A hostile letter from a reader made me stop and think about the torments of waiting that cancer patients endure: waiting for a doctor, waiting for radiation, waiting for the delivery of chemotherapy drugs, waiting through interminable infusions or transfusions, waiting for a scan or a biopsy, waiting for the results of a scan or a biopsy, waiting (sometimes starved and unclothed on a gurney in a hall) for surgery.
The email arrived the day after an essay I had written on cancer language appeared online. Without a salutation, it began, "I hate what I've read by you. Simple as that. Your style is dark and nasty." Let's just say that it did not get any better after that.
But toward the end my correspondent stated, "last week I needed to have a thoracentesis for a large pleural effusion" after a seven hour wait in an emergency room. "That's a serious systemic issue," she emphasized, especially for someone with metastatic disease and a shut-down lung who is forced "to sit five hours, then lie on a stretcher for two more and finally be transferred to a real bed at 4 a.m."
From this account, which triggered memories of my own experiences in the ER, I could interpret her fury at me as anger deflected from its primary source: distress at her condition and at having had to wait so long under such frightful circumstances.