Life After Perfect(8)

By: Nancy Naigle

“Lie back for me,” he said.

He pressed his hands along her abdomen. “Any pain or discomfort?”

She shook her head. “Just the normal stuff.”

“The new medication helping with the nausea?” he asked, seeing his dad had switched medications for her after her previous visit.

“Yes. Pretty much.” She showed hardly any emotion as he went through the examination and asked a few more questions.

“Good.” He stepped back, and then sat down in the rolling chair; for a split second he felt like he was back in Raleigh with Laney at the point of no return. No more hope. Just waiting. That feeling, fear wrapped up in helplessness, surged like electricity through him. Making him want to run for safer ground. He took a moment to pull himself together as he checked off the updates on the report. “You can sit on up.” He forced what he hoped was at least half of a smile, and scanned the list to be sure he covered all that was expected in today’s visit. “Okay, I’m going to write your refills for you, and we’ll get those labs done today.”

“Thank you.”

“Any other complaints today?”

She sucked in a long breath. “Wouldn’t do to complain.” She laughed, but it lacked joy. He recognized the look of exhaustion. “I know your wife had cancer.”

He tried to recover from the stab those words had delivered.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” she added.

“Thank you.” He didn’t even recognize his own voice when he uttered the words.

“I’m done with the treatments. I’m just coasting. It’s not better, but it’s not worse, and for a while . . . every day was worse than the last.”

“I understand.” He already knew the details from the chart. And he did understand, more than she could ever imagine, but damn if that didn’t make it only harder to talk about. “Only you can make the right decisions for yourself,” he said, as if that might somehow comfort her. “We have a lot of new things we can prescribe to help make you more comfortable. If something’s not working, we can try something new. I see you’ve refused hospice help so far—if you want to talk about that . . . let me know.”

“I’m not ready for people hovering. I just want to be alone.” She laced her fingers. “Quite honestly, I keep praying I won’t wake up.”

He’d heard Laney say the same thing. Seen the look of disappointment in her face when she opened her eyes and saw him looking at her. Sometimes the most helpful thing to say was nothing.

She swallowed, and then said, “Thank you for not pushing. I was worried when I realized Dr. Hansen, your dad, wasn’t in today.” She paused, catching her breath. “He’s been so understanding.”

“No problem. You change your mind anytime about anything, you know how to get us.” Derek wrote out her prescriptions and handed them to her. “Here you go.”

“Thank you so much.”

She looked relieved that he hadn’t pressed her for more details. “You take care,” he said, and left the room, taking her chart and the prescriptions to Wendy at the front desk, and then retreating to his office.

Behind that closed door, he pulled off his jacket and loosened his tie.

His skin prickled as if he was under a Jamaican sun, but he knew the air was working. Sweeping a hand across his sweaty brow, he picked up the picture of Laney from his credenza, one from before she got sick, before treatments. He wanted so badly to remember her like this. Beautiful. Healthy. Instead all he remembered were her last days, when she looked not so unlike Kelly Jo just now.

No color. No energy. Not much life left in the container God had lent her. The one that cancer had sucked the beauty from so heartlessly.

It took him a few minutes to pull himself together; then he went back out and continued from room to room, handling the patients until there weren’t any left to be seen.

“That’s it?” he asked as he approached the front desk.

“Yes. Nothing else on the books.” Wendy smiled. “Our lucky day.”

“I’m going to run over to the diner and grab something to eat. Text me if you need me.” He patted his hand on the counter and headed down the long corridor.

Derek made one last stop in his office to hang his white coat back on the rack.

He glanced at his degrees on the wall. He was going through the motions, keeping his medical license intact. For now. Until he figured out what the rest of his life would be. There’d been lots of days since Laney had died that he’d considered chucking it all. He’d spent the six months after her death hopping from conference to conference and class to class, trying to stay as busy as he possibly could getting his general practitioner CMEs up to date.

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