Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Scene from the Chemo Room

Whoever laid out the chemotherapy room at Howard Community Oncology Center knew what he was doing. It is shaped like a giant C. The nurses are in the open part of the letter, while the patients are facing them in an arc. Every cubical has a leather, cream-colored recliner, always stocked with a fresh white pillow. Each chair has a TV, although I have never noticed anyone watching. All chairs are surrounded by A privacy curtain surrounds all the chairs, and warm blankets appear upon request.

As you might guess, it is a pretty serious place. You do not end up there because you are healthy. You are there because you are sick…really sick…dying-kind-of-sick. Most of the patients are not talkative, except to their nurses, who are always upbeat and quick with a warm smile or pat on the shoulder. These nurses (angels, in my view) do an amazing job of trying to help you bear the unbearable.

I have learned to arrive at 8:00 am. No one is there but me, usually. Cancer patients are late sleepers, I guess. I like to get in there and get out. I hate to admit it, but the place depresses me and looking at people who are even sicker than I am depresses me more, because I know that is where I am headed. It is best for my psychological health to get in and out quickly.

A few weeks ago I was plugged in getting my weekly poison, when a very frail- looking older gentleman walked by me. He stopped and asked if I was Mike Bolinger and didn't I used to swim everyday at noon at the YMCA. I replied affirmatively and asked his name.

"My name is Albert Buchanon and I used to work out at the Y," he said, "until I got sick."

On that particular day, I had brought my guitar with me to pass the time of the therapy. Albert eyed it and asked, "Do you play the guitar?"

"A little bit," I replied.

"I can sing," said Albert. "Do you ever accompany singers?"

"I play in the band occasionally at Oakbrook Church," I said. "I do a lot of that."

Albert's nurse called to him for his chemo to begin and so we ended the conversation that day.

Two weeks later, Albert walked by again as I was plugged in. "Do you mind if I ask you a question?" he asked.

"Not at all. What's on your mind?"

"You are a Christian, right?" he asked.

"I prefer the term Believer, but yes, I am," I responded.

"Well, I can sing. I have a lovely voice, you know?" He then paused. "Do you think they will let me sing in the choir in Heaven? There are going to be some pretty good singers there, you know."

What a question.

How would you have answered Albert's question? Think of the theological implications? Does Heaven exist, or is it a myth? Who will be there? Who will not? Will there be music? Or not? It would have been easy to say I did not have the faintest idea. Or refer him to a pastor, who might know. Or ask him if I looked like God; ask Him. There were a lot of possibilities and then the answer came to me.

"Albert, I do not know much about Heaven, but I know this. There is lots of music there. This is because God created music and He loves it. Particularly if it is praising Him. What could praise Him better than a choir? So I know there will be a choir. I do not think that you might sing in the choir. I know for a fact you will. I am certain of it. Why else would God have given you your voice?"

"You really think so, Mike?" he asked.

"No, Albert. I don't think so, I know so. And you know what else? You will get a solo part, too."

"I do not know if I could do that. A solo in the choir in Heaven? Wow!"

"Well, look at it this way, Albert. You will have eternity to practice. I'll bet you get pretty good in that time."

Albert beamed and went to get plugged in.



  1. Mike - I'm with you. Get in and get out. The reason I never told my mother, sisters, or friends that I was undergoing cancer treatment was because I knew all their concern would depress me. I found I could deal with the stinkin' illness and treatment a lot better if I dealt with it privately, than if people felt sorry for me. Now THAT would have really scared me. So I made my poor saint of a husband promise to tell no one.

    Yours was the best response you could have given Albert.

  2. Tough questions.

    Will there be dogs or cats in heaven?

    We we be reunited with spouses? What if they

    Your answer was a good one!

  3. A kind smile. A quiet, yet enthusiastic, word of hope. In that moment, Mike, YOU were one of God's minstering angels. Yes, indeed, heaven will be filled with music.