The Promise

The Promise

An excerpt from "Adventures in Medicine" - Coming Fall 2010:

      Judy reminds me of Nancy, my first love. Nancy died twenty years ago of metastatic breast cancer. I learned of her death at my twenty-fifth high school reunion from Murf, my best buddy from my youth. The three of us went from kindergarten to high school together. Lucky him, his house was only two doors down from hers. The first time I saw Nancy was over a drink of water at the four-spigot, playground fountain. As I raised my head from a long drink and looked across the fountain, I gazed on the most beautiful vision of my five year old life. I watched Nancy daintily take her drink. Finished, she lifted her face toward me and gave me a smile that captured me forever. Although Murf, Nancy, and I drifted apart as we progressed through junior and senior high, we saw each other at school almost daily. Murf and Nancy became very popular with their dynamic personalities and looks to match. Transforming from jock to nerd, I receded to the sideline determined to make something of myself…and worthy of Nancy. No matter how unrealistic, thoughts of her often motivated me to make the extra efforts necessary to persevere through college to get into medical school. I finally asked her for a date, our first and only, during a Christmas break. She was home from Boston where she was special-education teacher, and I was a second year med-school stud. My understanding, generous aunt visiting from Santa Barbara slipped me fifty dollars to make the night special at the best restaurant in town. The evening was bliss. We talked until 4 am, never missing a beat. Throughout, I gazed on her as enraptured as ever. As I departed, she gave me a warm hug. She never responded to my letter a few weeks later confessing how I felt about her. Years passed, she married another, and, fortunately, I married my true love. When Murf and I saw her and her husband at reunions…a man, who was “nothin’ much” in our estimation, we would turn toward each other and read the other’s mind , “what did she see in him and not in one of us.” As I listened to Murf’s account of Nancy’s last year, my regard of her husband was even less. He had not allowed her to have possible curative treatment for her breast cancer when first diagnosed based on his selfish beliefs. She had died painfully and miserably of metastatic disease a year later.

      As I make my hospice home visit with Judy, I also gaze upon Nancy, whisked back to the water fountain. Despite the ravages of her metastatic breast cancer, unresponsive to aggressive medical and holistic treatment, Judy looks up at me with a warm smile as I discuss my hope that I can help give her a comfortable death. At times our eyes meet, stunning me, and I lose my medical train of thought, feeling a special connection to someone who I barely know. I hesitate, trying to control the misting in my eyes as she does the same with hers. Her devoted and supportive husband and family watch in silence. I hope they do not mind my intrusion. As I leave her bedside, possibly never to see her again, I only touch her hand as a farewell gesture keeping my professional distance. I fumble my last words, not knowing what to say. I am overwhelmed with sadness for Judy and Nancy, both exceptional women in their forties, so alike, struck down by the same disease. I cannot rectify Nancy’s suffering. My promise to her is that I will alleviate Judy’s.

coming soon

"Adventures in Medicine"