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.
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,
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.