The flimsy, curtain room divider was useless in shielding the doctor’s news.
“There is a large lesion on the left side of your brain. As you can see it is quite sizeable and very deep.”
I was visiting my dad at the hospital. He had just finished eating a sad, grey pureed turkey breast with butternut squash. His white, full head of hair blended into the starch, white institutional bedding. His dark brown eyes lit up when I offered him a chocolate smoothie from the hospital restaurant.
“I can’t believe they are giving this news here,” I whispered to my dad who cupped his hands around his ears, now empty of his hearing aids.
“Who?” he asked.
I shook my head, “Never mind.”
On the other side of the curtain in Room 4952 B was Mike. I never got a good look at my dad’s temporary roommate, just his wife, daughter and granddaughter who were visiting. I learned from my unavoidable eavesdropping that he was a janitor, had been feeling dizzy for the last few days and was watching Sleepless in Seattle on the suspended TV.
The doctor had wheeled in a portable computer that showed the results from an MRI scan. Before revealing the black and white photos, the doctor asked Mike a few math problems.
“What’s 7 x 5?”
“How about 12 minus 4?”
“That’s right,” validated the doctor.
When Mike answered his math quiz perfectly his wife laughed nervously, “That’s better than I thought you’d do.”
The poor woman tried to break the tension of the awful moment happening in real time. No privacy, just the noise of aides gossiping at the nurse’s station, strange beeps from monitors and other ominous machines and me muffling their bad news with idle chatter with my dad inches away.
“Did I show you the photo of the chipmunk Rocco caught the other day? I am so proud,” I showed a photo from my beat up Blackberry, my dog Rocco, sniffing a maimed chipmunk, “I fleeced him out for Rocco to chase.”
The little granddaughter, maybe three years old, peered from the room divider. I could tell she wanted to learn more about Rocco rather than the grim news of her grandfather. I gave her a smile when her mother pulled her back to their side of the curtain.
My dad gave a faint smile and nodded. He was getting drowsy, eyelids slowly fanning his big brown, 81 year-old eyes.
The family next door began to ask questions.
“What do you think it is,” the wife asked.
The neurosurgeon had a Slavic accent and listed several possibilities, each one direr than the next, “Malignant tumor, Multiple Sclerosis, a benign tumor, but if removed could cause several deficits …”
The doctor’s recommendation was to remove a small piece of the lesion to complete a biopsy. This would happen on Thursday, two days away. Mike would have to lie in his hospital bed with a view of a tarred roof from a recently added cancer wing for 48 hours and then likely wait another 24 hours for his official diagnosis.
I turned my attention back to my father. How random and cruel, I thought, as I turned off the buzzing fluorescent light above my father’s head. I couldn’t recall how many times my father visited this hospital in the last year alone – at least ten, this time for blood clouts in his lungs. Meanwhile Mike was making his first major visit in his lifetime.
Why are some deaths slow and tedious and other deaths shocking and instant? I wondered which was better?
“You are awfully quiet,” the doctor said to Mike, “Don’t you have any questions?”
Mike responded with more silence until finally he mustered, “I gotta tell ya I’m a little freaked out about this news.”
No kidding, I thought to myself, collecting my bag to leave this sad, awful dorm room for the dying.
“I’ll see you later this week dad. Maybe you’ll be home by then. That will be good.”
I kissed his forehead, smelled his skin at his temple and kissed him again. He smelled the same as when I was a little girl and I greeted him at the end of the day with a hug.
I walked out of room 4952, my steps swiftly passing doorway after doorway, each one filled with bad news, disappointment and endings. Families sat in clusters, helium balloons swayed “Get Well Soon.”
This is it. This is the only guarantee in life, that it will end. As the hospital revolving doors ushered me outside, the spring breeze welcomed me. I lapped up the fresh air, not replacing the stray hair that flew in my face. “This is it,” I whispered to myself. “Live your life now.”