Greetings from CancerLand: Me and My Vampire

Alysa Cummings
The Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: July 9, 2009

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She holds the envelope tightly in her hand. The words Pre-admission Testing are block printed across the front in black ink. Inside there’s a form already filled out with her name and date of birth along with a long list of incomprehensible medical abbreviations. Show the ladies at the information desk this envelope, says the surgeon’s office manager. They will tell you where you need to go in the hospital to get your pre-op testing done.

She holds the envelope tightly in her hand as she walks across the parking lot, enters the hospital lobby and steps up to the information desk. Pre-admission testing? she asks. An elderly volunteer waves her hand towards the gift shop. Make a right, go down the hall make a left turn after the elevators and look for the sign, says the woman with a hospital ID pinned to her blouse.

She holds the envelope and walks past the gift shop, down the hall, and up to the first sign on the wall - a Kafkaesque affair that has at least fifteen different locations listed with arrows pointing this way and that. She walks in what she hopes is the right direction and finally locates Pre-admission Testing. She steps up to a woman inside the office who is sitting at her desk intently studying her computer screen.

She hands the envelope to the woman who immediately opens it up, scans the form top to bottom and quickly shakes her head. You aren’t registered, the woman says, and gives directions back to the main lobby of the hospital. Isn’t this just wonderful, she thinks to herself feeling a flash of anger, You can’t get there from here. Why didn’t the office manager tell me where to register?

Within minutes she is right back where she began, at square one standing at the information desk. She is directed into an admissions office to register. Before long, she has multiple copies of the pre-admission testing form in hand and returns to the pre-admission testing office to try again.

EKG and bloodwork here, says the woman pointing to a door. It seems simple enough. Thank you, she says.

She walks in and looks around the waiting room. There’s a machine on the wall that spits out numbers on slips of paper, (now serving number 86) just like in a bakery. But a sign on the wall clarifies: Pre-admission testing patients DO NOT need to take a number. This is my eighth CancerLand surgery in ten years and I’m still a stranger in a strange land, she thinks to herself. I should be better at this by now.

Her name is called. She walks into an examination room and stretches out on the table. With some sticker placement and untangling of wires, the EKG is over in seconds it seems. Almost before it begins. The bloodwork is more of a challenge. But it always is. I know that I’m a tough stick, she says to the technician. One butterfly, one painful stick, one swollen arm, no blood and the technician concedes defeat. Come with me, she says with a smile. I’m taking you to The Vampire.

She follows the technician into a back room where a dark haired man is standing up, peering at a computer screen on the counter. I’ve got a tough stick for you, says the technician to The Vampire.

She sits in the chair and stretches her left arm out. She looks up at the man known as The Vampire and sees no fangs. Just luminous brown eyes framed by dark long eyelashes that any woman would envy and an ornamental red mark on his forehead between his eyebrows. She looks at this exotic handsome face and thinks that he could star in a Bollywood feature. And his calm, centered attitude immediately puts her at ease.

Why do they call you The Vampire? she asks.

Because I like tough sticks, he says slowly in a heavy foreign accent.

What’s your secret to hitting the tough sticks? she asks.

No secret really. I’m the best. Trust me, it is a very spiritual thing, he says reaching for her left arm.

She makes a fist out of habit. There’s no need, says The Vampire. Open your hand. Relax. Close your eyes and breathe and I will get the three tubes we need, one-two-three-no problem. Trust me. Trust me…

He glances down at her paperwork, Oh, I see that your birthday is coming up this month.

He begins to sing softly and even with her eyes closed, she immediately joins in, their voices blending off-key: Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday Ms. Cummings, Happy Birthday to you.

I am done, he says, holding up the three vials, and this is your birthday present.

She opens her eyes and smiles. It sure is. No pain. Not a mark on her arm. She says thank you, walks out of the room and is halfway across the hospital parking lot to her car before she realizes she should have asked The Vampire one more question.

Were his eyes closed too?



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