Contest RecapMidlife Collage sponsors a weekly contest of midlife short stories. U.S. citizens and legal residents age 40 and older may enter. The Editor selects five stories for publication on our website each week. Readers leave comments and Facebook thumbs-up likes urging the panel of Judges to choose a contest winner. Readers also send the Judges their opinions of the best story on our Closing Arguments page. The contest period is Monday through Sunday noon PT. The first-place story enters the Winner’s Circle and receives a cash prize of $50. Winners of a $50 cash prize are eliglble for a $100 contest, which we run quarterly. See the Submissions Page for the Contest Rules for details. ANYONE, worldwide, age 18 or older can comment on the stories in a contest.
It was hard standing in the tiny exam room and watching my husband crack jokes with our sons, as if we were in line at the movies. The rest of the family waited in the reception area.
I was relieved when the doctor came in, relieved because he was an older man with a kind face, who practiced grace as he introduced himself. But I didn’t like seeing the young doctor in training who accompanied him. It didn’t seem fair that delivering this type of news should be used as a teachable moment.
The experienced, older doctor spoke the difficult words with respect. He said to my husband, “I’ve reviewed your file in depth and I’m sorry, but to do surgery at this time would be a disservice to you.”
My husband reacted strongly and quickly, “I’m inoperable?”
It wasn’t the first time I ever heard the word “inoperable” but it was the first time I realized that it had five syllables. It’s not a word you can pretend you didn’t hear.
My husband, sitting high on the examining table, fully dressed, legs crossed at the ankles and hands clasped, turned to me and said, “I want to go home.”
Our two sons silently left the room to repeat that hopeless word, “inoperable,” to the rest of the family. The young doctor tried to be invisible and plastered himself against the wall. I looked at him in disbelief. Then he left the room.
Before I could even respond to my husband’s plea, the doctor said, “Hold on a minute. I don’t think you should just curl up and die. I want to tell you that in my fifty years of doing surgery, I have seen many patients who were able to come back to me after six months of chemotherapy and I was able to help them.”
My husband shifted his body sharply away from the doctor, like a child refusing to take medicine and said again, louder this time, “I want to go home!”
The doctor continued, “I think it’s worth a try, to extend your life, to have hope . . . ”
Suddenly a nurse came in the room. She made her entrance right on cue, like an actress in this awful play, clipboard in hand, ready to deliver her lines. There was no way to leave now as she was standing directly in front of the door that she had closed behind her.
The doctor stayed seated on his small rolling stool in front of my husband. I stood next to my husband with my arms draped around his shoulders.
The nurse said, “I can get you into the oncologist first thing in the morning . . .”
“I want to go home!” My husband cut her off.
I tried to soothe him, “Let’s talk to him. We can use him as our second opinion and then we can fly home in the afternoon and talk to the doctors where we live; then we can make a more informed decision.”
“No!” he said loudly, and then he whispered urgently, “Take me home, take me home.”
I turned to the nurse and said, “I think we need to get some air. Can we call you later?”
The doctor stood up and said, “Yes, call us this afternoon.”
The nurse added, “I need to know before three o’clock.”
The doctor said, “I’m so sorry this is happening to you.”
I looked at him but I couldn’t find any words. He nodded understandingly and we returned to the reception area to face the family.
Our sons had done a good job of explaining the situation because no one was crying, no one said a word, everyone simply stood up in unison. We filed out of the reception area and into the bright hallway with its gigantic sunlit windows where other patients and families were walking back and forth, some of them perhaps in a similar state of disbelief.
We surrounded my frightened husband. I found my voice, “We have to let them know by three o’clock if we agree to have a consultation with an oncologist here. I think we should go to the cafeteria and talk about this.”
Our family sat around a long table in the cafeteria. The mood was a little lighter now, perhaps by the possibility that we still had an option, and uplifted maybe by the buzz of voices from other families, patients and doctors filling the large dining hall. Everyone was talking and eating, wondering and learning, and waiting, trying to distract themselves while in this hospital.
My husband couldn’t eat. He looked at our family seated around the table and whispered to me, “This is what my funeral will look like.”
Without missing a beat, I found a speck of humor and I replied, “Yes, but everyone will be a lot older!”
He laughed. And in that moment, we shared a sense of hope that maybe his life could be extended, that maybe a funeral was really many years away.
We held hands under the table. And we held hands for the next three hundred and forty-seven days.