Edwina had a check-up with her oncologist, Dr. Harvey, today at Cooper Green. I headed out around 9:00 a.m. to pick up Edwina and Tyrone and dropped them off in front of the building while I parked the car.
As soon as I walked into Clinic E: Oncology, I spotted Charles.
It was Charles’s story that I had drawn on to open my story “Homeless with Cancer” in CR: Collaborations Results, because it revealed the absurdities of being homeless and having cancer at the same time. I described how Charles had been shooed away from a local clinic where he had arrived before the doors were officially open for the day. While Charles was intent on warming up from a night spent sleeping on a cold slab of concrete in a deserted warehouse before settling in for a round of chemo, the guards at the door figured he was a bum up to no good and tried to chase him out.
Charles looked the same today as he did almost four years ago when I interviewed him for the story and Sylvia followed him into his warehouse home and to other homeless digs throughout the city for photos. I have to admit I was surprised to see Charles looking relatively healthy. He was diagnosed with Stage IV colorectal cancer close to five years ago, and much of his survivorship has been spent living on the street.
Waiting for today’s chemo, Charles joined Edwina, Tyrone and me in the waiting room outside Clinic E.
He was the same old Charles, talking faster than any of us could understand him, entertaining us with vivid stories about people we knew (or didn’t, but Charles figured we should know what they’d been up to anyway).
He updated us on his brother, who’s a respected physician at UAB, and lighted up when describing the small apartment he’s currently renting (with the help of several subsidies). Charles said he liked the apartment because there was enough room for him to cook. I recalled that Charles had actually trained as a chef and worked at several popular restaurants around town before turning to the streets.
After twenty minutes of chatter, the nurse came looking for Charles to start his treatment. My eyes went from Charles to the side tables in the waiting room to scan for some reading material.
Copy upon copy of Forbes and Golf Digest. Really? At Jefferson County Cooper Green Mercy Hospital for the Sick Poor? The irony was rich.
But then I started thinking about Charles, and the many others like him who pass through the front door at the Coop. Educated. Witty. Raised in an environment of privilege. Mentally ill. A survivor of cancer and the streets. Defying simplicity.