I sat down on a bench to rest in front of Memorial Sloane Kettering. I had just visited my friend Wendy on the Upper East Side. I had put in a lot of miles in walking and was trekking toward Penn Station. There is no better way to travel in New York City. I knew that the only people sitting on benches in front of the hospital were there for the cancer patients. My mother had had a short stay here for a rare form of cancer, but I hoped never to have to visit again. I felt like an interloper but I was so tired.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw the man next to me twitching and tapping his thin hands. He could not stop moving. There was an internal rhythm that he had to beat out with his fingers. He was so restless that his nervous energy was trying to spill out to the rest of his body. He was unshaven and his clothes were way too big. I was not quite sure if he was a homeless man camped on the bench. He seemed off. He kept his head down and tapped. I kept my eyes closed and tried not to intrude on the nervousness.
The man got up unable to contain himself. He paced in circles around some homemade billboards in front of me. I had not noticed them before. They were peculiar. The display was both homage to a woman who had died young and an indictment of- not mal practice- but ignorant practice in the treatment of a young woman with a rare for of liver cancer. There were several pictures of a beautiful woman and a chubby man and very large public relations picture of a young, smiling Memorial Sloane Kettering female doctor.
I asked the man what this was all about. He said that his wife had died from mis- treatment from the doctors at the hospital. She had had a cancer that would have been better left encapsulated. Had it been left alone, his wife might have had more years to live. He had called friends in Germany and they had had more experience with this type of cancer. He should have taken her there. His thick German accent made it hard for me to understand the details, but his anxious grief was clear. He was very lucid. I realized that this was a grieving man who did not know what to do with his grief. He was doing the only thing that he could to try to make his misery bearable.
I asked him if I could take a picture of the display. He said sure, but he did not know if the hospital was going to come and take it away. He knew that they did not like it. I looked again at the pictures and realized that the chubby man was the very thin man in front of me. His grief was wasting him away. I watched him fold up in boards and put them in the parked shining expensive SUV to take them home for the day.
A middle- aged woman sat down next to me. I smiled. She asked me about the display. I told her what I knew and she said that her mother was dying. It was a case of mal practice. Her mother was 65 and had been very healthy her whole life, until sugar levels suggested that there was an abnormality. The doctor did not do the appropriate tests on the pancreas. It was pancreatic cancer, but at the time of the first symptom, the tumor was so small, they could have effectively treated it. The woman looked at me and said “I don’t know what I will do without my mother.”
I pulled the grieving man over and the woman and I had a three way conversation. I was trained in cocktail talk and business development. I am a connector and, other than my ability to listen, it was all I could offer. I pulled the commonalities from the two and wove a connection between them. I suggested to the grieving man that he might be able to help this woman since she was new to this process of grieving. I got up and offered him my seat. I hugged both of them and said good bye. When I turned around I saw the two excitedly talking to each other.
Previously published on August 3 2010 on Open Salon under Snarkychaser (This was Editor’s Pick)