The Cancer Floors
Journal of Pastoral Care and Counseling, Spring/Summer 2006
On the elevators, we are all pressed tightly together. Family members and health care workers angle wheelchairs—a tricky fit—into one of four elevators in which I travel each weekday. Broken and fragile people are shuttled back and forth across the skyway, a glass-enclosed bridge that leads from here into the main hospital building. A daily stream of passengers, numbed by an assortment of daunting diagnoses-emphysema,
colon cancer, heart disease-shuffle off and on the elevators like sleepwalkers. Some cry. Many carry oxygen tanks and breathe through clear, plastic tubes. Obese people leaning hard onto their walkers get off at the fourth floor where the fourth floor where the fumes of brand-new carpet seep in from the new Diabetes Center.
Some, here for routine medical appointments, stride lithely out the parting elevator doors. Beautiful young women talking on cell phones with Prada handbags on their shoulders exit at the Center for Human Appearance. Doctors in crisp white coats and medical students outfitted with backpacks and clogs squeeze in with the rest of us.
For me, The Cancer Floors, now several, are the least habitable addresses in our building. (This concrete and glass tower is a poorly conceived notion of modernity, I have decided; no window on any of its twenty-one floors has ever opened to the promise of spring.) The psychologists for the Cancer Center share several small offices on the Twentieth Floor. Here, the offices are retrofitted and inadequate. Patients and their loved ones must wait in chairs near the elevator or at the north end of the long, stuffy corridor.