In Praise of the Candy Striper

Today I went to the hospital for a routine mammogram.  Except they’re never routine-feeling after you’ve had cancer.  At least not the sort of feelings in one’s heart (as opposed to the sort of feeling that results from a breast compressed with 30 pounds of force).  

It sneaks up on me every year, as “This is nothing unusual, just a routine mammogram” morphs into “I’m feeling very vulnerable and small and scared.”

I couldn’t quite figure it out until later but when I entered the hospital lobby and saw an elderly candy striper (hospital volunteer for those of you to young to know), I had an overwhelmingly strong desire to BE a candy striper, to put on the crisp striped apron and to dispense love and cheer and magazines while delivering flowers.  Nothing more complicated. Except that the urge overtook me with power.

My thinking even evolved to the point of imagining that I could be sort of cute as a candy striper, new gray hair and all.  

And then after the mammogram I had to pretty much restrain myself from entering the gift shop (and let me say that I detest gift shops) and buying myself a red teddy bear (and let me say that I have an aversion to teddy bears) with a balloon attached (and let me say that balloons annoy me), because I felt like it was just a day to receive a teddy bear with a balloon.

I settled for a half-caf coffee from the cart in the hallway (and a conversation with a jaunty older man there who was decrying the wimp-ening of America in terms of how many folks are switching from coffee to tea, something I agree with) and wandered out to my car.

A little whimper came out of my own mouth, and if I hadn’t know where it came from I would have said it came out of nowhere.  And I realized that I felt scared, vulnerable, and was remembering my own cancer ordeal 14 years ago.  By all accounts it’s over, I’m done with that, and it’s a footnote on my medical history, but on some primal level I want a candy striper to wrap me up in a blanket, hand me an Oprah magazine and erase the cell memory of hospitals and cancer.

Candy stripers (and their equivalent in every realm) are important.  I want to sing their praises.  If I can’t have one wait on me, maybe I can be one someday.  That’s a high calling, actually.  

There are a lot of us walking wounded wandering around, and the world would be a bit better if there was a starched-aproned candy striper on every corner.

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~ by Cary on January 15, 2009.

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