I called my friend Kevin yesterday. His wife, Melanee, answered the cellphone. They were at Yale/New Haven Hospital, on their way to get some tests.
Kevin’s got pancreatic cancer. Tests are a large part of his life. I didn’t think twice until he called back later.
On Monday, Kevin wasn’t feeling right. There was shortness of breath. Who knows what else? He’d just been through a round of chemo. The reaction to that is never totally predictable. Melanee, his wife, brought him to Yale and he was admitted.
It looks like he suffered a very minor heart attack (if such a thing is possible) and has a blood clot in his lungs. All this is in addition to the cancer he’s been fighting since last summer.
I drove over to visit before heading to work today.
Yale/New Haven is to hospitals I remember as a child, as Home Depot is to Willie’s Hardware in Flushing. People are scurrying everywhere. It’s immense and confusing. I many ways, it’s the workings of a major teaching hospital are undecipherable to anyone but staff…. and even they only understand a few pieces of the puzzle.
On my way up the elevator, a young woman (my guess is a medical professional of some sort) slumped against the back of the car. She was the poster child for chronic exhaustion.
Kevin’s on the 9th floor of the hospital’s East Wing. He’s on the left, down the hall, well past the nurses station.
As I walked toward the room, I passed two nurses pushing rolling ‘podiums’ containing computers. Why carry a one pound chart when you can push a four foot tall podium?
Kevin’s room was bright and clean. It’s a double, though Kevin is the only resident right now. Melanee sat in a comfortably overstuffed chair. It’s a hospital chair, built to never wear out. Kevin was on his back in bed.
His skin is more ashen than pink. His face is a little puffy. His hair more gray than ever.
He smiled. We chatted. He’s eternally positive.
When he was brought in, Kevin was asked to quantify the pain. He was at 9. Now he’s a 5. That’s good as a trend, though 5 doesn’t seem like a number to aim for.
We talked a little about his pain meds and I kidded him about how he now knows what he missed by walking the straight and narrow in college.
Last night his speech was slurred. Probably a byproduct of the drugs. Today he was much more distinct as he spoke, but you could see he was a little doped up.
I’m not saying anything Kevin doesn’t know. He is very much the realist. Very much cognizant of what’s going on around and to him.
He is not ready to die. He didn’t tell me that, but I know it. He is sick, but not near death just yet. There is still too much for him to live for. He’s making plans you don’t make if you’re about to die. You can’t convince me that doesn’t enter into the whole sickness, wellness scenario.
It takes nothing away from my other friends to say, Kevin is the nicest, kindest, most giving friend I have. I’ve never known his actions to have a subtext or ulterior motive. He truly would give you the shirt off his back. No one I know has had a more consistently positive attitude.
What’s going on now should not have happened to him. My first thought was, the whole thing is a mistake. I’m still not convinced it’s not.
When a friend is ill, it’s easy to visualize your own mortality through him. I think some people withdraw from sick friends for just that reason – I totally understand. I am just not ready to give up on Kevin.
No one wants to see him this way.