Saturday, November 12, 2011
My Sunday Feeling
The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) is one of the leading centers in the world for the treatment of this dreadful disease. I have heard that people show up on the steps of Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church with literally nothing more than a suitcase and a piece of paper that says "UAMS."
Ronnie and Alicia took a more conventional route although they decided to go ahead with a planned vacation to Albuquerque after their doctor back in Thibodaux gave the bad news to the kids and them. Their doctor told them to come to Little Rock. So when their vacation was over they pointed the RV East and headed to the People's Republic of Hillcrest where they knew not a soul to begin Alicia's treatment.
I received the news that I had strangers at the gate via-what else?-text message. My Tulane buddy Chris Riviere was deer hunting with a relative of theirs when he found out. He sent Mike Robichaux-the relative- an email with my contact information and copied me in on it. Chris sent me another text asking me to check on them.
Small world, non?
I met Ronnie last Sunday in the lobby of the Winthrop Rockefeller Cancer Center at UAMS. He was standing by the elevators. He had a Subway sandwich in one hand and a Toyota cap on his head.
"You must be Paul from Tulane."
"You must be Ronnie." We shook hands.
"How's it going?"
Tears. Oh God.
"It's hard, man," his Cajun accent pronouncing it hod , " It's been hard."
By now I'm crying too. Great. What a sight that must have been, two grown men and all. After we had composed ourselves we went up to see Alicia.
She was sitting in a recliner tethered to a pole. They found me a chair. I sat and held her hand. We got to know each other. Being a woman, she is tougher than either Ronnie or I. She told me about her kids and grandkids. She talked about how nice the folks at UAMS were. They both talked about how pretty they thought Little Rock was although Ronnie said he could do without all of the Hogs depicted everywhere. I advised him to keep those thoughts to himself. I also told him he was lucky that the only peoplein the room that understood his thick Cajun accent that delivered that observation were his wife and I.
"I know there is no cure," Alicia said as I prepared to leave. " But I hope this will buy me a little more time. I would like to spend more time with my family. To see my grandchildren grow some more. That's all I want. The doctors say it is treatable. That's all I want."
The biggest lie in the world is contained in the phrase "I know how you feel." Unless, of course, you know how someone feels. I can only imagine how lonely it must be for folks from rural Acadiana to be uprooted from their insular Cajun life and to be inserted into the booming buzzing confusion that is UAMS.
I am just happy that I can provide, through mutual friends in this small, small world, a tenuous connection to home. I understand them perfectly when they talk. Except on voicemail. Cajun voicemail so far is indecipherable to me. But that's OK. My pingy Arkansas accent probably hurts their ears. What's important is that we are all here for each other.
Like I told Ronnie, " I know everybody in this goddamn town and half of them owe me something. We're gonna get y'all some support." Not exactly the Beatitudes. But that's how I roll.
As I type this, Ronnie, Alicia and their son Greg are heading South having spent the night in Vidalia to break up the drive to Thibodaux. They will be back here in late November. By then, hopefully, I will have both the Catholics and the Methodists layin' for them. And I know a couple of female cancer survivors that I can sic on Alicia. The biggest lie in the world in the phrase "I know how you feel." They know how she feels.
Once upon a time I wrote-concerning the passing of Kurt Vonnegut of all things-that hope abides in the heart that loves. The days ahead will be hard indeed for my new friends. But Alicia loves her family and she loves her life.
And so hope abides.