Author : Asher Wismer
“It’s spreading, isn’t it.” It was not a question. James looked wan, as always, but now his voice was tinged with a hopelessness that I had never heard before. It almost broke my heart.
“I’m afraid,” I said, “that the cancer has spread to your lymphatic system. Frankly, I’m astonished that you’re still talking.”
“Doesn’t matter, I guess,” he said, and looked out the window. The first battery of tests we’d done had discovered an astonishing amount of cancer running through his body. The cells had metastasized at an alarming rate, decaying from his stomach, where it had started, through his chest cavity and lungs. I hadn’t been kidding. James should have been in a coma at this point. Tests had shown some of his internal organs literally riddled with cancer; some of them were just masses of cancer cells in a vague organ shape.
“So what tests do we do next?”
“There’s nothing left,” I said, and felt terrible. James was a family man, working in construction. His wife had a good job downtown and his kids were in their teens, but the rapid deterioration meant the had only a few months to live.
“After it gets into your lymph system,” I continued, “it’s more or less over. We simply can’t treat it fast enough.”
“I figured as much.” He didn’t look sad, not really. Just resigned, and that was almost as bad.
I laid a hand on his shoulder, trying to be comforting, and he reached up and patted it absently. “Do you want to call your family?”
“No. They knew going in what was happening. They’ll be fine.”
I didn’t quite know how to take this.
“Aren’t you worried about leaving them behind?”
“You know,” he said, looking up at me, his hand still clasping mine, “I think we all knew this was coming. Who knows, maybe I’ll get to come back sometime and see them again.”
“Perhaps.” I left to see other patients, and the image of James looking forlornly out the window stuck with me all day.
“I’m not cut out for death duty,” I said. “It’s too grim, too depressing.”
“It’s part of your job,” said Alex, the attending doctor for my shift. “You have to be able to handle situations like this.”
“What if I just work pediatrics?”
“You think kids don’t ever die? Anyway, this is mild. You just wait until you have to sit with a dying patient all night, waiting for the last breath to come. You’ll find yourself PRAYING for his death.”
“Anyone ever tell you about your great bedside manner?”
“I watch too much TV. Are we done for the day?”
“I guess,” I said, standing to leave. “I just wish there was a way help him.”
“I’ll agree with you on one thing,” he said. “It’s amazing that your cancer patient is still alive. I looked at the samples they took; it’s spreading faster than I’ve ever seen.”
“He isn’t reporting much pain now. Maybe it’ll be easy.”
“Cancer is a mutation of the cells, changes them irrevocably, and the human body can’t handle that. Theoretically, if you lived long enough, your body would convert over to pure cancer cells. You’d be a cancer vegetable.”
“Maybe the cancer would leave the brain alone.”
“What, and make him immortal? I saw that movie. It sucked. Listen, you should see the staff therapist. Talk it out a little.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
As I left, I idly scratched the palm of my hand, where James had held it.