A final bargain

Issue: BCMJ, Vol. 57, No. 4, May 2015, page(s) 158-159 MDs To Be
Kristel Leung, BSc


The face of despair

“She won me over with a coin trick,” he said with a small smile, his eyes crinkling at the corners.

“You know the one where you put the coin in one hand, and make it disappear? She took my dollar and placed it in her left palm, and with a wave it was gone. For a split second, I was annoyed, because that dollar was hard earned. Then she laughed at my expression and opened her right hand, and there it was.”

A pause. There was only the steady beep coming from the monitors. Beep… beep… beep…. The ventilator sighed, breathing out life. He sighed too, and shifted his weight, crossing his arms.

“She didn’t trust me at first. Told me that she had a bad habit of being too optimistic. That she would meet a man that she liked and got along with. She would write a story in her head of how life could play out. How their personalities matched or they shared the same humor.

She would imagine how promising their lives would be, what it would be like to grow old together. And each time, she would be disappointed. Not because of him or for who he turned out to be, but at herself for believing in a fantasy that she so desperately wanted to have. So when she met me she said she would only focus on the now.”

His voice trailed off, and he glanced to his right. He took her frail, limp hand tenderly in his and began playing with the gold band around her finger.

“The day I proposed, she didn’t cry or smile. She looked straight at me, her face blazing, and said, ‘Promise me that you will still stay with me, even when you hate who I am. That you won’t give up on me, even when I’ve given up on myself.’ And I said ‘I will.’”

He looked at me and studied my face.

“Now you’re telling me that I can’t keep that promise.”

He became quiet, and his eyes glazed over.

“I did break that promise once. I got busy with work, and so did she. I became too accustomed to my life with her. Like cologne or perfume, losing its smell after wearing it day after day. It wasn’t that I loved or hated her, I was just indifferent. I stopped thinking and appreciating. And her… she was new to town and a fresh face at the office. We started chatting more and more. And then….”

He inhaled sharply and squeezed his eyes shut, trying to will away the pain of the memory. When he spoke again, he was hoarse, the regret clawing at his voice.

“I told her what had happened, and she understood. She took the truth so graciously… so accepting, so forgiving. She was always good at that, understanding people, understanding me. When I asked how she learned, she said it was from growing up in a household with parents who bared their humanity every day they fought. She knew firsthand what hatred and despair did to people, and she decided that she didn’t want it for us. It made me despise myself even more for hurting her, hurting us. But after, it was almost as if the threat had only made our bond stronger.”

He coughed and cleared his throat.

“She knew. She had known that something was wrong for a while. She started losing weight, and lost her appetite. I caught her once trying to scrub off blood in the bathroom. She was tired all the time, and had these crippling migraines. The terminal diagnosis wasn’t surprising for her.”

Beep… beep… beep…. The ventilator jolted as the motor started up, drowning out the monitors with a steady hum.

“This morning, she asked whether I wanted to go on vacation over the long weekend. She had this silly grin on her face, like a giddy young girl begging her parents for ice cream. She just stepped out to get some coffee beans and must not have seen the taxi….”

He choked back a sob. Slowly, he bent over the bed rail, cupped one hand under her chin and kissed her. He began combing his fingers through her hair peeking out of the bandages.

“We were going to go to our friend’s cottage up in Whistler…  bring up our dogs, visit some friends. It’s too soon. We wanted to do so many more things. We had a whole list….”

He sighed and drew himself up. The lines on his face ran deep, showing years of experience and memories, accentuating his piercing stare as he spoke.

“Can you give me some time?”

With a nod, I moved to leave. “I’ll be here when you’re ready.”

I bundled up the trails of my cloak and lowered the hood. With a wave, I was gone.

This article has been peer reviewed.

Ms Leung is a medical student at UBC in the class of 2016. Her interests include storytelling inspired by encounters in the medical world.