I made an appointment with Dr. Willowby to discuss the job offer he mentioned when we were in Toronto at the restaurant The Sloth And Spoon. At the conclusion of the meeting Dr. Willowby informed me that I might want to know more about what goes on in the control room. He gave me a “preliminary” list of books to read. He went out of his way to say that it was pretty dry reading material. When I asked why he called the material “dry” he answered in true Willowby fashion.
“I won’t lie to you. You’ll either find the books fascinating, and you’ll crave more, or you’ll discover the cure for insomnia. They’re the kind of books you can’t get enough of, or your eyes will start to glaze over and you’ll spend forty-five minutes on the first page. These are in no way to be considered mandatory reading. If you like being a member of the Zap Squad and want to know more these are what I’d suggest as a “primer”. If you zip right through them, and want to know more just tell me and I’ll gladly pull some more copies from the staff library. But I warn you right here and now the ones from the hospital library will have a more of a medical “slant” to them so if you have any questions just write them down along with the book title and the page number and I’ll do my best to answer any and all questions.” He closed the file folder in front of him, clasped his hands together, and leaned forward on his desk.
Now may I ask you some questions. When we met with Buddha in the city he called you “Crusher” a few times. May I know ask what that’s all about?”
I told him it had to do with headlock I put the mayor in and my bad temper.
“If I were you I’d lose the nickname “Crusher”. Think of it as a leftover from a previous life. The time you spent in the city. Since you came up north and moved in with Peter I’ve seen nothing, I repeat nothing, not even the time you tried to disassemble Miss Nosy, to warrant such a nickname. Think of working here, up north, as the start of a new life. A happier life.
I had to agree with him. Since I moved up north and since I moved in with Peter I was happier. Happier than I’d been in my entire life.
He took me up to Human resources where I had to fill out a bazillion forms. When I came to the section about who referred me I put Dr.Willowby’s name. Before he left me to fill out the first form he had some last minute comments for me. “Try to remember that you’ll be working in the control room on parole. You’re not a bona fide employee yet. The parole system allows you to check us out and for the control room staff to check you out. When you’re finished I’ll get together with the staff and we’ll talk about what happened. But from I’ve seen already I’m pretty sure you’ll like us and we’ll like you.”
When I was in the hospital bookstore I got the three texts Dr. Willowby recommended to me. I took them home only to discover that I knew much less than I thought I did about cancer and radiation. I think the hardest book to read was about when kids get cancer. Peter was surprised I was so fascinated by the whole subject. So was I. He picked up my copy of “When Kids Get Cancer”, read the back cover, curled up in his favorite chair and randomly read a few chapters. He started scowling at the words on the pages.
“If you can read half of this without falling asleep you’re a better man than I Gunga Din”.
“I’m going to read all of it.” I quickly replied
I just hoped I hadn’t bitten off more than I could chew. I just wish there was one all-encompassing text. A sort of Zapping For Dummies.
I didn’t want to be responsible for Peters car so I took my own. He was still too weak to drive himself, and he agreed that his hand-eye coordination was still not what it should be. I didn’t want to spend a small fortune every week eating at the hospital so I chose to brown bag it. Peter had prepared a roast beef sandwich for me complete with a Jello pudding cup and a can of Coke. He put everything in a small brown bag and put in the fridge. He wrote “Carter” on the bag in really large print. But nothing prepared me for my first day in the control room. I was on parole. I wasn’t an employee but I wanted to find out if this is what I really wanted to do. To be on parole a doctor in the radiation department had to recommend me. And that doctor was Dr. Willowby. I was the new kid in the control room. Everybody else was at least ten years older. I felt very out of place for the first few hours, especially when the senior members of the control room insisted on calling me “kid”. Then a ten-year-old boy with a brain tumor came in for his first radiation session. And it was obvious that he was terrified. Everyone in the control room tried to calm him down. And failed. He was simply too scared. I got down on my knees so we were eye level. I spoke in a slow, soft tones.
“Are you a fan of Batman or Superman?” I asked Kenny.
“Batman is a lot better than Superman. He can do lots of things without superpowers and drives a neat car too.” he replied.
“What do you think of the Joker? I saw The Dark Knight with my boyfriend and I thought he was kind of creepy”.
I asked anxious to keep the dialogue going. He was still scared. For this to really work he had to want to be here. I tried comic book therapy.
“If I could get someone to paint Batman on the mask do you think you’d be as strong as Batman for me?”
“You’d be aces Cassie” and he hugged me. That hug was better than a pay check.
I lifted Kenny up and put him on the table. Afterward, I put my hand on his shoulder and looked him right in the eyes.
“The mask we’re going to using today will be temporary and by your next session, you’ll be Batman. Is that all right with you?” He nodded vigorously.
Now for the hard part. I just had to find someone to paint Batman on the mask. After the short session, the control room leader took me aside.
“Thanks for getting the kid calmed down but where are you going to find someone to paint the mask? It has to be done in less than twenty-four hours.” As soon as my shift ended I jumped in my car and sped into the city. I went to CKMT and straight to Buddha.
“Can I borrow Kenzi for a bit? I’d like to her to paint Batman on this radiation mask” I asked him. Buddha took one look at it turned green and fell backwards into his chair. Buddha glowered at the mask.
“Good God. Is that what Peter had to wear?” he asked. I explained that his mask was larger but essentially the same. “Gives me the creeps just looking at it”. I told him the one I had with me was for a ten-year-old boy with brain cancer. “What ever you need. Go for it.”
Kenzi was the webmaster behind the CKMT website. When she wasn’t working on the website she loved to doodle and paint. She also loved kids. When I went to the web site offices I found her with her nose in a comic book, playing with her hair and chewing gum. She sort of looked like Pippi Longstocking. I explained what I needed. When she saw the mask she just about drooled all over it.
“Oh, ya! Is that a texture or what? I’d love to get my mitts on that”.
Kenzi could do anything. She was also ambidextrous. I explained what it was and who it was for. When I asked her how much it would cost I broke out my cheque book. She explained that this was free on the condition I get her other masks. I thought it sounded sort of ghoulish but I was on the clock. Plus if she took all the masks that were no longer being used I’d free up a lot of space. Six hours later I had my mask. While I was waiting for the mask to dry I phoned Peter to let him know I was going to crash at my old apartment. Just as his phone began to ring I realized I had completely forgotten to tell him I was going into the city. He was sick with worry. After a well deserved talking to (Short too. Peters’ throat was still very sore so it wasn’t much of a harangue) I went to my old apartment. Batman sat in a chair while I slept. The next day I drove back to the hospital with an escort from the Ontario Provincial Police. They pulled me over for speeding. But when they saw the mask in the front passenger seat, and I explained “it’s for a kid who has cancer” they gave me an escort all the way from Barrie to Lindsay. I got back with one hour to spare. When I showed the mask to Kenny he was all smiles. And his fear was gone. If you look very carefully on the inside of the left ear you would have seen a small message from Batman to Kenny. And on the inside of the right ear was a thumbnail-sized painting of the CKMT logo.
News about the “new kid” rapidly spread. And it was all positive. I quickly became known as “The Mask Lady”. Boys were asking for masks of Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America. Girls were asking for masks of Barbie, Squirrel Girl, Wonder Woman, and, in an odd twist, The Hulk. I was more than a little curious why a little girl would want a painting of The Hulk on her mask. The answer was perfect. “When my brother goes into my room I just want to smash him.”
When I returned to the control room there was a message that Dr. Willowby wanted to see me. I picked up a copy of the message. I read it. And wondered. I asked if anybody knew what this was about.
“I really don’t know but I have a feeling someone’s been a bad girl.” said one of the more senior nurses.
Some of the other members of the zap squad just snickered. They weren’t helpful at all. I tucked my tail between my legs and prepared to meet my doom. By the time I got to his office I had convinced myself that my “new” job was now my old job. His secretary, Delores, looked at me like she knew something. She had known me for months. Normally she was chatty and forthcoming. Not today.
When I asked her if she knew what Dr. Willowby wanted to see me about she was silent. “Delores, can you tell me why he wants to see me?” I asked.
Delores simply shook her head. She held up a single sheet of paper and wrote a few words on it.
“Dr. Willowby and the chief administrator of the hospital are meeting to figure out what to do with you.” Just then the door to the lions den opened. There was a rather thin man with crossed arms and a most unpleasant expression standing behind Dr. Willowby. Dr. Willowby sat in his office chair, fingers steepled. He looked at me like he was looking at a menu and I was the main course. He let a breath out, sighed, and crossed his arms. He suddenly spoke.
“Cassie Carter. I had such high hopes for you. Right now I just don’t know what to do with you…” He looked down at the surface of his desk dejected and disappointed.
It was official. I’d been canned. Two jobs in less than one year. I was really hoping for a steady pay check because it’s just not fair to Peter. Then the thin man spoke.
“Well I do. I’m Dr. Wilson and I’m the chief administrator at the hospital. You, Miss Carter are to get an immediate increase in pay. You’ve come up with a solution to a problem that’s be plaguing us for years. A solution that’s been right under our noses.”
I wasn’t sure what I was hearing. With one hand on Dr. Willowby’s desk I rose from the chair I’d been sitting in.
“Dr. Wilson, you mean I’m still on parole?”
“You gave this hospital the kick in the pants it needed to get off it’s complacent backside and get with the times. A lot of our patients are children. Kids with cancer. And they’re scared. And you’ve shown us how to take some of that fear away. If radiation masks frighten the stuffing out of grown adults just imagine what they do to kids. Dr. Willowby and I have discussed this matter at length and we want you to head the new mask decoration department. We want you to start putting together a computer database of comic book characters. If they’re from Disney we want them. The gang from Peanuts, Mighty Mouse. Everyone. Comics have been around for over one hundred years. And this hospital has a lot of catch up learning to do. Now, what I need to hear is if you want the job. Do you?”
I couldn’t believe my ears. From zero to hero in mere seconds. It was too much to take in all at once. I asked if I could think about it.
“We’d like to have answer in a week if that’s not too much trouble Cassie”
“You’ll have my answer in one week.”
…much more to come!