I had already been through testing and diagnosis in Chicago but the tumor in my eye (ocular melanoma) was too large for their radiation equipment. I made plans to go to a world famous ophthalmologist in Boston who would oversee my treatment at one of the only two proton beam radiation facilities then available. After an earlier preliminary visit and minor surgery, I was back on a Boston bound plane to start the curative therapy. I had waiting for me a custom made hockey mask to hold my head while the radiation hit the right spot. It reminded me of the monster in “Friday the 13th.”
Flying to Boston for medical treatment was unnerving. Sitting on a plane while mechanics fiddled around with a mechanical problem preventing take off did not make me feel better. And of course it wasn’t at all relaxing to be told the reason for the delay was only one of the three toilets was working. After 30 minutes of failure to repair, the captain’s calm, authoritative voice announced, “Sorry about the delay. We’ve decided to get you good people out to Boston as soon as we can. But since we’re flying on only one toilet, we advise everyone to get off the plane, use the facilities, and please come back on. You will be able to go through a special security check point to get back on.” This did not bode well for my future.
Our plane eventually took off and arrived, a little late, at Logan airport. On the flight I tried not to think of needing a bathroom break which I never thought about on flights before. At the baggage carousel I had another surprise. My suitcase had not arrived with us. For some reason it would be on the next flight. Did my suitcase have a bathroom problem I didn’t know about?
“We’re very sorry Ms. Tippett, you can either wait for your luggage to arrive in the next couple of hours or it will be delivered tomorrow morning to your hotel.”
Hmm, wait hours so I can schlep it out to a cab and then heft it out of the cab and up to the Maple Inn’s front door or have door to door delivery service. One of the easiest decisions of the last few weeks. And not to worry. My carry on always has a change of underwear and a toothbrush.
The 10 day treatment plan was a short blast every other morning of proton beam radiation skipping the weekend. Fortunately, the radiation didn’t make me sick, but the March weather was cold and rainy so there wasn’t much incentive to walk around Cambridge, a nice college town. There were lots of book stores for browsing that helped pass some time. Otherwise, it was chatting with the other residents. Most of us were going through the same treatment so we had lots in common.
The inn had a resident cat. Gus, an orange marmalade, barrel of a cat made the rounds of us arranged on various chairs and settees in the sitting room. Sniffing at our feet and looking up into our faces for what? The first night after a complete circle, he made a wandering walk back to my feet, meowed and jumped up landing like a bomb in my lap. “Oof,” I wheezed.
From that moment, he seemed to belong to me, or more likely, he had staked me out as his possession. When I came back from treatment he’d run up to greet me, meowing furiously. As I sat, sipping tea and crunching the oatmeal cookies left out for afternoon snacking, he’d sit by my side, purring peacefully. When I gathered my belongings to head up to my room, he scampered up the stairs ahead of me and waited patiently by the door until I opened it.
The room was small with a double bed covered in a brown and rose colored quit. A peach club chair next to the bed was just wide enough for me to sit reading while Gus cuddled up to me. Sometimes if I was feeling tired, I stretched out on the bed to read. Again Gus stretched out next to me, one paw resting on my hip as if to assure himself that I would not leave without him knowing about it.
The second day, Martha the manager had explained his remarkable history. “Oh, that Gus. He’s quite a cat. He’s been hit twice by cars and I think the cars were worse off than he was.”
I laughed. “I can believe it. He’s sure a healthy looking cat. He must weigh, what, about 20 pounds?”
She corrected me. “25 ½ pounds at his last checkup. The owners try to keep him in at nights now. He’s not happy about it, but when he finds someone he likes, like he seems to have with you, he’s better about staying in.”
“I’ve never been a cat lover, but it is comforting to have him around me. His purring is very soothing.”“Good enough then. It seems you’re both helping each other.”
Gus stayed with me when he could until I finished my treatment plan and got ready to fly back to Chicago. I had been assured that the treatment should completely destroy the malignant tumor but of course I had worries.
As I checked out of the Inn, Martha was on duty again. “I hope everything goes well with you now. We don’t hear too much of what happens to our residents after they go back home. But usually we always get an update from the ones that Gus chose as a special friend. They always seem to believe his good luck rubbed off on them as they never had a recurrence of whatever problem they had.”
“Well, I’ll keep my fingers crossed that it happens to me too.”
And I guess it did because it’s now been 7 years since I was at the Inn and I’m still in Chicago and Gus is still at the Inn.