We drove down to the hospital to visit Avery. His wife called last night to tell us that he had been admitted that morning with a saddle clot in the lung. “He complained of chest pain the night before,” she told me on the phone. “He just finished radiation therapy. We thought it might have been from that. I wanted to take him back to the hospital right then, but he insisted that we wait ’til this morning. They did another CT scan and found the big clot. The doctors told us that the cancer had spread throughout his lungs, too.”
I called after I got home from work to make sure that he was still a patient there. The woman on the phone verified the room number. Maria wanted to come along, so we drove down together.
The weather had cooled considerably overnight. The humidity had dissipated, leaving behind a cool crispness in the air. Except for the sea of clouds floating on the distant horizon, the sky was otherwise a homogenous blue.
We found Avery and his wife in the sixth floor room at the end of the hall. Avery was sitting in a chair, while his wife sat on the bed. After a brief round of introductions (we had never met his wife in person before), we settled into two adjacent chairs.
Avery’s hair had thinned considerably from the radiation. He looked a bit puffy in the face. I noticed that the lump on his neck had grown in size since last I saw him six weeks ago. But his eyes were still steady, a brilliant blue like the afternoon sky.
“They gave you a nice room,” I said, motioning with my head to the banks of windows on the two sides. “Quite a view.”
“Yeah,” Avery said, “and it’s at the end of the hall, so I’m not bothered so much by the noise. ‘Course, I can’t hear so well after the radiation; but then again, that’s less that I have to put up with, too.”
“We had a big thunderstorm last night,” Avery’s wife said. “It thundered so bad it nearly shook the whole wing.”
“I like thunderstorms,” I said.
“Not me,” Avery’s wife said. “They scare the bejesus out of me.”
“I don’t like them either,” Maria said.
“I do,” said Avery. “Last night we had hail. It pounded against that far bank of windows for twenty minutes. I could hear the hail all right.”
“Are you in much pain?” I asked him.
“I was, but it’s better today. They’re giving me morphine every four hours, so that’s helped a lot. But I haven’t had to ask for it as often today.”
“I wanted to bring him in last night,” his wife said, “but he wouldn’t hear of it.”
“It worked out O.K.,” Avery said.
“How long do you have to stay in?’
“A week; maybe ten days.”
“He was supposed to start chemo on Monday. Now we don’t know what’s to be done when.”
There was a knock on the door. A middle-aged man entered the room. He had a bushy black moustache and a black stethoscope draped around his neck.
“Hello, I’m Doctor Sales,” he said. “I stopped by to see how you’re doing. Who are these folks?”
Avery introduced his wife and us. We stepped out of the room to let them talk with the doctor. Maria walked down the corridor to the other end and looked out the window. I could see her silhouette framed against the white light. She stood there a long time. I leaned up again the wainscoting and looked at the pictures on the wall. You could hear the low murmur of the doctor’s voice coming from behind the door in the room. After a while he came out and smiled briefly as he walked past me down the hallway. Maria returned and we stepped back into the room.
“Looks like seven to ten days for sure,” Avery’s wife said. “They don’t want to take a chance sending him home until the clot is dissolved. But they may be able to start chemo next week like they planned.”
The conversation shifted to dogs; I’m not sure how we got on the subject, but we talked for a good twenty minutes about the dogs Avery and his wife had over the years. Their latest one is a yellow lab mix they got from canine rescue. He’s just a pup really—only a year and a half old.
“Only problem is that I can’t leave him off the leash,” Avery said. “He likes to chase cars too much. Otherwise he’s a great dog.”
“He likes to climb in Avery’s lap. The dog must weigh fifty pounds, too.”
“He’s a good lap dog,” Avery said.
“He’s too heavy for a lap dog,” Avery’s wife said.
“Not for me,” Avery said. “Even though he knew something was up with me two months ago.”
“Yeah; that’s when he stopped hopping up into my lap. It was almost like he knew something was wrong with me—didn’t want to hurt me any.”
“You know, that’s true,” Avery’s wife said. “Somehow that dog knew.”
The conversation ebbed. Avery looked tired. I noticed that he was breathing a bit more rapidly now, taking small shallow breaths. We stood up to go. “I’ll try to get down to see you again sometime next week,” I said. We shook on it, and Maria and I walked down the long corridor to the elevators.
Driving north, I noticed a big red-tailed hawk soaring overhead above the highway. He seemed to be playing with the wind, his wingtips dancing on the air currents, sailing along beneath the brilliant sea of blue—that same brilliant blue of Avery’s eyes, still steady.