Visiting A Sick Friend

“You look so great!” Kelly enthused, the pitch of her voice rising so artificially high that I cringed.

She had turned on her personal brand of “hospital charm”, the same charm I’d used all during my mother’s illness and when I visited my ex’s father in the hospital after serious open heart surgery.  I had been prepared to have to fake it until I made it tonight too, so I smiled broadly at Tom and reached down to hug him from his seated position in his recliner.

Tom looked so markedly different from the last time we’d seen him on election night  that it was truly hard to believe it was the same person in front of us.  He’d lost weight, maybe twenty pounds off of his already trim frame.  His hair was close cropped short, clearly an attempt to beat out the eventual demise of it at the hands of his chemotherapy.  He was breathing oxygen into his nose through a cannula; I recognized the snaky  length of tubing and followed it with my eyes to the portable oxygen machine.  Even his voice was different, scratchy and raspy from procedures done via his esophagus.

We all knew that Tom had finished the campaign and started treatments for his recurrence shortly after.  But we’d seen him all year talk about going to this doctor or having that surgery, and we’d all taken for granted his robust health that seemed to allow him the ability to bounce back quickly from them.  When he’d committed to running for re-election, we all took it to mean that the situation with his recurrence could not possibly be that serious.  We’d scoffed at letters to the editor in our local paper that raised questions about his health, called his opponent classless when he’d quipped “ask Tom why we’re not standing at podiums tonight”, and all along never really believed that Tom could be truly sick.

But the evidence was right in front of us, and it was stark.  Tom was fighting for his life.

“So give me the dirt,” Tom said in his new, raspy voice.  “How were the budget workshops last month?”  And just like that, the old Tom was back. We regaled him with story after story, and responded with his trademark salty language, putting us all at ease and helping us see past the scary, obvious reality.  We talked until he grew tired, and we left with promises to return again in a few weeks.

We held it together until we were all safely in the darkness surrounding our cars in the street before we all looked at each other with wide, tear filled eyes.  What if Tom didn’t win this one, either?


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