A post by writer Ronnie Hammer:
I shivered in my thin, standard hospital gown as I lay on the table in an oncology ward, awaiting my first radiation treatment for breast cancer.
Everything I saw as I looked around terrified me: the huge, cold, threatening machines and the gowned, gloved, masked hospital doctors and nurses.
I felt alone and outnumbered. If only I could see a familiar face, hear a friendly voice or squeeze a supportive hand I’d feel so much better.
But no humans are permitted in the radiation room.
A sudden thought popped into my mind; if I couldn’t have the company of a real person, why not take a lesson from nursery school children and do what they do?
I could invent my own private friend and protector.
Who should it be modeled after? Who should it look like? What should it do?
Perhaps my enchantment with “Upstairs Downstairs” influenced my choice, but I decided my pretend friend would be a six inch tall British gentleman. “I’ll give him a funny name that will force me to smile whenever I think of him.”
And so Percy Puddlethorpe was created.
Then I designed an outfit for him: a little waistcoat, ascot and appropriate bowler hat. He carried an umbrella under his arm.
And then it happened; the radiation machine was turned on. It was a startling, loud, irritating sound.Those noises seemed to Percy’s call to action. He sprung up and stood on top of the radiation machine. I was astonished as I watched Percy open his umbrella and float down on it.
At the point before my face , he paused, tipped his hat, smiled at me, and continued on his way. His sweet smile was so warm and infectious that it caused me to reflexively smile back at him.
His destination was to the cancer cells, where he joined the radiation rays in their partnership to defeat their common enemy.
Percy closed his umbrella, transforming it into a long, sleek shape of a sword. With the “umbrella sword” in his hand he assumed the “En Garde” position.
He jumped into action, stabbing the cancer cells, as he parried left and parried right, lunging, thrusting, advancing and retreating until all the cancer cells were gone. Defeated. Decimated. Percy emerged victorious.
I might be the first cancer patient who smiled, almost laughed and practically cheered when the machine was turned off.
I was elated; I felt like hugging Percy in appreciation for his victory.
And he came with me to every treatment. I never even had to call to remind him!
If you can believe a woman smiling at a pretend person that she invented, then you understand the reality that this vision had for me.
Months later, when all the treatments and follow up doctors’ appointments were over, my husband and I were eating breakfast one morning. He looked up from his newspaper and said, “You were talking in your sleep last night.”
“Really? What did I say?”
“You said, ‘I love you, Percy.’ ”
Giveaway: For a chance to win Ronnie’s book, En Garde: My Battle with Breast Cancer, please leave a comment by May 1 saying you’d like to win!
Ronnie Hammer’s essays have appeared in the Metropolitan Diary section of the New York Times. She has written for the Jewish News, The North Jersey Orchid Society Journal and Executive Female Magazine. She leads the Madison branch of Women Who Write and is co-editor of Goldfinch, the annual literary magazine it publishes. It has published three of her stories.
Ronnie was director of Power Presentations, a public speaking company, for 22 years. She lives in Morristown, NJ with her husband; their three grown children sought greener pastures.