The Room at the Hospital
I had to get a mammogram the other day. I might be a young widow, but I’m not that young, and I was already months behind on my check-up due to the pandemic. I’m never behind – I am deeply fearful of cancer – so I donned my mask and went to the appointment.
As usual, the initial mammogram was inconclusive. Something is almost always a bit strange with my body, and I usually have to get the follow-up testing. The doctor told me they could do it immediately, but I’d need to change rooms and wait just a bit for the technician to do the procedure.
She brought me next door. The room was painted white, devoid of all usual magazines and fake flowers because of the coronavirus. I sat on the bed in the middle of the room and stared at the wall for what seemed like an eternity. The only thing on the wall was a photograph of a flower.
I guess the flower photo was supposed to make me feel calm. It was a beautiful tropical flower, all orange and pinks, and it was set against a blue sky. It was supposed to make me think about nature and encourage me to breathe deeply and imagine that all was right with the world.
It had the opposite effect.
Instead of calm, I felt a rising sense of panic. I wasn’t so much worried about my own health, as I’ve gotten used to this extra screening. It was that the flower photo in the otherwise blank room reminded me so much of the room where I was brought when they told me that Shawn was going to die.
That room was also a small, otherwise blank white room. And it had a photo of a flower on the wall.
The doctor in that windowless room told me that Shawn had stage IV cancer with a nurse by her side, the same one I grabbed as I dry-heaved into a trash can nearby. After I composed myself, I looked up, told the doctor that I wanted to tell Shawn the news, and saw one thing:
That damn flower on the wall.
Listen, I like flowers as much as the next person. I love to grow them in my garden and display them on my kitchen island. But I’m sick of flower photos. I mean, can we please just stop with these “comforting” photos in rooms where people are told the least comforting things of their lives?
Because someone has surely been told they are dying of cancer in the room where I was sitting for my mammogram follow-up. I’m sure there’s been plenty of screaming and dry heaving in that room too. I’m sure that more than a few women who’ve been in that room will forever look at flower photos and think back to the worst moment of their lives.
I’m not saying there needs to be nothing up on the walls. But maybe these offices could put up interactive crossword puzzles or funny cartoons. Or they could take a tip from the eye doctor, and put up anatomy photos of the breasts or something.
I don’t know. Maybe people would find that all distracting, and maybe the majority of people who go into a small doctor’s office for a follow-up procedure would much rather have the flower photograph.
But not me.
After a few hours of staring at the flower on the wall, the doctor came back and gave me the all-clear. I looked over at the flower photo as I got dressed, and thought about how I was seeing it with such a different perspective than I had three years ago. In the mammogram office, I had the knowledge that I was cancer free, and that I was going home to a healthy man who loved me and my kids.
But the photo still looked menacing to me.
Flowers are beautiful. I even like looking at images of flowers. But when they hang on the wall of a hospital room, I don’t see beauty and resilience and life.
All I see is death.
Thank you for your extremely powerful and heartfelt words, Marjorie.
I hope you don’t mind if I put a coda to your last line – if only for my own needs. It is my favorite Biblical phrase, hands-down: “Love is as strong as death.” (Song of Songs 8: 6)
And yes, indeed…enough with those flower-pictures already!
I love this – it’s such a beautiful Biblical phrase.