My mother sat ramrod straight. My father's knees jittered and twitched. Luke shifted positions every few moments. Cary stared at the clock, checked his watch, adjusted his glasses. I waited motionless, perched in a sort of highchair, barely breathing.
Finally Dr. Schachter hurried in, doughy in washed-out blue scrubs and a mop of gray hair. He nodded at us soberly and installed himself on a green leather stool with wheels. The stinging around the stitches had settled into a dull, pulsating throb.
A nurse entered the room, holding an oversized manila envelope. "Ah," he said, reading the top of the envelope. "Rizeman." He had no idea who I was.
"Reisman. You took a tumor out of my brain last week?"
"Right," he said, evidently still trying to place me. He slid the scan from the folder and inspected it. "So, you'll be doing your radiation treatments here, I take it," he said, not looking up.
Quietly I exulted -- that I needed only radiation, that it was not so serious as to require chemotherapy.
"We thought she'd go to Yale -- both my parents live close by," Luke was saying. "We've already talked to a few oncologists up there."
"Who." It wasn't a question. He was still inspecting the MRI.
Luke named the doctors.
"Very good," he said. "All fine doctors." His beeper, clipped to the waist of his pants, interjected. He eyeballed its message and sighed. "Just one moment."
A moment later he was back, restationing himself on his stool. "So, where were we?"
Silence. I closed my eyes. The clock ticked. I felt a wave of heat, then a lightness, as if I'd floated out of my chair and was watching the proceedings from somewhere above. "What did the pathologist find," I heard myself saying, the words clear, distinct, my voice oddly calm, the only question there was.
"Ah, yes," he said. "Wait one more moment. I think the report is being printed out just now." He left again.
"Yes, now I remember," he said on his return, waving a piece of paper. "It's glioblastoma. Multiforme. Grade 4." He spoke casually, almost offhandedly, and for a moment I tried in vain to recall what Luke had said about the grade -- was higher better, like a higher test score? -- but only for a moment. "I'm sorry," he was saying.
I think I asked what this meant and I might have stammered out a few more questions but already my heart was sinking like a stone through deep, dark water. My eyes glistened. I felt them pooling with tears and I blinked rapidly, trying to maintain my composure.
Scraps of conversation swirled about.
"most aggressive form"
"won't be enough"
"even if you thought you got everything?"
"if the chemotherapy doesn't?"
"some promising clinical trials"
"not necessarily a death sentence, no, absolutely not, not at all"
"yes yes, palliative, if it comes to that"
My father was feverishly taking notes on a small pad. Luke's face was frozen. At some point everyone stood up. As I rose, I felt my cheeks burning and my heart kicked as if I'd been shot, like a bird in flight.
I must have thanked the surgeon and made my way, unseeing, through the waiting room, out of the hospital, and into the blinding sun.
5 Months 10 Years 2 Hours
by Lisa Reisman