Tub Thumping (Theme Songs in the Cancer Ward)

In which I discover that Pedro's cancer-fighting theme song is really a drinking ditty.

In which I discover that Pedro’s cancer-fighting theme song is really a drinking ditty.

I get knocked down, but I get up again!

Chumbawamba’s lyrics pounded out of the tinny CD speakers as the doctor came by on rounds. Pedro played the song after every round of ravaging chemo as a litmus test for hospital personnel. If they smiled, they were the good kind of doctor—the kind that didn’t take themselves too seriously.

The nurses usually laughed, and the song seemed to calm the nerves of fresh-minted interns. Of course, Pedro feeling well enough to play his theme song meant the patient was doing well—what doctor wouldn’t smile?

I leaned over and turned the music down so I could hear the doctor.

“Looks like you’ve been doing laps,” he said, glancing at the whiteboard where we kept track of Pedro’s daily walks around the cancer floor.

“One mile today.” Pedro nodded. Walking had never been Pedro’s preferred form of exercise—mountain biking, dirt-bike riding, windsurfing, and sailing kept him busy in his spare time. Until now. Exercise without adventure was just a burden. It hurt so much to walk laps around Eleven Long with him.

He: holding the IV pole loaded with saline, morphine, platelets or blood and a bendable magnetic dog named “Farthing” given to him by a sweet intern as a last-minute birthday gift.

Me:  shuffling at his pace, smile loaded and ready to aim.

He:  step by step, determined to do what he could to fight cancer, reduce the meds, get well, go home. Each step inspired by Psalms 18:1-6 carefully copied on notebook paper by our youngest daughter and taped to his IV pole.

Me: slow pace, slow conversation, mind moving at warp speed solving all the problems of our past and future, weighted down by the world of burdens, bills, work, and what-happens-nexts. Cancer rests for no one.

The doctor left; the nurse finished her tasks for the moment. But Pedro wanted to hear ‘his song’ again. I found the right track and pushed the play button. In the lull of busyness, I listened, really listened, to the lyrics for the first time. Up until now, he’d only played the introduction, and I had never heard the song in its entirety. I doubt he had either, for the angelic voices in the chorus caught me off guard.

This was no cancer-fighting theme song! It’s a song about drinking!” I thought as I tried to muffle my hysterical laughter (we were in a hospital, after all) while listening to Chumbawamba lament the woes of drinking too much,  “Pissing the night away…

“Some nights, that’s the truth of the cancer ward. Only it’s usually toxic urine that must be measured and recorded and dispensed with by a haz-mat team.” 

I hit the ‘stop’ button and turned to tell Pedro what I’d discovered, but his soft breathing signaled that he’d fallen asleep.  I would tell him later, during our next shuffle around the cancer ward.  And then we would laugh hysterically together, and then laugh even harder when everyone wondered what was making us laugh.


This post is part of the Not So (Small) Stories: Fourth Edition–where we write about ‘song’.

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