It is 16 steps to my Jeep from the front door - I've parked in front of the attached garage at the end of my parents' blacktop driveway because - as the designated driver - I like to be close to the front door.
We drive for about 15 minutes to arrive at the hospital entrance, exiting the expressway to turn right, then right again, then right once more before pulling into the circular driveway at the entrance. I greet one of the four valets and tuck my claim ticket in the pocket that holds both my phone and Mom's on the outside of the mini hipster bag I wear across my body.
We take 3 steps to enter the building, smile at the security and information workers, then the red-vested volunteers, and take 38 steps to the radiation oncology doors just before the elevators. Receptionist smiles at us when we open the door and sometimes we sit for a few moments in the waiting room off to the left.
Other times, we're waved back into the department, making another 18 steps to the changing room where Mom removes her shirt and bra and dons the hospital gown with the opening in the front - like a robe. I hold the robe for her, helping her ease her arms in and smoothing it over her shoulders.
It's a mere 7 steps to the inner waiting room where we sit, side by side, and hold hands until Radiology Technologist comes to fetch us, his bearded face eased into a gentle smile as we say hello.
We walk, still side by side, the 20 steps to the CT scanner and I hold her arm as she sits on the table. Used to the process, I help her remove the robe from her left arm and fold down the netting that surrounds her torso, holding the gauze in place. RT puts on gloves to remove the dressing after placing 2 warm blankets at the end of the table. I place one of her body, making sure to cover her feet, even if they're wearing shoes. Then I take the 4 steps around the table to hold her right hand as RT arranges her, positioning so that the green lasers match their crosshairs to the markers on her skin.
Once done, I smooth the other blanket over arms she places over her head. I tuck the ends, as RT showed me, around her head and over her chest so that only her face peeks out into the frigid room. And I soothe her, sometimes praying, others chatting, as her lower lip quivers from a mixture of low temperature and high anxiety.
Doctor and Physicist enter, peering at the catheter that exits her breast before nodding at RT. I take 8 steps to leave the room, closing the door gently behind me only after I deposit a kiss on Mom's forehead and remind her that (1) God's with her, (2) I'm filled with love and pride for her and (3) I'm just outside while the CT is running.
I repeat those 8 steps in the reverse direction just a few minutes later, reaching to hold her hand and offering a glance of gentle impatience to RT if he hasn't removed the table from the machine and allowed her to drop her arms. Her arthritis is bothering her without her normal medications over the last 2 weeks. After Doctor and Physicist examine and nod over the CT display, I bundle her back in her robe and we waddle 14 more steps, like ducks in a row - RT with her fixation device, Mom holding her robe closed and me with a sheet and my bag across my body.
After unlocking two doors, we enter the HDR (High Dose Radiation) room, a smaller but warmer space where the cot awaits us. RT places her fixation pad and I smooth the sheet over the table before helping her adjust her robe again. He goes to fetch more warm blankets while I turn on the television in the corner - it's always tuned to the same hospital station. The one that shows nature scenes and plays soothing music. Mom likes that one.
She settles on the cot and I make sure she's covered and cozy and we sit together while waiting for Dosimetrist. She bustles in and plays with the radiation device - removing the spacers in the 7 tubes and connecting long cables to deliver the radioactive seed for the carefully-prescribed times. After the cables are all attached, I look at Mom - and she at me - and we exchange sad little smiles because it's time for me to leave.
I take two steps toward her and offer a kiss. "I'll pray out there," I always say, "and you pray in here." She nods and I take a few steps I don't count because I'm moving backward, keeping my eye on her and touching Dosimetrist to remind her to take good care of my mom while I'm forbidden from being in the room. Because I love her and she's special and she gets nervous - we both do - when I'm not there to be overprotective.
I move back to the inner waiting room to watch television fretfully. I know she's fine - she's been doing so well - but the waiting remains difficult for me. While I'm gone, she says they check the connections at least twice more before they all leave the room, the heavily shielded doors automatically clanging closed behind them.
"It's a little like a death chamber," Mom said after the first treatment. "Getting carefully set up and everyone checking you and then leaving while the doors close and leave you alone with God." I'd worry (well, I'd worry more) but when having tea with her Bible Study friend, she said it's the time she's closest to Christ - focused and reliant and quiet with only Him.
The treatment is short - less than 8 minutes - and then they unhook her and dress the radiation site where the device protrudes. Then they return her to me in the waiting room and we grin at each other as we move back to the dressing room to change, then back to the valet to wait on the bench, then back home to wait for the next treatment - whether it's that afternoon or the next morning.
She's done 6 treatments in 3 days thus far. We do two more tomorrow and her final pair on Monday.
Dad had his 7th chemotherapy treatment today and gets a week off next week. He's not been feeling well, but I hope and pray that it's doing some good. That this medicine is killing cancer even as it's making him mildly miserable.
He's down the hall in bed. Mom snuffles quietly on the couch across the living room. I'll soon go to bed early myself as we're due to take those same steps in the same order just before 7AM tomorrow.