chemo had been batted about in front of me in the doctor’s office, and I wanted ideas, answers, and a schedule.

Half an hour later, while on route to pick up pizza for the kids, the doctor office called back.  “What seems to be the problem?” she asked.   I explained about needing a body and bone scan and the 11 of 23 lymph nodes that came back cancerous.

“Wow! You need to behave yourself.”   she said.   There’s a time and place for levity amongst strangers to lighten tension…this was neither.  However the wow told me, this was not great news.    She couldn’t give me an appointment, but would have someone call the next day.   I sat in the car stunned at the idea that someone who calls people who have cancer for a living would lack presence to have that neutral voice when dealing with someone for whom something unknown and scary looms.

It struck me that for these people sitting in a lobby, or answering the phone, what is happening is abstract and ordinary at the same time. It is not them to which this happens, but it happens every day.   So the flippancy reveals the ordinary nature of this sort of thing for their lives and in that moment, I hope the woman in the atrium of the hospital continues to be able to enjoy talking about whatever comes her way in the course of her day, and that likewise, the receptionist never needs someone else to be so careful with their words with her.  May it remain ordinary and abstract forever to her.

And in the meantime, cancer cells…behave yourself!
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