I felt like such a pussy, apprehensive and even fearful of this second cycle of chemo in this particular round of three. The first few days are really irritating — having to wear gloves inside, not being able to touch anything cold with my bare hands. Even washing my hands annoys me, ’cause the hot water dries cool and the neuropathy sets in almost immediately. It still gets chilly outside in Buenos Aires’ current reluctant spring and so my feet tingle and go numb as I walk, as do my hands. And lords, do I hate the wind.
But the older guy sitting across from me in the relatively cheery chemo room in Hospital Marie Curie told me that he was just starting his 12th round. He has colorectal cancer, too, but had been in remission for a while. But it came back, as it usually does when it’s metastasized.
He asked me if my bald head was because of the chemo. I told him no, I’d only lost my nose hairs and, pointing to my crotch, my pubes. He said, “Lo perdí todo. Todo!” and laughed, gesturing across his legs and his arms. And his crotch.
He asked me how long it had been since I’d been diagnosed.
“6 meses, más o menos?” he suggested, saying he’d seen me around.
I said, no, that I’d been in another hospital before, and than it had been over a year ago.
He nodded and I felt embarrassed. He’d noticed me but I hadn’t noticed him.
I think of myself as more observant than most people, but for some reason this guy had gone beneath my radar. We’d been visiting the same doctors in the same hospital — although I’m sure I’d remember if we’d gotten chemo together — and I hadn’t seen him.
He was a handsome guy — older than me and with a nicer smile; thin with a thicker midriff, broad shoulders, long arms and legs. He was wearing cool socks, too: Blue and white, with a kind of oceanic motif. Billabong? But I tend to notice younger dudes when I’m out and about. Like the skinny, trashy one with a shaved head a couple seats down from me, laughing and joking with the older women around him. His head was shaved and he was missing most of his front teeth.
“What do you think of that?” Joel probed. He was my designated companion for the day.
“Doesn’t bother me at all,” I answered. ‘And those homemade tattoos? Totally hot.”
And: “I want to take his picture.”
Joel just laughed.
Poison was dripping slowly into all our veins, but the mood was light and everybody tries to make friends on these days.
Making connections, however short or temporary, is better than sitting alone, taped up and injected, just counting your cycles.