Of Scrabble and Wooden Chairs

August 22, 2023 at 6:29 p.m.
Lois with her grandson, Kevin. She was in a walking cast, and Kevin asked her to dance. "...and so we did, as best as possible in my cast," she says. "He was a little boy, but we still talk about that dance."
Lois with her grandson, Kevin. She was in a walking cast, and Kevin asked her to dance. "...and so we did, as best as possible in my cast," she says. "He was a little boy, but we still talk about that dance."

...by Lois Greene Stone

“Ouch”, said my expression, although my lips didn’t utter that word. A needle had been inserted into grandson Kevin’s vein to accommodate the squishy plastic bag’s flow through a tubing connected to that needle. I pulled up a hard wooden chair, and uttered “Don’t think I’m going to let you beat me at Scrabble just because you’re hooked up to this thing!”

He grinned with his mouth; his grin didn’t extend to his eyes. In those, I saw a bravery he concealed well. He realized I noticed, but that was one of our silent connections.

“Okay,” I pushed the narrow tray-table between us, “we’ve 4 hours so it’ll be 4 games of Scrabble. And I have to play upside down because of you!”

The tech came by and handed me a cardboard card with the next appointment. Kevin hadn’t even reached puberty. The oversized upholstered chair, mimicking real leather, was too large for his frame. My mind flashed to an unusual restaurant between Philadelphia and Atlantic City, New Jersey I’d been to with my offspring during a visit to that part of the country. There was a very tall chair and my husband placed Kevin’s dad, then only five years old, on top of the step-ladder high seat; the child giggled.

The infusion center wasn’t a fun restaurant; my thoughts returned to the present time. “Is that a real word? Sounds made up just to use those letters!” The softcover Scrabble dictionary was between Kevin’s seat and armrest. I pulled it out to challenge him. It was a valid word.

“And you’re the English teacher, Grandma,” he moved his head nodding slightly up and down. His sense of humor was part of the person and not the patient with this massive dose of anti-inflammatory liquid slipping through veins.

His lips were tight against one another trying not to show me discomfort as the treatment ended with the needle being pulled from his tender vein. Tape, over a cotton ball, covered the spot that would be assaulted again in six weeks, and repeated over and over and over and over.

At a prior session, he winced when his vein was missed several times in a row, and the inner arm began to swell, rebelling from the tech’s inability to insert the needle correctly. Still, with only that facial expression I caught (and the pain he endured for days until the swelling subsided), he didn’t cry out or spew words of anger or pity.

Blood tests seemed to be needed too often. I’d take him for those and planned something for him afterwards; same vein withdrew blood as accepted bags of medicine. I began to notice his body language, and the way he paced waiting for his turn at the lab; he didn’t show anger or repressed fear but allowed me to view how he dealt with such by simply pacing. Only later did we talk about this.

Later was already into years; the flow of the infusion was faster as his body had accepted the medicine so the time was shorter; I was also getting older and uncomfortable in the chair and joked, “You should sit in the little wooden one and trade places so I could have the padded plastic cushions, but you could keep the treatment as your veins are used to being punctured.” The back of his hand was beginning to be serviced so the vein where the elbow bends could ‘rest.’

The larger version of Scrabble took two hours, and that gave us an hour to just talk. Kevin began insisting I rise, stretch, walk around the room once or twice. He was taking care of me.

Middle school, high school, college, profession. We talked about values and wants that differ from dreams. I so hoped to see this man have someone to reach out for and whose very presence will make him feel safe, and vice versa, as I have with my husband.

The 2020 pandemic ceased my in-person time, but the treatments are ongoing; he telephones to tell me he’s okay. A good outcome of the stay-in-place world was his online correspondence with a local woman who, as it turned out, did her first couple of years of undergraduate school at the same university Kevin had attended. While they’d never met there, they could talk about the campus with a common knowledge. It was a beginning.

November 2021, he had a day’s role as bridegroom. My husband and I were quietly joyous knowing there is a real hand for bride and groom to hold in good and not-so-good future times. And if the global virus ever gets quiet enough that the infusion center allows other than only patients, I might be unable to accompany him in person.

Socrates said ‘you know yourself by watching yourself.’ I learned a lot about myself, from our uninterrupted scheduled time, watching this child grow into manhood because of a squishy plastic bottle of solution that has kept his chronic condition in remission. I noticed his patience and understanding of what can’t be changed, and how he will always deal with that. He appreciated my respect for his confidential information, and my presence to make the procedure seem to pass a bit faster.

“Ouch.” I looked at the calendar as I removed another month. Same word but different association. I said this aloud in my house, and then smiled.

Lois Greene Stone, writer and poet, has been syndicated worldwide. Poetry and personal essays have been included in hard & softcover book anthologies. Collections of her personal items/ photos/ memorabilia are in major museums including twelve different divisions of The Smithsonian.
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