I figured it wasn’t going to be good news when the nurse told me the doctor wanted to see me in his office before I left the clinic. When is it ever good news in situations such as these? Certainly in all of the movies I’ve seen and books I’ve read where the heroine gets called into the doctor’s office, you may as well prepare yourself for a sad, sappy ending. However, hope being eternal, I held on to the thought that, because he knows my husband and I have a small tax and accounting business, he merely wanted to discuss tax strategies.
I got my top on, shrugged into my jacket, and let myself out of the examining room. A nearby technician, strolling by with a zip lock bag of hard boiled eggs (lunch, I gathered), provided directions to the doctor’s office. Finding it, I rapped lightly on the closed door and waited for the “Come in” before pushing the door open and stepping inside. The doctor, who had been seated behind his desk, half-stood and beckoned me to a comfortable looking armchair. As I lowered myself into the chair, I noticed a box of Kleenex on the small end table next to it. “Ought-oh”, I thought to myself, “NOT a positive sign”. Still, I plastered a smile on my face, met the doctor’s eyes and prompted, “So…?”
Unsmiling, he settled himself back into his chair and looked away. A foreboding silence filled the small space between us. My eyes landed on a paperweight on the edge of his desk with the words, “No Crisis Before Its Time” stenciled on it in elegant calligraphy. For a moment, I felt vaguely comforted, for this was an adage my father and I had both shared and adhered to over the years. But then, it dawned on me; perhaps now WAS its time?
After flexing his fingers a few times and popping a few knuckles in the process, he finally met my eyes. As was the case every time I saw him, I was struck by his uncanny resemblance to both my former CPA and a shrink I once saw during a trying emotional period of my life. Really, both men could be his dad. He sighed and replied, “What I have to tell you is going to be difficult for you to hear”. He tapped a piece of paper lying on top of his desk. “I’m afraid the results of the biopsy are not what we’d hoped for”.
I was confused. “Biopsy?” I was thinking boobs, I was thinking Angelina Jolie, I was thinking double mastectomy. I hadn’t had any biopsy. I felt an immediate sense of relief; whatever crisis I thought was happening, wasn’t. He apparently recognized my confusion and ensuing ill-placed relief for he shook his head slightly and said gently, “The biopsies of the spots on your arm several weeks ago? Remember?”
I slunk down a bit in my chair. I did remember but, given that all my other biopsies had come back either benign or, at worse, as basal cell skin cancer, I hadn’t given this particular result much thought. I glanced at my left arm. Frankly, I’d been so focused on the purpose of today’s visit, a consultation for a cosmetic procedure made in a vain attempt to cheat the signs of aging, that it had slipped my mind that I’d not received the biopsy results. It all clicked into place in the course of a few nanoseconds. No wonder I’d been able to get in to see him so quickly; usually he was so booked up it took months to get an appointment for non-medicals. I felt simultaneously ashamed of the whole Botox thing and sick to my stomach.
“Yeah,” I finally managed to utter. “Now I do”. He said nothing. “And…?” I said, raising an eyebrow questioningly. His turn to slink; or, rather, shrink into his chair. He cleared his throat. More silence. I noticed the miniature grandfather clock on the credenza under the window had stopped and resisted an urge to giggle. Time was literally standing still, how clichéd. His eyes followed my gaze. “I always forget to wind that clock”, he said.
An hour or so later, and I’m still in that office with that stopped clock. The doctor stepped out ten minutes ago to “give me a moment”, which has drawn out to be longer than that because I’m sure HE needed to take a breather. I have to resist my OCD urge to get the clock going again, it’s stuck time of 12:17, which happens to be the date of my birth, is now serving as a reminder…”Hurry hurry hurry not much time left for YOU, chickie!”
It seems decidedly odd that the doctor told me what he did without my husband sitting next to me. I mean, is that normal? Shouldn’t the most important person in your life be with you when you are given such news? Why am I not more upset by this? I realize it’s because I’d just prefer sparing my husband of this awful situation. Maybe, maybe; I can get up out of this now totally uncomfortable chair, walk out of this facility, get into my car and drive on into what’s always been, and what I thought always would be.
I know I’m in complete shock and so I start reciting in my head some of the scripture I’ve memorized; “Be good to me, your servant, so that I may live to obey your teachings.” (Psalm 119:117) and “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil for you are with me.” (Psalm 23:4). It has a calming effect. I think about one of my favorites, “And can any of you, by worrying, add a single hour to the span of your life?” (Matthew 6:27) and realize, “Nope. Never could; and never will”.
Certainly not NOW, when I’m faced with five years, tops.
The doctor did a thorough job of presenting my options in a spreadsheet that he left with me. The columns listed across the top are labeled “Five Years” “Four Years” Three Years”, “Two Years” and “One Year” . Under each are details; what will have to happen for each life expectancy to be met and the corresponding pros and cons.
The rest of my life, according to Microsoft Excel.
Note to Readers: This (fictional!) entry is a combination free write/retelling of a dream I had.