My good friend Steve is in the hospital again. As if the removal of that pesky kidney wasn't enough, he's been having issues breathing and, today, has been lying around another hospital bed awaiting results from testing for a possible pulmonary embolism. Those are two very scary words, words that have been following me around through my workday, following me through the early evening rain, here to the hospital, where his girlfriend, his daughter, and I sit around the bed as Steve, ever the storyteller, has been describing his earlier roommate, a young guy learning for the first time that he had diabetes.
"And so he had visitors in and out the whole time," Steve says, "nutritionists explaining the ways his life is going to have to change, teaching him how to do the shots. He was a military kid, and since it's Veteran's Day, I gave him a solute and thanked him for his service." He mimes a little solute, then runs his fingers across his close-cropped white hair. "I look kind of like a veteran, I've got this General MacArthur hair, so maybe that was OK."
Now here comes the doctor, a tall guy with dark hair, looking even taller since we're all sitting down and since we're all worried about what he's come to say. He goes directly to the end of Steve's bed, no expression at all on his face, at least nothing I can read. My heart does what hearts do when you're afraid you'll hear something bad about someone you love, it rises up on tiptoe inside my chest.
"Well, your results show no sign of a pulmonary embolism," he says. "We think what you've got here is a little pneumonia. We're going to put you on a good antibiotic."
I've never been so glad to hear the word pneumonia in my life.
A moment in the day becomes two, becomes more as the doctor talks about antibiotics and rest and the other things doctors talk about, and then Steve is introducing him to us around the room.
"When I first met this doctor, I told him I was a surfer," Steve says, "and I was kind of afraid he'd say I'd better not do that for a while, but he just starts talking about sharks."
"Oh, yeah," the doctor says, now, "I love sharks. I've always figured I'd die by shark. If the plane goes down, it's going down in the ocean, because I'm going to die by shark."