The symptoms of “White Coat Syndrome,” for those of you who don’t know already, are abnormally high blood pressure, cold sweats, an imperceptible inner trembling and a totally blank mind— plus an urge to get up and run out of the building before your doctor enters the room.
I never felt that way until a physical examination a few years ago disclosed a serious condition. The bad news was unexpected because I had been remarkably healthy for most of my life and I guess it never occurred to me good health doesn’t continue forever. However, from that day on, I embarked on treatments involving surgeries, chemical drips, radiation, and injections, all the procedures undertaken to kill an aggressive cancer without killing the patient.
Early on, it was my custom to run up the stairs to the doctor’s second floor office, jaunty and whistling, but after more and more treatments, I lost the whistle and could barely summon up the strength to push the elevator button.
I’m not alone. The oncology ward is full of patients in much more distress than I, but logical reasoning has nothing to do with a wayward mind. Sleepless nights and anxious apprehension are always on call and sometimes occur for no obvious reason.
There are several important factors in my life that keep me going: caring family, stalwart friends and a sense of humor.
“And, what’s so funny about being sick?” you ask. Logically, nothing — but walking back to get dressed after treatment, I caught a glimpse of myself, a skinny, old, white-haired lady in a way-too-big garment (I refuse to call it a gown) split indecently down the back and held together by a couple of shoe strings, wearing hospital slippers and my own contribution, a pair of pink knee-high socks adorned with butterflies. Hey, what’s not to laugh at?
One day, a funny thing happened to me on the way to the Oncology Clinic. I was having a simple procedure, an inoculation given by a nurse. “I’ll be in and out like a yo-yo,” I told the Cambria’s Anonymous Neighbors chauffeur kind enough to drive me to Templeton.
The clinic was full of patients coming and going, shuf-
fling cautiously, walking with strollers and canes or being pushed in
wheelchairs. Everywhere the bustle of activity. My nurse found a spot for me in a small office in the rear and behind an open door to another section. She put me on a lounger, injected the chemical, then said, “This is a new substance and we want you to stay here for at least half an hour to make sure you don’t have an unsatisfactory reaction.
“Just relax,” she said while tucking a blanket around me and turning off the light.
Did I mention that it was my custom to take an anxiety pill (I call them my Woody Allen pills) before going to appointments? The pills calm me down. I was extremely comfortable in the lounger, under the blanket and in the twilight room; I fell asleep.
Almost an hour passed. The CAN driver was distraught. People were coming and going, but no Margaret,
He asked at the desk. The receptionist looked at the log ... everyone has to sign in, and there was my signature.
There was also Marcy Herick registered. She logged in but had already left.
“No, no,” the CAN driver said. “The women I brought here is Margaret Sherick, not Marcy Herick. I saw Margaret go in and she has not returned She couldn’t leave without me.”
The nurse who gave me the injection had left the clinic; probably the end of her shift. The nurses ran around calling my name and asking patients if they had seen me. All shook their
heads. I had disappeared. No one thought to look in the little office behind the door.
I woke up. I had no idea how much time had passed. I felt wonderful. Just as the office staff was ready to call security, I opened the door and asked, “Can I come out now?”