The Gingerbread Man

By JULIE SMITH | Published: March 7, 2010

The nurse was gowned and gloved in the middle of the intricate exercise of exchanging intravenous bags, white for red.

“Here comes the ‘The Cinnamon Man.”

“Why do you call it ‘The Cinnamon Man’? the nurse asked.

“Cuz it’s reddish and it’s going to get me.”

He looked up at the bag hanging two feet to his left. The liquid dripped down…down through the needle embedded in his left hand…through his vein and then throughout his body. He shut his eyes and shook, nausea conceived.

“We’ve been through the education part of the treatment, Jack. This is probably going to save your life.”

“You’re probably a good nurse, Roz, but it’s scaring the shit out me.”

Jack looked around. He was seated in a converted, two-bedroom hospital room with two of the worst pictures hanging on the wall he could imagine. To his left hung a watercolor of barnacles in Maryland; to his right was a faded, black and white photo of a frozen stream with a dusty black, frame which silently yelled, “I’ve seen a lot around here.”

The furniture was a hodge-podge of 70’s through to 90’s. The depressing part was the walls; which reflected mustard yellow. The ageing beige, linoleum floor supported cheap tables where out-of-date magazines were neatly stacked.

“I don’t know why you just don’t call chemo The Gingerbread Man. Don’t you like ginger, Jack.”

“Nope. Hate it.”

“Too bad because it’s good for your chemo…helps with the nausea.”

“You ever been out in the South Altantic during a storm? We gulped ginger like it was candy. Talk about sick...”

A middle-aged woman, dressed like Julie Andrews trudging through the alps, came through the door.

“Hello Roz.”

“Hello Helen.”

The woman looked over at Jack and smiled.

“Hi, I’m Helen and your…?”


Nurse Roz pulled over a intravenous unit next to Helen and gently put the needle in a portal in her upper left chest.

“This is my first time here. Kinda scared and all,” Jack said trying to fill in the silent space.

“You’ll get used to it. After the first time it gets better,” Helen smiled as she nervously replaced her hands on the arms of the chair. Don’t look like she’s getting any better to me.

“I’m all bundled up. Look, I have a pump which does shift work.” She pulled up her sweater to show him a canvas bag about the size of large wallet hanging from her waist.

Shit, this is nutzo!

Jack didn’t know what to say. “Um, your…?”


Jack looks at Roz and she looks back and smiles. “Everybody is different, Jack. So don’t go comparing and asking questions because it will just confuse you. Helen comes in twice a week; has been for 12 weeks, isn’t that right, Helen.”

“Yes. And I’m so excited. I get rid of the pump tomorrow.” Jack starts humming the melody of The Gingerbread Man. He can’t help himself.

“This is suppose to take two hours?” Jack asked.

“Yes, but don’t forget we had an ‘education’ period.”

Roz goes over to Helen, removes the needle from her portal and swabs her down. Jack looks worried.

“Hey, she’s only been here 15 minutes.”

“Everybody’s different Jack, remember? You’ve got Fluorouracil, Epirubicin and Cyclophosphamide. Helen’s is all-together different.”

By now, Jack is tripping-out on his own adrenalin. Powerless, watching red, toxic chemicals pour into his body, he starts to get the shakes. He starts singing:

Now open the oven to see if he's done,
This gingerbread man, he know how to run.
Out of the oven and onto the floor,
Now run away out the kitchen door.
The gingerbread man, he's out of the pan!

As he reached the end, his eyes were wide open, his pulse felt like a Geiger counter set in yellow cake, and he was in full panic. He jerked the tubing out of his hand and yelled, “I can’t stand this any longer!” and ran out the doorway.

“My Lord, Roz. I’ve never seen that before. What’s going to happen to him?”

“Happens occasionally. He’ll be back…has to. Doesn’t have a choice.”

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