No Cookies in the Chemo Ward

My port shifted, during the long months
and years of infusions, tilting inwards
at a difficult angle. I learned tricks – lean
back, breathe in, to lift and make it easier
to access, and still, sometimes, it was hard.
Sometimes my nurse had to try over and over,
apologizing as she went, clearly distressed
for my distress. I grew to dread it, even took
Xanax to calm the anxiety.

Once, a more experienced nurse took over,
and I admit, I was relieved. But I want to also say,
it’s okay you couldn’t do it perfectly the first time.
I’m a teacher, and know that every student
is different, every body and every mind brings
a new set of conditions, of challenges; the only
way out is through, the only way to learn
is practice. Someone has to be the guinea pig.

My course is ended, and I hope never to come
back here, never to see you again. I know
you hope the same, hope I am healthy for a long,
long time. I am already forgetting
the needle sticks. That distress is fading fast.

What lingers is the warmth of your smiles,
even on the days I arrived exhausted, irritable,
weepy. The extra blankets, the cocoon you built me,
that day I couldn’t seem to get warm. The way
we traded stories about our children, the fact
that you remembered me, and gave me something
else to think about, something other than the taste
of metal in my mouth, the weakness of my limbs,
the thinning of my hair.

This is your job, but clearly more than a job to you.
I wanted to bake you cookies, but we aren’t supposed to
bring food to the chemo ward; the scent can be difficult.
So thank you for your care, for doing more than the job
requires; thank you for your smiles, the warmth
in your voice, the attention you pay. Thank you for
the silly jokes, the gentle hands that tuck
a blanket. And thank you for understanding
that sometimes we are too tired to say thank you.

******

Mary Anne Mohanraj

for the nurses at the Loyola Hospital Chicago chemo ward,
with all my gratitude

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