The gift of Hodgkin’s

Live, laugh, love — I’ll start with live.

Rendered down to its basics, of the three words, this one is probably the easiest to accomplish. Breathe in, breathe out.

Next I’ll tackle love. To one degree or another, most of us will experience this emotion in spite of ourselves.

And then comes laughter, which by my way of thinking is the holy grail of this trio. Laughter, unlike the other two commodities, is never just handed out as part of the package. Instead, it buds and blossoms only after one has mastered the art of living fully and loving deeply, as my deceased friend so aptly demonstrated to me many years ago.

Will had been battling cancer for the better part of a decade when one day, while I was driving him to his weekly chemotherapy treatment, he turned to me and said, “When I really think about it, I guess I’m lucky to have had the gift of Hodgkin’s.

Not understanding what he meant, I asked, “What’s the gift of Hodgkin’s?”

“Well,” he replied, “since I know I’m going to probably die sooner rather than later, I tend to see and feel things I normally would have missed or just taken for granted.”

“That’s not what I’d exactly call a gift,” I said, “and besides, anybody can to that if they pay close enough attention.”

“Yeah,” Will responded wistfully, “But most people don’t, because the’ve still got time. Or at least they think they do.”

Several months later, his cancer took a turn for the worse. This time around, he was undergoing a series of infusions at one of the big cancer centers in Seattle. These particular treatments pressed the limits of his endurance.

About his third session in, Will couldn’t take it anymore, so he decided to send someone else in his stead for the rest of his treatments. For his next several visits, he transformed himself into a new persona. One visit he dressed as a convict, complete with ball and chain. The next, he donned a gorilla suit and went Bobo-the-Ape all over the place.

Along about his fifth visit, his oncologist had become quite concerned over Will’s behavior and decided they needed to have a sit-down. In some sterilized cubicle, Lucky Lerivex the riverboat gambler stared down the good Dr. Wasserman.

“Will,” began the doctor.

“It’s not Will, it’s Lucky Lerivex,” replied Will.

“OK, come on, Will, knock it off already,” responded the doctor.

Dr. Wasserman then proceeded to lecture Will that he thought he was becoming “unbalanced” and therefore needed psychiatric help.

At the end off their little showdown, Will basically told his doctor to stick to his area of expertise, and that he should try walking in his shoes before making any more judgment calls about his mental state.

And so the treatments went on, and each time Will continued to arrive as someone other then himself. During this time, Will began to take careful notes of his oncologist: his hair, dress, speech, gait, mannerisms, cologne, jewelry, glasses, etc.

For Will’s last treatment, Dr. Wasserman arrived at the oncology ward a few minutes before his usual time. Grabbing a patient’s clipboard from the nurse’s station, he began to make his rounds. As he strolled toward his first stop, he paused and pivoted around to the duty nurse on call and said, “Would you be so kind to page Dr. Wasserman to the floor?”

Confused, the nurse responded, “But you are Dr. Wasserman.”

Feigning annoyance at her response, the bespectacled man calmly removed the stethoscope hanging around his neck and wagging it at her repeated, “Please nurse, just page Dr. Wasserman to join me here.”

Dr. Wasserman arrived a few minutes later and upon seeing his mirror image standing in front of himself, became still as a statue. Slowly recognizing who the imposter was, his rising anger quickly gave way to unbridled laughter as the patient hugged his doctor.

So rare: Laughter on the floor of an oncology ward, enabled by one man’s dark gift? Or was this just the momentary reality of two men clutching at something that is good and pure?

Either way, it serves as a remembrance of the human spirit at its best.

Pete Garay lives in Homer with his wife and three children.

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