George Staley: “Never”

I spent 4 days each month for a year

on the 5th floor cancer ward

doing aggressive chemo for a brain tumor.

Nothing pleasant about each 4 day stay

heavy smells of sanitizer, hospital food, medicines

the catheter and IVs

faint moans from some patients

endless hours of waiting

Saturday mornings and hot showers at home

never came soon enough.

Every 3 months thereafter

I did MRIs on the 4th floor and

for 2 years, I ignored the 5th floor cancer ward.

Why not?

The remains of the tumor weren’t growing.

I knew I would feel a gag reflex from the heavy smells.

My body remembered too well the invasive procedures.

Yet, at the end of those 2 years, after another MRI,

I pressed 5 instead of 1 in the elevator.

When the doors opened

I went right,

faced the 5th floor cancer ward doors,


The smells nearly turned me back.


At mid-ward, I reached the nurse station,

stood there.

An RN looked up, “May I help you?”

I couldn’t speak.

A 2nd RN looked up, said, “I remember you.”

I blinked, said, “Thank you. I’m glad to be alive.”




George Staley is retired from teaching at Portland Community College. He had also taught in New England, Appalachia, and on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation. His poetry has appeared in Chest, Four Quarters, Loonfeather, RE:AL Artes Liberales, New Mexico Humanities Review, Fireweed, Oregon East, Evening Street Review, Book of Matches, Trajectory, and others.