Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Falafel joint

 Last week I was having a really bad day...  It started with a hard morning of "arguing" with my 3-year-old about pretty much anything from milk to socks to how we were going to get in the car. Loud screaming was the soundtrack to the hours between 7-9 when I finally dropped him off at daycare and left feeling like the worse mother in the whole world. I arrived at work, slammed my door closed and proceeded to fret over the piles that seemed to be getting higher as the days before my leave seemed to be disappearing from my calendar magically. I wasted a lot of time worrying about not having time. I was clumsy with my body and thoughts,  dropped everything on the floor, and broke something on my microscope. I finally clunked over and leaned my forehead against scattered post-its on my desk while small tears streamed down my face. Then I heard a gentle knock on the door. I sat up with as much of a startle as a defeated body is able to produce, wiped my face without diligence and opened a crack of the door. Chris was standing there with his usual friendly expression and a sheet of white paper on his hand: "Hey, can I talk to you a minute about the data for this project you will discuss in the meeting this afternoon?" Then he looked a second longer: "You okay?" 

No, I wasn't okay and we went to get a cup of coffee while I explained to him that I had a diagnosis of some sort of unusual DCIS and was a wreck with the perspective of surgery, treatment, etc. All the while being a single mom at home for the time being, and feeling lousy at that too. He called me into his office and closed the door. We sat across from each other and I just sank in the chair sipping from my cup and gazing blankly at something on the floor. He started by offering to hook me up with some specialists in Stanford where he had gone to school but stopped dead on his track, came closer and held my hand: "What you are going through sucks. I'm so sorry...  Let me know if there is anything I can do to help. My boys can watch your little guy if you need help.You can count on us for anything. Anything. I mean it. (short silence) I guess it's full disclosure time. I had a downer this week myself...The MRI showed that the tumor spread over multiple spots of my brain... My surgeon won't get in there anymore. I cannot do any more radiation. My last chemo failed." Hell if that's a downer, Chris, that's a death sentence...

And he continued smiling: "Tell you what, there is a really good falafel place in front of the cancer center at Mount Zion." He then drew a little map of the place on a post-it, no street names on it, and made jokes about how the bad thing about having brain cancer is that you forget things... Once the map was worked out he then mocked his own bad days by demonstrating in a short sketch how he behaves when he arrives at the office and sees that little flashing red light announcing a ton of messages on the phone. He opened his own office door, looked towards the phone, exclaimed "oh shit" under this breath and then turned around and left again only to come back a second later and rest his forehead on his desk in the exact same way I had done earlier. He said I could come by his office when I was having a bad day with a box of Kleenex - we could give each other a hug since we had already watched the online training module on "Avoiding Harassment at the Work Place." We both laughed so hard that small tears came out of our eyes, both of joy and sadness. We gave each other a big hug and the day was set straight again. Thanks, Chris. That was the best falafel place I have never been to.