By Mark E. Snith
When I first met Chris at the medical center, I wasn’t sure what was up with him.
Chris sat next to me awaiting blood work. He was in his early 30s, with dreadlocks and crazy-colored basketball ball shoes. A sweatshirt and sagging pants rounded out his urban look.
His first words to me were, “Do you go up and down in your chair for fun?” observing my power wheelchair’s elevating seat that takes me from sitting to standing height.
I gave him my standard answer, that it’s really about increased independence and social inclusion.
“I get that,” he said with enthusiasm. “But, if it were me, I’d be going up and down all day long for fun.”
I wasn’t sure what to make of him. His comment seemed a bit odd but totally sincere. At that moment, though, a nurse came out and embraced Chris with a big hello. I’ve learned that, in medical settings, you can tell a lot about a patient by the way nurses respond to him or her. You sense who’s “family. “
With both of our blood work done, we waited for the results and I observed the way Chris interacted with everyone at the center. Medical centers typically aren’t upbeat affairs. No patient wants to be there and so jovial, happy people like Chris are not the norm. He was as though a door had opened and released all tension in the center as he fluttered about with smiles and greetings for all.
Children are rare at the medical center I attend. It’s not for pediatrics, so children are only there to support a loved one or brought by caregivers who don’t have babysitters. However, there’s a large, commercial aquarium in the waiting area, where children inevitably gather to watch the myriad of fish.
As a little girl stood staring at the fish tank, Chris walked up. He was twice her height, and you could see their reflections in the fish tank as they both stared into the glass, side by side.
“Have you ever tried to count fish in a tank?” Chris asked, pointing at the mixed pool of fish. “Watch…”
Chris began counting the fish one by one, and soon they scattered, to where he could no longer count them.
“You try, “ he said, and she did, the fish scattering again. “See, it’s impossible,” he said and the little girl laughed.
Chris’ girlfriend was with him, and as we waited, he’d jump on the other side of a glass partition and make funny faces. I couldn’t stop watching him and smiling.
Soon, both our names were called for our respective appointments. The center has a giant room with cubicles that administer various care. However, there are four private suites for those with more complex needs or privacy concerns. Based on my situation, cerebral palsy and all, I get a private suite for something as simple as a shot.
As my wife and I entered our private suite, Chris and his girlfriend entered the one next to us. Several nurses followed him in with a cart full of medical supplies like I’d never seen. He told me earlier that he had both multiple sclerosis and cancer – and the suite and the nurses and the cart hit it home to me, with heart-sinking gravity.
One could easily wonder about Chris, how is it that someone facing such profound health conditions and a seemingly unknown future can move through the world with such carefree joy?
In Chris and others, I’ve witnessed the answer: It’s not how much or how little we’re given in life, but how we view it all.