I stood in the examining room looking at the table upon which I’d lain a million times. On it, a blue gown was folded into a perfect square. It was there for me to wear, but I couldn’t put it on. I couldn’t even touch it.
After five minutes I heard a knock on the door, and Dr Escargot entered with a young intern. She extended her hand but I asked the Doctor if he and could have some time alone. The intern looked at Escargot, who made a motion for her to leave, and she did.
Escargot sat at the small desk in the corner of the room. Beside it was a chair, which is where I often sat during our consultations. He leaned back and looked at me expectantly. In my head were a thousand sentences I’d been rehearsing since he stood me up for surgery, six weeks earlier.
All morning I’d told myself not to cry. But myself didn’t listen. I took a deep breath, and in deliberately conversational tones told him that I was very disappointed. He nodded, as though he’d been expecting this. Then I corrected myself and said that I was angry. He nodded again, and I could feel my bottom lip starting to quiver.
Once I’d seen a bumper sticker that said ‘Speak the Truth, even if your voice shakes.’ So I kept going. I told him that I wasn’t here for an examination; I would be seeing Dr L for that. After all, he was the one who’d done the surgery. Still, Escargot remained speechless. I told him that of all the uncertainties I’d had in cancerland, one of the things that I always felt good about were the people around me.
I continued by saying that he’d been with me on the path leading to this surgery, and when it came time for the big show, he was in a different country. Afterwords, nobody told me why. No explanation. No follow-up.
‘I apologize,’ he said in his soft Spanish accent, ‘ I can’t make excuses, I can only apologize. There was a scheduling error. But you were lucky that there were surgeons available. That is the benefit of the team work in this hospital.’
I cut him off. ‘I didn’t have a team of surgeons. I had one. You. And you didn’t show up.’
His calmness was unreadable. Perhaps he was humbly taking it all in, but I don’t think so. I think he’d made the decision to allow me to speak my piece, because errors of this magnitude don’t happen often, and he didn’t want me sending angry letters all over the hospital.
‘I can forgive human error,’ I said, sniveling a bit, ‘But In return I expect human decency’ (I’d rehearsed that line a few times, as I felt that it had just the right balance of truth, and drama). ‘I expected a phone-call.’
‘Well,’ he said, sounding a little like Ricardo Montalban, ‘I contacted Dr H to find out about the surgery. I knew you’d done well.’
I heard myself about to say ‘Why didn’t you contact ME?’ and I didn’t like the way it almost sounded. I was turning into a whiney 13 year-old girl asking the pimply guy why he was ignoring her. In retrospect, I should have picked up the phone the second I regained consciousness, and asked Escargot why the hell he hadn’t bothered to make an appearance. But I didn’t, and now we were having this horrible conversation.
Dr Escargot had listened to me talk for almost half an hour, and I had nothing left to say. After a pause he took a deep breath and said how he and I had enjoyed a good surgeon/patient relationship, and he was very concerned that my faith had been tested. I nodded and told him I had lost the trust. He looked kind of sad – but that could have been boredom.
It had been almost two years to the day when I’d met Dr Escargot in that room for the very first time. We’d shaken hands, and I had sat terrified while he told me about my cancer. Two new boobs later, no longer scared, I again took his very small hand in mine.