Make way for the Cookie Ladies

Busy waiting room.

          It’s kind of tight in here.

If you’re not convinced we need a new cancer care facility in Calgary, just drop by the one we have.  I’d be glad to show you around, but we may need to push our way through the unrelenting crowds.  The tour won’t take long–it’s a fairly small area–but in case you can’t find parking (another space issue I won’t get into here), I’ll try to describe the setting for you.

The larger waiting areas are often standing room only, no matter the time of day.  Our longest wait is in an unadorned windowless basement hallway, where J. and I jockey for adjoining seats.  Nurses appear magically from the bowels of the building, shuttling waiting patients in and out of the few treatment rooms.  During one visit, one of these rooms was unavailable following a severely ill patient’s visit until housekeeping could sanitize it.  Another time, my doctor had scheduled twice as many patients–hers and those of a vacationing colleague–in the few available rooms.  Needless to say, such a lack of space combined with unavoidable appointment delays increases the hallway crowding.  Most patients are resigned to waiting among the masses because we know we need to be there.

Oh, I see the Cookie Ladies approaching!  (No, I’m not being sexist, I’ve just never met a Cookie Man.)   These gracious and generous volunteers regularly make their way through the restless crowds offering coffee, tea, juice, cookies, even crackers for those who can’t stomach much else.  They serve their hot drinks in china tea cups which they later retrieve.  (What could be better than not having to do our own dishes?)  If I’m there long enough, I may encounter them not just once but twice over the course of my visit.  I imagine if I asked for a second pack of cookies, they would comply.  (Truth: I have asked and they did provide, with a smile.)  The Cookie Ladies are a bright light in an otherwise dreary day, and if you look around, you’ll see hoards of smiling patients nursing a warm drink and a packet of unhealthy cookies.  I doubt I’m the only one who goes in search of the Ladies if they haven’t made their way to me within the first hour or two.  A visit to the cancer centre is just not the same without them.  Anticipating their presence helps the time pass, and enjoying their wares is the best distraction, for me at least, from why I am there.

I hope I’ve given you some sense of the need for more space for Calgary’s cancerous community.  If you happen to be involved in the design of the new building, please add more treatment rooms, larger waiting areas, and maybe even a few windows, if that’s not too much to ask.  But most importantly, make sure there are wider hallways so the Cookie Ladies can manoeuvre their carts more easily.  The easier it is for them to get around, the better my chances of scoring extra cookies each time I come.


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