“Madeline” by: Randy Boude
My footsteps echoed as I made my way through the winding halls. The VA hospital never felt so cold and dark. A janitor gave me a smile and said good morning. I smiled back and tried to sound as genuine as possible, and I wished him one as well. I really did want him to have a good morning, but I knew for me that would not be the case. Not by any stretch of the imagination.
On the drive to the hospital that morning, so many thoughts ran through my head. How long do I really have? Will I ever see my beautiful children again? What had each step I took in this life really meant? Was there a real purpose? Had I really accomplished anything? I'm 49, divorced three times, and was about to start my life over once again... only to find out that there may not be much life left for me to live. A lung disease with no known cure. I didn't even smoke! Why me? I don't want to die... I want to be there for my children and for Karry.
I made it to the room where I was supposed to go. I did not want to go in for my monthly treatment, but the alternative meant that I would struggle to breathe and take me away from what time I have left. So I went in. The nurse showed me to my special chair. The TV was on and there were several others sitting quietly in special chairs of their own. Most of them were there to receive chemotherapy treatments. Although I am usually a very social person, I tried not to say anything or even make eye contact. The treatment that I do monthly is to open up my veins around my lungs so that I can breathe better. It's a good thing, but the pain... oh the pain.
I looked up at the TV to try and find some distraction for what was about to happen. The nurse asked me to raise my arm as she used her razor and shaved the hair from beneath it. She warned that I would feel some discomfort as she pressed the needle through my skin and into my vein. Then it started... the fire, lava, and lightning started making it's way through the tube and into my body. It burned it's way throughout every part of me. I gritted my teeth, clenched my fist and fought very hard to turn away the tears that were begging to leave my eyes. I couldn't make out what was on the TV... I just wanted it to end. Each second felt like an hour, and I literally had three hours of this nightmare to go. Again all of those thoughts and doubts and fears that I had conjured on the drive over replayed in my mind. But now I added to them.
I thought about my brothers and how lucky I was to grow up with them. I thought about my wonderful mother, who still to this day tries to comfort and protect me. I thought about my beautiful children, and how deep my love for them is. I thought about Karry and my little two year old boy. My incredible friends each passed through my thoughts and how each person in my life had affected me. But how had I affected them? Have I done enough? Was I good enough? Did I in any way make any of their lives better? Would they miss me when I'm gone? So now the tears were really fighting to get out. I had compounded that excruciating physical pain with an emotional pain that made the first one seem like a tickle.
It was just then, right in the middle of a perfectly good pity party, that I felt it. A hand was patting my hand. This hand was soft and small... like the hand of a child. I opened my tear filled eyes and turned my head to see this hand. I followed it up the little arm and to these big brown sparkling eyes. My gaze was met with hers. She looked to be about eight years old, and I knew right away why she was there. The fact that her perfect little head had no hair gave it away. She smiled, patted my hand and said “It gets better you know.” Her voice was like a beautiful little pixie. Almost a whisper. The father in me took over for a moment and I said: “I'm sorry sweetie... boys are whimps. We're not tough like girls.” She said: “I know... all boys are like that... well all but my Daddy.” She went on to tell me that her Dad was over in Iraq, and fighting for our country. I immediately agreed with her... yes her Dad was no whimp. She told me that she has to come in there all the time and get treatments, and that at first she was scared, but the more she did it, the easier it got for her. She assured me that I too would come to grips with my pain and fear. We talked as we both received our treatments and time flew by. The pain was on a back burner as I listened to this wonderfully brave little soul. She told me about her dog and her play house in the back yard that her father built for her before he left. Her eyes got brighter when she spoke about him. Her stories were filled with sunshine and laughter. She said she liked to sing so I told her that I was a singer too. She smiled so big and said that she only knew a couple of songs and drives her Mom crazy by singing them over and over. She said her name was Madeline, and asked mine. She asked me if I had any children so I told her about each one of them including Sam, the little boy I had lost. She told me that God must have really needed a special Angel. Then she tried to remember all of their names, but I think nine was too many for her.
My needle was removed and I stood up to leave. She reached out her hand for me to shake it, and said “I hope I see you on my next visit.” I told her that I would look forward to it and maybe I could teach her a song. She said she would like that very much. Her mother who had been in and out talking on the phone gave me a sincere smile as I walked out waving at Madeline. On the way to the car and as I drove back home, all I could think about was the courage and grace this little girl possessed. I've been on this earth for 49 years, and I've had so many blessings, but had only been thinking about poor me. An eight year old cancer patient showed me what the world looked like through her eyes, and it was beautiful. She was absolutely positive that everything was going to work out just fine for both of us. My prayers from now on will include little Madeline, and as I thank God for the many blessings that he's given this undeserving man, I will thank him for the hand of a little Angel who patted my hand and touched my heart forever.