My father just finished his third round of chemo for pancreatic cancer.
I got to sit with him during his appointment last Friday.
The port that delivers the chemo to his body sits on the right side of his chest. A tiny tube runs under his skin, through a vein, up over his collarbone, over to his left side, where medication can be delivered next to his heart and dispersed with the next heartbeat. Because it delivers medication straight to his heart, the port needs to not get infected.
On Friday, my father sat in a big chair and I sat in a smaller one in our corner of the cancer unit, separated from other patients by a curtain. A ponytailed nurse in a white top and blue scrub pants came through the curtain and said hello.
Her first task was to access the port.
She wheeled in a little metal table, topped with supplies, and began her sterile preparation. Watching her work was like witnessing a tiny orchestra.
First, the gloves, folded over at the wrist, so she could put on both without the gloves’ outer surface touching her skin. Then, she unwrapped each tiny piece of equipment, sterilized in plastic packaging. She laid each piece on the tray one at a time and then twisted the attachments and little tubes all together in what seemed a specific and expert combination. Then she stepped to my father’s chair and asked if he was ready.
I had never met this woman before. That morning, she had woken up and gotten dressed and driven to the hospital and I didn’t even know she existed. And years before this moment, she had decided to attend nursing school, trained for however many years were required for her to now carefully access a chemo port.
I had never seen this woman before and may never see her again.
But here she was, caring for my father.
How many nurses in how many hospitals were twisting together sterile tubes that would deliver medication right next to their patients’ hearts? How many people designed those tubes?—tested them, manufactured them, transported them, stocked them in the cabinet before the nurses set them on a metal tray?
The nurse stepped away for a minute and then returned with an IV bag that she hung on a hook above my father. I watched her in awe, this stranger who had so carefully made sure my father’s port did not get infected.
How many people move the world forward?
The nurse pressed buttons on the IV machine that someone had designed. It beeped with electricity that was generated somewhere I didn’t even know. We sat inside a building someone had built. Outside, my dad’s dar was parked in a lot that someone had paved. So many good and useful things in the world, carefully built and maintained by whole troops of strangers.
I sat in my chair, grateful for my father, grateful for all the people whose effort and time and expertise give him a greater chance to heal, grateful for every single person who gets out of bed and does their work that keeps the lights on and the food growing and the stores stocked and the world moving.
And grateful for you, for whatever your part is in keeping this thing going, for whatever you add to this world. Thank God you’re here.