The starting line in the play Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett, “Nothing to be done,” is a true metaphor for the excruciating wait for the results of medical tests. In my cancer journey, I found that there was nothing to be done except feel anxiety and anticipation. I lived in an absurd reality…much like the characters in the play.
I was listening to the CBC Radio show “White Coats, Black Arts” on the stress that breast cancer patients feel while waiting for the diagnostic results. It threw me back to my cancer journey and all the visits to hospitals and labs. Some of the tests were done at 2am. I swear I’ve visited every hospital in the Ottawa region. The radio show also brought back a flood of feelings… of stress, anxiety and anticipation.
Entering the world of medical testing procedures is like walking a labyrinth. You don’t know where you are going, but you have to move forward towards the centre. You are bewildered and turned around, but you have to move forward, trusting you’ll reach the centre. You don’t know how long things will take, but you have to move forward. And then you reach the centre.
I felt timeless and lost. It felt like this scene in the play:
ESTRAGON: We came here yesterday.
VLADIMIR: Ah no, there you’re mistaken.
ESTRAGON: What did we do yesterday?
VLADIMIR: What did we do yesterday?
VLADIMIR: Why . . . (Angrily.) Nothing is certain when you’re about
ESTRAGON: (very insidious). But what Saturday? And is it Saturday? Is it not rather Sunday? (Pause.) Or Monday? (Pause.) Or Friday?
VLADIMIR: Question of temperament.
ESTRAGON: Of character.
VLADIMIR: Nothing you can do about it.
ESTRAGON: No use struggling.
VLADIMIR: One is what one is.
ESTRAGON: No use wriggling.
VLADIMIR: The essential doesn’t change.
ESTRAGON: Nothing to be done.
Nothing to be done in the centre of the labyrinth. There, I lived inwardly through three Acts in a medical journey of waiting for Godot:
Act 1: I am scheduled for pre-operative testing. I wait for the date. It is called a waiting room of course – waiting for my name to be called for testing. I breathe and meditate. My blood is drawn, I give my pee, the ECG blips out a report. I leave only to wait for the results.
I am scheduled for surgery. I show up at the hospital admitting desk and wait for an attendant. I shuffle down the hall to day surgery admitting and wait. I am shown to my bed and asked to disrobe and wait for the doctors. My bladder cancer operation happens. I wait in recovery to be allowed to go home. I wait for the pathology report – will I live or will I die? Guess I better do yoga.
ESTRAGON: What do we do now?
VLADIMIR: While waiting.
ESTRAGON: While waiting.
VLADIMIR: We could do our exercises.
ESTRAGON: Our movements.
VLADIMIR: Our elevations.
ESTRAGON: Our relaxations.
VLADIMIR: Our elongations.
ESTRAGON: Our relaxations.
VLADIMIR: To warm us up.
ESTRAGON: To calm us down.
VLADIMIR: Off we go.
Act 2: A repeat of Act 1 for my kidney cancer. Waiting for kidney biopsy at one hospital. Waiting for nuclear imaging at another hospital. Waiting for results. Cancer is removed and I am in hospital for a week waiting to poop so I can go home. I wait for the pathology report – will I live or will I die? Guess I better do yoga.
Act 3: A repeat of Act 1 for my prostate cancer. It has been a year… where did it go. Waiting for the prostate biopsy and imaging. Waiting for surgery. In addition to removing my prostate the doc will check on my bladder for any new growths. I am in hospital for a few days, waiting for the pain to diminish. I kill time by killing zombies on my tablet. I imagine all the zombies are cancer cells that I am purging from my world. I wait for the pathology report – will I live or will I die? Guess I better do yoga.
More testing and waiting for results to stay vigilant. Finally, I’ve had it with waiting. I’ve waited for almost two years. I cannot remain in a state of waiting for life or death any longer. I don’t know how much time I have – no one does. I let that go to live for one day.
POZZO: (violently). Don’t question me! The blind have no notion of time. The things of time are hidden from them too.
POZZO: (suddenly furious.) Have you not done tormenting me with your accursed time! It’s abominable! When! When! One day, is that not enough for you, one day he went dumb, one day I went blind, one day we’ll go deaf, one day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second, is that not enough for you? (Calmer.)
Patients are what the system calls us. Patience is what is needed to survive the world of medical testing. Patience is a virtue I am always working towards. Patience is a yogic value that I practiced during this journey. However, patience does not mean waiting to live or die.
Waiting for Godot ends with the fellows still waiting. I am no longer waiting to live or die. In the labyrinth of my journey, I reached the inner center. I waited. I discovered that I wanted to move forward again, outward, towards the living.