Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads which sew people together through the years.
– Simone Signoret
Allen’s cancer has continued to grow quickly. He raises his chin so I can see. I check my notes from a month ago and pull out my ruler and make new measurements. I jot down my findings and turn to look him in the eye. We both know this cannot go on much longer.
When he had first come to see me about his newly diagnosed cancer, Allen had been a vigorous, active, enthusiastic man in the prime of life. He was a regular at the gym. He had always been very accomplished, maintaining a wide circle of loyal friends. Despite his failing health, he still keeps his weekends full of activities. His delightful family continues to be his bedrock.
We have known each other for several years now – through his initial cancer treatment and the increasingly aggressive recurrences. His typical reaction at each juncture has been a smile, a shrug, and a “Let’s get going!” Now, things are deteriorating. Treatment options have been exhausted. Active cancer treatment has given way to comfort measures. He is ready to die.
Today, he is weak and, although he insists that he does not really need the wheelchair, he acknowledges that using it makes the visits easier for Therese.
Therese heads out to the waiting room for a moment and Allen looks at me. “Doc, I realize I won’t be here much longer and haven’t finished making all of my preparations yet. It’s just hard.”
I am surprised by Allen’s remark. He has always been completely organized and I assumed that he already had all of his ducks in a row. Everything all set and ready. Color-coded files with instructions. He’s that type of person.
I look at him. “Do you want me to help find someone who can set up your Power of Attorney? Have you worked with a lawyer to get things prepared for after you have died?” ”
Nah. I took care of that years ago. My will and all of the financial planning is complete. I updated it just a couple of weeks ago. No problems there. Doc, It’s the OTHER stuff.” He smiles.
“My Harley, for instance. I love my bike but I know I won’t ride it again. It just sits in the garage looking great. And my sports car. It’s got a touchy clutch and Therese never liked the stick shift. She won’t want either of them after I am gone. They will be a burden to her and I know I should get rid of them. I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.”
He smiles again.
“Doc, I’m sorry. There was no need to burden you with our problems.”
Therese returns and catches the end of the conversation. She shakes her head. “Allen, honey, I’ll take care of it. Don’t worry.”
“I know you will. Just in case, though, I have a list of places in the green file cabinet where you might want to list the car.”
The visit ends and we set up the next appointment, not knowing if he will still be alive. Allen waves as Therese pushes the wheelchair down the hall toward the elevator.
Bruce Campbell is an otolaryngologist who blogs at Reflections in a Head Mirror.