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It's funny looking back, but right up to the moment the doctors diagnosed the sharp pain in my stomach and gave me their shocking news, I'd never thought about my own mortality. Not even once.
I was twenty-six when the doctors told me I was dying. The few months I'd been given raced by as I was examined by every "name" specialist around the U.S., tried every new treatment, grew more and more sick from the so-called medicines. Until I arrived at my last hopethe final doctor, the conclusive appointment.
Light-headed with fatiguesleep had become impossible and food only worsened the relentless nauseaI sat in Dr. Katzen's office looking at the pictures of his wife and kids on his desk. He sat facing me, his eyes made tiny by his round, wire-rimmed glasses. While he thumbed through my thick medical records, I met the gaze of a tired, ashen-faced brunette over his right shoulder. Loopy from the pain meds I'd begun to rely on, I watched the woman sway in her chair, as if the simple effort to remain upright was an exhausting trial. Her navy sweater accentuated the bruised circles under her eyes and the bright scarf did nothing to distract from the signs of jaundice.
It was when I lifted a trembling hand to brush the hair back from my face that I realized I was looking in a mirror.
Outrage brought color to my chalky cheeks. What kind of jerk hangs a mirror in his office and angles it so terminally ill patients have to see just how ghastly they look?
"Evie?" Katzen said and I had the impression he'd spoken my name several times.
I dragged my gaze away from the mirror to see him wiping his little glasses with a handkerchief. "Yes?"
He began talking, but the medical jargon washed over me. Maybe it was the exhaustion, maybe it was the morphine, but I couldn't seem to focus on any one thing for more than a few seconds. How his jaw kept going sideways as he spoke, a clear effort to hide the fact that he was chewing gum. The spots of what looked like spilled coffee on the collar of his starched white lab coat. His kelly-green tie with the golf clubs.
I decided I really hated that tie.
Katzen's moves seemed choreographed as he put his glasses back on, folded his hands on the desk blotter and leaned toward me. Even his compassionate expression looked practiced.
"I'm sorry, Evie. There's nothing more to be done," he said, surreptitiously moving his gum to the other side of his mouth.
Sorry? Rage swept through me, stealing my breath and pounding in my throat as we sat looking at one another. I quivered with the sudden yearning to punch him, kick him, anything to wring some semblance of genuine emotion from him. Rather than this façade that he must have learned in med schoolDelivering Bad News 101.
But I only gave him a tight, quick smile that mirrored his own and made my voice professional. "Thank you, Dr. Katzen."
Pushing myself to my feet, I tried to ignore the too-familiar dizziness and braced against the chair's hard wood back. Bad enough to feel this way, I hated the appearance of weakness and forced my chin up to meet the doctor's knowing gaze.
Katzen rose and ran his hands down his grey flannel pants to smooth them. "You're welcome, Evie." Coming around his desk, he made a beeline for the heavy wooden door and opened it, then stood there, waiting for me to leave. "You know about being reimbursed for parking? Oh, wait, with the pain meds, I don't guess you're driving anymore."
I almost laughed, but it would have been hard and bitter. "No. I took a cab."