The Saddest Thing


A wise robot once said that the saddest thing is a retarded man who is crying and promising a broken egg that it will still be a chicken someday, and that they’ll play together in a field when it gets better. But with due respect, Lie Bot, that’s a dirty lie.

One morning last week, my girlfriend and I had to stop by the Odette Cancer Centre up at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. You’ll be relieved to know that, contrary to what the other patients must have been assuming, I don’t have cancer — only male pattern baldness. We were actually there for my girlfriend, who has a mild skin cancer on her forehead that she wants to get removed before it necessitates one of those Phantom of the Opera masks. Adding insult to malignant neoplasm, Sunnybrook’s parking lots charge four dollars per half hour, up to a maximum of 23 dollars. I could understand that at a gout clinic; if you can afford to gorge yourself on caviar and scotch until your toes crystallize, you can afford the valet parking. But it’s a hell of a way to gouge cancer patients. Fortunately, I wasn’t the one driving, nor was I the one with cancer on my face, so this was none of my concern. I was just there to provide sympathy and moral support, which you can probably tell I’m good at.

We hit that 23-dollar maximum parking fee too. The clinic was incredibly busy that day, and the situation was made worse by the fact that the staff actually completely forgot about my girlfriend. As we sat in the waiting room of the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum clinic for two solid hours, I was glad I’d at least brought a book by a nice young Jewish author: Crazy from the Heat, the memoir of Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth. “This is why they call us patients,” I remarked to my girlfriend. “Get it — patience?” She smiled wanly.

I noticed an urn of complimentary coffee, and got up to get us a couple of styrofoam cups, passing by an ancient man sitting alone in a wheelchair and exchanging a small smile.  It turned out there was a reason it was free: It was awful. My theory, based on the taste and the average age of the other patients who were gladly sucking the stuff back, was that it was chicory coffee substitute left over from the Great Depression. “Thank God we have this disgusting coffee to keep us awake while we wait,” I remarked.

The wait stretched on. I started to consider demanding that Joey and/or Toby Tanenbaum come to the front to explain themselves. “You know why they call us patients,” a woman sitting across from us quipped to her mother.

“I just made that joke!” I said. We beamed at each other. “Okay, how about this one?” I imagined saying in a jocular tone to their vanishing smiles. “Two fags walk into a bar….”

Then, out of the corner, I saw the ninetysomething-year-old cancer patient, who had been gingerly hobbling back to his wheelchair from the nearby washroom, slip and hit the ground hard, cracking his head wide open, and gushing blood all over the clinic floor.

It was awful. He just bled and bled, and he was so old and sickly that I was almost surprised his blood was the same colour as mine. I guess I thought it would be clear, or black, or powdery. He was all by himself, too. “That’s it, we are definitely having children,” my girlfriend said later. “No way am I coming back here without making people to take care of us.” Of course, there might have been an upside to the same thing happening to her: With luck, a small laceration from a fall might have ripped the basal cell carcinoma clean off her forehead and saved some oncologist a little work.

I helped him get into his wheelchair, someone put a bandage on his head, which immediately soaked through, then someone wheeled him back into the doctor’s office. The thing that stuck with me for a long time, as I stared dully at a smear of blood on the tile floor that escaped the janitor’s mop, was the old man’s dazed mumble as he was wheeled away: “That’s the first time I’ve fallen.”

Did he mean ever? If so, that’s an amazing run of luck. My girlfriend had fallen down while rollerblading only a day before, for example. Or did he mean that it was the first time he’d fallen since some doctor had warned him he was probably going to start falling all the time from then on? Or was it the first time in this calendar year? Or did he mean since the first snowfall of the winter? That’s how I start keeping track of my inevitable first slip each year. I went on and on speculating until my girlfriend was so tired of listening to me that she started to wish this old man hadn’t even fallen down in the first place.

As the next hour ticked by, I started to wonder if he was ever coming back. I  hoped they’d wheel him back out while I was still there, safe and sound in his chair. But after a while, even if they wheeled him out on a gurney, zipped into a body bag, I just wanted closure.

Fortunately, he eventually turned out to be alive. I want to say that he was okay, but of course that’s not true. He did, of course, still have cancer.

My God, it was the saddest thing.

6 Responses to “The Saddest Thing”

  1. 1 KD

    Holy shit! I hope Candice is cured and never has to go though that again. Although I have said I want to marry her, I do have an adorable husband who had a very tiny skin cancer on his leg this year. It sucks and makes you feel as old as hell and gives you visions of what’s to come. Carpe diem, people, cause that’s all we got.
    Plus, sweetie, sunscreen and a big hat.

  2. 2 Scott

    How is it that I had time to drive across the country before you had time for a new blog post? You’re on a time-out, Mister!

  3. 3 Peter Lynn

    Shit — I forgot I had a blog!

    Anyway, I should mention that Candace is quite all right. It’s just a little face cancer — nothing serious.

  4. 4 Peter Lynn

    Also, welcome back to Ontario, guy! We expect to see you at our housewarming party.

  5. 5 Scott

    Just checking back in to let you know that you’re off your time-out. Now did you learn anything?

  6. 6 Peter Lynn

    I learned that Fuzion wine is plonk.

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