Saturday, November 28, 2009

Last words

Helen’s voice was soft on the phone, the words disjointed, unclear. When she quit talking altogether, I yelled to the front desk, Call 911 to her home!  Dogs barked frantically as help broke through her door.

Later that day, I spoke with her husband, reassuring him that she had faded out quietly, without fear, without pain.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

She's come undone

Kim was a math teacher until arthritis and toxic drugs got her number.  She arrived one day by cab, dirty, vomit-splattered, too weak and dehydrated to come inside.

I saw her at the curbside and sent her straight to the ER.

“She’s a math teacher,” I told the ER doc twice.  “This could be you or me.”

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Not really done for yet

“Done with defibrillators!” he declared in spring.

No shock when his heart quivered in November and dropped him to the floor.

A younger Ed clowned and smiled through his memorial slide show. In the final slide, yesterday’s Ed held his tiny grandson like a treasure in his lap, a comma not a period to his life’s story.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A lump in my throat as well

I struggled to keep my expression neutral as I stared at her breast in disbelief.  Peau d’orange the picturesque name, the red skin tense, dimpled by cancer.

“Let’s get a surgical consult,” I said, my voice light. “Today.”

Ten years later, she brought me a bottle of fine red wine to toast the joy of her survival.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Where's her village?

Marion, an ex-bank officer, still wears matching outfits--velour sweats instead of suits.  Eighty-plus, childless and prone to confusion, she cries over lost independence.

Her visiting nurse calls often with updates: “Forgets food and medications", "oxygen off", "legs swollen”.

A Midwestern brother visits.  He doesn’t phone, he leaves no plan.  Marion muddles on, missing meds and meals.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Lest we forget

“Where did you go to college?” I asked my new patient as I glanced through the records she’d brought.

“Kent State.”

Looking up, my heart rate accelerated as I put down my pen.  She was just my age.  “Were you there when...?”

“My roommate died in my arms that day.”

New tears for innocence and a life long lost.

Friday, November 20, 2009

For the birds...

She lumbered large to the exam room each visit, clutching penciled notes scrawled on tiny pages. I sighed to see her on the schedule, wondering anew if fibromyalgia really exists.

“So,” I said interrupting her litany, “Anything new in your life?”

“Why yes,” she said, “My cockatiel’s eggs have hatched, four babies!”

Our heads touched over pictures.

And I don't much like you either!

The surgeon exclaimed “I’m like you, let me die in the saddle!.  But I can fix this with a wide excision and bone grafts from your skull!”

Could he not see my husband’s face, pale and grimaced beneath the skin cancer on the bridge of his nose, body language screaming “I’m not like you at all.”

I've heard worse...

“I am so sorry to have to meet you under these circumstances.” The oncologist’s intro had been kind, the words that followed blunt: “undifferentiated carcinoma” “six months without treatment.”

Later, the waiter’s face was crestfallen.  “I’m afraid I have very bad news, we’re out of pate foie gras today.” We laughed so hard that we cried.

Why you haven't changed a bit!

My friend got up slowly from the waiting room chair, much transformed from six months ago.  Just my age, too skinny, her left knee puffed above her matchstick leg. As she settled in the exam room, I saw her hands were permanently flexed with arthritis.

"How are you?" I asked. 

"Just fine," she answered, "And you?"

Seeing I to eye

My heart sank.  An old patient on the schedule, Ms. Big Hair with Big Demands.

“Long time, no see,” I said, “How are things?” 

Lost job, big move, schizophrenic son, now menopause, insult on injury.  We talked, we laughed.  She’d found a sense of humor, and I my compassion.  Two moms with hot flashes and sons.

A touching story

He was doing a little dance on his feet like the college quarterback he probably once was. Then the doctor tackled a stool and sat with his hand on my husband’s knee, explaining the course of radiation therapy.

My husband’s folded arms and hunched shoulders screamed “Don’t touch me!”, unheard gestures in a cold, white room.