The On-Call-Ogist

When I was a little baby nursing student, as part of hospital orientation, we were given a tour of the place.  Emergency room, check.  Operating room, check.  Labor and delivery, nursery, medical floor, surgical floor, check.  Oncology…our tour guide paused.

“Does everyone know what that is?”

Well, everyone did not, but all my peeps were nodding sagely and I wasn’t about to raise my ignorant hand.  I desperately tried to remember how my SAT prep taught me to analyze unknown words.  With a flash of pure brilliance, it came to me.  This is where doctors hung out when they were ON CALL.

Fast forward thirty-five years.  If I were having a heart attack or a baby, or got my boob caught in the chainring of my mountain bike, I’d be the girl in the know.  My choices of nursing specialties, though, although broad and interesting, didn’t include working with cancer patients.  I don’t know nothing ’bout carcinoma, Miss Scarlett.  But that’s rapidly changing.

I met my on-call-ogist yesterday.  She’s an earthy, open-hearted Indian woman who speaks frankly and knows her stuff. And I’m even learning the vocabulary.  Neutropenia.  Radioisotope.  Cranial prosthesis.  (“Huh?”  It’s a wig, she explained, not a prosthetic head.)

Opening the door and walking into your oncologist’s office for the first time is like taking a deep breath and stepping off a cliff.  The ocean’s down there, but you sure hope someone can catch you before that nasty crash onto the rocks.  The receptionist was a tiny African-American woman with an East Texas accent.

“Good morning,” she said.  “You’re in a good place.”

What a fellowship, what a joy divine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
What a blessedness, what a peace is mine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

Elisha Hoffman, 1887


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