Sitting in the Oncology/Hematology waiting room…
It’s one of the most advanced and developed centers in the States. Lance Armstrong was treated here too—the patient of Dr. N. that had seen my father a few times, replacing Dr. D. when he was away.
As usual, I looked around, young and old people, different walks of life, in a fragrance free zone, patiently waiting for their chemotherapy or radiation treatment.
Every time that would cause a little discomfort, a little guilt trip, as if I didn’t belong there, as if it was their thing that for some reason I was still spared from—although I’ve lived last ten years of uncertainty about my father’s case—but every time facing the bitter-sweet feel of the Russian roulette, knowing that the next time it could have been me.
Sometimes I’d just get out of the waiting room and wait in the little hallway just before the elevators. Recently one had set up a little table there with all kinds of cute little brochures about cancer, as if it were a trip to Hawaii or Disneyland.
Last time they had lots of information and packages about the prostate cancer, and it calmed me a bit as I read that men should start checking it out once they hit their 50’s.
As I had recently hit 40’s, I’d think I still had ten years ahead of me, although some blunt pain in my left testicle would wake me up from a carefree dream from time to time.
This time the brochures were about the breast cancer, and it even made me feel good for a moment realizing I don’t have to worry about that at least.
So I picked up one of those brochures since its design was simply inviting you to do so. It was all shiny and crisp, and, surely, was a bestseller promotion.
“Chicken Soup for the Breast Cancer Patient’s Soul.” Inspiring stories about breast cancer. Like the story about Donna—“she lost her hair, she lost a breast, she lost her privacy, and she lost the comfort associated with the assumption that tomorrow always comes.” On the previous page there was a Peanuts cartoon:
– I think you’re afraid to be happy, Charlie Brown… Don’t you think happiness would be good for you?
– I don’t know… What are the side effects?
As I read that, as if I was struck by something. It was funny but so true, so obvious and simple, but yet so clever and profound.
Surrounded by side effects one simply adopted it as a way of thinking and being. Everything has just become big words—love, death, cancer, overdraft fee, grocery shopping, headache, stress…
Why not classify happiness as well as just another state of being or mind that one deals with? Chemotherapy has side effects, Aspirin does too, so why not Happiness?
No doubt—happiness is. The ultimate joy and as such is additive-free. The only problem is what happiness is to each and every one of us. What makes us happy can definitely have side effects. There are thousands, maybe millions of different cases, or, perhaps, only a few?
When Spanish conquistadors massacred Zuni and other pueblo Indians in today’s New Mexico and in their quest reached California, they were not very happy, ending up disappointed for not finding any gold so that they abandoned even California after all, leaving all their horses behind to become wild and free in time to come.
The side effect of their happiness was that even the forceful converting of the Indians into Catholics didn’t help them feel good about themselves, because the motto of gold was Never Enough. And if there is no more of it, the less is even worse.
The interesting fact is that their own faith couldn’t help them realize it, or it’s themselves who wouldn’t let it. On the other hand, all the Indians wanted was their ways and their old faith back—they didn’t care about gold—but the side effect of their happiness was the imperfectness of the world and the simple fact that greed knows no frontiers and can even sail the seven seas to disembark one day, shooting around in the name of religion and one and only god.
Horses too didn’t enjoy their freedom for very long because the side effect of their happiness was that they were useful and could carry lots of load on their back—and that suited both Spanish and the Indians in the end.
The question now is—could all three of them be happy in their own way without interfering with each other?
If the Spanish didn’t come and bring the horses, the Zuni Indians could have still been happy, but they would also still have some of their mean neighbors, fellow Indians, attacking them from time to time, and that again would be another side effect of their happiness.
Back home Spanish also had their neighbors that now they caught up with in a new world, having the same old issues. It seems that only horses could have been self-sufficiently happy if only left alone…
California, nevertheless, became a myth, a surrogate of happiness.
California dreamin’, the food basket of America, the eternal sunshine. Everybody wanted to live there. Even Schwarzenegger became the governor.
The side effect of that happiness is that today whoever doesn’t want to live there anymore then comes to Oregon. And then people from Oregon move to Washington, or Alaska. Following the pattern, maybe everybody could slowly head back over the Beringhia, taking the long way home. Back to Siberia, where apparently the Zuni’s originated from. The Russians are still leaving it behind, coming over here.
What about our little Oncology/Hematology waiting room then? Picc lines and soul scars, bad hair, no hair… And those two nurse guys, welcoming them with big casual smiles as if nothing else mattered, as if they were just there like anywhere else, a little check up, a little tune-up… And everybody dealing with whatever they deal with, looking like it’s an every day thing, like it’s just another side effect, like a headache is a headache in the end, no matter where it came from.
Still, some of them came there to be treated, and pay for it, as if they had not already paid a bit too much (with their own lives), while the others are paid for treating them right, or whatever right means. Maybe it’s just a side effect of wrong…
Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical industry goes full steam ahead. All those pills gotta be used somewhere, and paid for dearly, causing more side effects…