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Chapter 4.2 - What Should I Do

That afternoon, I was still avoiding Ziggy’s room. I walked out of the elevator and ran into Dr. Mathews. “Nurse Brennan,” he said in a way that didn’t sound like a greeting. “I wanted to thank you. I noticed you seemed a bit affected by Mr. Ziegler’s diagnosis. I wanted to tell you that you had a role in getting us to that diagnosis in the first place.”

“I appreciate that. Dr. Smith would say it was because I allow myself to get too close to the patients.”

“And I would say that is what separates someone who had empathy from someone who doesn’t. ” I smiled slowly at the encouraging compliment. “You’ve done a very good job of uncovering the patient’s uncommunicated symptoms. Maybe once you feel more settled here, you will consider making a formal transition to oncology. We very much value empathy and good medicine there.”

“I’ll definitely think about it. Thank you.”

“In the meantime, I would like you to be on assignment for Mr. Ziegler.”

“Oh,” I was taken aback. “Okay. Why?”

“He has made an obvious connection with you in lieu of any other support system. If he chooses to go through treatment, he will greatly benefit from having a constant.”

“What treatment have you recommended?”

He handed me the chart. “Take a look for yourself. Let me know if you agree.”

Night came and I was finally alone. I had spent my day running around and loaning myself out to the maternity department just to have more of a reason to avoid Ziggy and having to read his chart.

He was given an awful diagnosis. The medical mystery they all wanted turned out to be a life-threatening tumor on his pancreas. I felt horrible for leaving him while he was getting the news, but it hit too close to home. I was fond of him, and I was confident that made me better at my job, but becoming attached to him would only make things harder, and he did not need anything to be harder for him right now.

Dr. Mathews suggested intensive chemotherapy over six weeks in order to shrink the tumor as much as possible, before performing surgery to attempt to remove it. The tumor was on the verge of the inoperable portion of Ziggy’s pancreas and in some of the surrounding tissues. If they had found it any later, he would have been as good as dead. But, even with finding it so early, there was still a huge chance that the treatment would ultimately fail. Eighty-five percent to be exact. Dr. Mathews was one of the best surgeons in the state, especially for this type of treatment, but it always fell back to percentages.

I hated statistics. They were the last thing you needed to know to make a decision about your own life or the life of someone you love. I knew that firsthand.

I had walked past his room three times and still couldn’t bear to go inside. I forced myself to woman up and do it.

His door was open and he was awake, using his laptop in the dark. When I knocked, he looked over. The white glow from his screen made the room feel eerie, but his glasses made him much less threatening. “Hey,” he said softly.

“Hey. I came to see how you were doing.” I sat on the edge of his bed.

“Yeah? Well, I’m not great.” He turned back to his screen and shook his head. “I’m not anything even close to a doctor. All I have is Google, and I’m not feeling too confident about that either.” He gave me a pleading look. “Can you just tell me what I should do?”

“I can’t tell you what you should do, I’m your nurse.”

“Just forget about that for right now. Can you take off your little name badge and just be my fucking friend for five minutes? Please?” he begged. I stared him in the eyes and knew he needed it. I took my ID from my pocket and put it face down on the sheets. I look back up at him. “What do you think I should do?”

I took a breath. “You’re young and healthy, Ziggy. You stand more of a chance to beat this than most people who get this diagnosis.”

“You think I should go through treatment?”

“I think you should do what you want to do.”

He scoffed. “What I want is to hop in a fast car, drive to the beach, fuck some hot model with daddy issues and forget there’s anything wrong with me. But I can’t do that because if I move too much, I’m either passing out or I feel like I’m being stabbed, and even if I’m not hurting, I will still know that it’s only going to get worse.” I nodded in agreement. “I’m Thirty years old. I’m supposed to be worried about my impending midlife crisis, not dying before I get to it.” He looked back to his screen with a sigh and rubbed his brow. “You think the chemo will work?”

“I think it will give you the best chance.”

“The best out of fifteen percent?”

“The best out of one hundred. You are a person, not a percentage.” He looked at me and I could see the fear in his eyes. “The chemo will be aggressive because it has to be. It will probably be the hardest thing you’ll ever do in your life.”

“You’ve seen people go through it?” he asked. I nodded. “It’s really that bad?”

“It is,” I said truthfully. “Chemo attempts to destroy the cancer cells, but will also kill the healthy ones with it. You will feel like you’re dying a little more every day, all for the chance that you might get to live once it’s all over. But it’s either that, or you can be prescribed pain medications and live out your last few months to a year doing whatever you want until the disease takes you.” I hoped that wasn’t as callous as it felt.

“And that’s worth it? Going down with a fight rather than peacefully?”

“No one can make that decision for you,” I told him. “You have to choose whether it is worth it to fight for the rest of your life or accept this is all you have left.”

He stared at me for a while then looked down with a nod. “Thanks,” he said sincerely. “That’s what I needed.”

I was glad to be of help, but I felt guilty for swaying him. I had seen people fight until they had no fight left. This would not be happy or pretty. I hoped he knew that.

“Whatever you decide,” I said while putting my nametag back on, “you know I’ll support you completely.”

“Yeah, I know.”

I leaned forward and pulled him into a hug. He returned it willingly, resting his chin on my shoulder. I felt him take a shaky breath before letting me go.

“Thank you,” he said, avoiding eye contact.

“Of course.”

I agreed to go out with Max again the next night and looked forward to the distraction. Since Rebecca decided to stay at our place, we decided to meet for drinks at a bar up the street from his swanky condo. Directly following, he would take me back to his place, cook me dinner, and fuck me. Or at least I hoped.

I enjoyed seeing him flit around his kitchen. I sipped on my wine and watched him put far too much effort into what was ultimately just pasta with red sauce. When we were finally eating it, I was far less distracted from my own thoughts.

“How was work today?” he asked me.

I realized I hadn’t said much. “It’s been really stressful this week. I hate it when patients get bad news.”

“I couldn’t imagine dealing with what you do every day. I wouldn’t have the mental fortitude for any of it.”

“But you can stare at spreadsheets all day? I’d be bored out of mind.”

“Touché.” He looked at me with his handsome brown eyes and smiled. “I like you.”

“I like you too,” I said back. He leaned forward and pressed a kiss to my lips. He started to lean away but I pulled him back to me by the front of his shirt. He still felt he should be timid with me, as if I will somehow be offended by him wanting to have sex with me again. Sex was one of the only things I did want right now.

When I placed my arms around his neck, he took the hint. He stood and he lifted me from the ground to wrap my legs around his middle. He carried me to the couch and we forgot all about the mediocre pasta.

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