Monday, February 13, 2006

A Full Life

The call is in an exclusive retirement community up on the mountain ridge. Up here are half million dollar condos with BMWs and Lexuses in the attached garages. When we appear lost trying to find the address in the maze of roads with names like Winchester Park and Essex Manor a maintenance crew in a white truck with an attached snow plow asks us where we are going and then leads us to the address. They unload a snowblower and promise to widen the path for our stretcher when we are ready to come out with the patient.

An elderly woman meets us at the door and says her husband is upstairs. We do the best we can to wipe our boots on the Persian rug inside the door, but we still track dirt up the white carpeted stairs.

A small frail emaciated man sits on the bed making about as much impression into the mattress as a large pillow. He has big round eyes that show intelligence but lack liveliness. He has cancer and his doctor wants him brought in to the hospital due to his severe weight loss. While my preceptee evaluates him, and our other partner goes out to get a stair chair, I look at the pictures attached to a mirror that show the same man in better health: He stands with other men on a Western Prairie with high beautiful mountains in the background. He kneels smiling by a child who has mounted a tricycle. In a tuxcedo he has his arm around a glowing bride in long white dress. There are pictures of the same woman with a man of her age and three young children. A picture of a smiling woman -- more vivacious and twenty years younger but with the same features as the wife who met us at the door. On the walls are a golf flag that reads "U.S. Masters Peeble Beach 2004," a framed poster "Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain for One Night Only" and then, and I can't help but smile when I see it, a baseball pennant "Boston Red Sox World Champions 2004."

We carry him gently down the stairs, and place him on the stretcher and bundle him against the cold. As promised the sidewalk has been widened by the maintenance crew.

And that was our only call for the day.