top of page

The Aquarium (repost from my old blog)

"Mommy, I miss Nana"

My 3 year old told me he missed his Nana today on the way to preschool and asked to go see the fish in her room. I broke down, usually I can handle this and tell him I miss her too. I tell him even though she is gone to the spirit world, that she is always with us. That he can talk to her anytime he wants and she will hear him.

The fish he was referring to are the ones in the aquarium at the cancer clinic. The cancer clinic is a bright room that overlooks a courtyard in the middle of the hospital, when you walk through the acute care wing, you turn down the hallway on the right and arrive to a big room on the left. When you walk in the first thing you notice is a fish aquarium that sits underneath the wall of windows straight ahead, there is a chair for family members on either side of the tank. There are fish in there swimming about, back and forth, back and forth.

On your immediate left is the nurses desk, a kind chemotherapy nurse is there. Waiting for the next patient to arrive. There are 4 big patient chairs in the room, each with their own IV stand beside them. Two on the left side of the room, two on the right. The IV stands hold bags of medicine with a UV protection bag covering them-that's the chemotherapy medicine. The tubes from the bags run down the stand and into the arm or chest of the patient in the chair. Just beyond the chairs on the right was a patient bathroom. I hate hospitals, but this room's bright light and being able to see greenery outside made it tolerable. The energy in there though, punched you in the gut when you walked through the door.

When I brought my Mom to this room for the first time, it was just her and I. She had just healed from her surgery that implanted a port-o-cath just beneath her skin on the right side of her chest. This was for easier and quicker access to the main vein for chemotherapy delivery. The nurse directed her to her chair and explained the process to her and I. I watched my Mom intently as she listened to the nurse's instructions and made sure she understood. She had already lost her hair from 5 days straight of full brain radiation three weeks earlier and was wearing her favorite green toque to match her pale green sweater and colorful flowery scarf. Mom always loved to dress up nice when she left the house, going to a chemotherapy appointment was no different. Between the brain tumor and the radiation of her brain, Mom sometimes had a hard time remembering things so I made sure I was listening too. Mom smiled and agreed with everything Nurse Faith was saying, my gosh she was so beautiful.

Despite the circumstances, Mom made sure she was always friendly and smiling. Being a nurse for 40 years, she had a soft spot for other nurses. She treated everyone with such kindness and respect. Another Nurse Leah inserted a needle into Mom's port-o-cath and couldn't quite get through the skin, she was being gentle. Faith came over to help and popped the needle through Mom's skin and she didn't even flinch, she looked at me flinching and told me it didn't hurt. Mom didn't want me to worry about her at all. The other three seats were occupied with patients either dozing off or reading a book. I smiled at all of them, but I couldn't help but feel sorry that they were there, that we were there. As Mom settled into her chair and the drip began slowly entering her body through her chest, I looked to her for comfort when I should have been providing her comfort. She smiled and I fake smiled back. I looked at the fish, they swam back and forth, back and forth.

A memory from my childhood flashed through my mind. We were in Florida, December 1989. It was the year our family and another family went to Disney World and Florida keys for Christmas. I was 10, my brothers 15 and 18. We drove there from Nova Scotia, my Dad never flew us anywhere that he could drive to, even if it meant driving through snow storms all along the Eastern seaboard. I am sure Mom probably freaked out a few times on the way down. We spent four days in Disney then moved from a hotel to a condo in Key Largo, it was Christmas time and I don't remember much of that trip except for the fish. There was a canal between rows of houses and condos. Every property had water access for boats. The condo sat on stilts, carport underneath and just behind the carport was an in ground swimming pool. Around the swimming pool you could walk down some stairs and you would be standing over the water on a wooden dock, or was it a wharf? I don't know the difference. I remember standing there, in awe, of all of the beautifully colored fish swimming around in the crystal clear water. There were blue fish, purple fish, yellow fish, orange and white fish. Just swimming about, back and forth, back and forth.

I was feeling pretty happy in that moment, remembering our family together. I was brought back to the chemotherapy dripping into my Mom's chest. She had her eyes closed now and I could only imagine what she was thinking about. I know she was so hopeful that she would get better. I wanted to be hopeful too but my intuition was preparing me for the worst.