The doctor’s pristine white coat almost gleamed as he sailed out of the elevator onto the oncology floor. He had full confidence in the data he had submitted for publication; his smile was sure and serene as heiHis strode in to see another one of his cancer patients.
“This is the most advanced treatment plan available anywhere in the country,” the doctor said, in a tone meant to inspire confidence. “We’ll start the chemotherapy infusions this afternoon, and follow with daily radiation treatments in about two weeks.”
The patient smiled at his wife, and when she gave an almost imperceptible nod, the patient said, “We’ll pass, doc.”
The doctor blinked, and hesitated another second, before pulling out a more soothing, authoritative voice. He never doubted that he could reassure and convince his patient.
“You don’t understand. There is no other option, but the data are very promising. This protocol will give you more time, perhaps as much as several months.”
“But will it be good time?” Mrs. Smith asked, her voice breaking as she lost control of a tear. The doctor thought her tone might flay him to the bone, until he saw Mr. Smith lay his hand over hers on a tattered Bible.
“I gotta dance my little girl down the aisle at her wedding later this month,” Mr. Smith said. “Will your plan let me do that, Doc?”
Mr. Smith smiled into the doctor’s silence, before sharing that smile with his wife.
“The missus and I, well, we prayed for a healing, and I’m healed. It don’t matter whether my body dies. Thanks, Doc, but we’re gonna pass.”
Several weeks later, the doctor tore open the package of advance copies of his article in The New England Journal of Medicine. He had already taken several congratulatory calls from his colleagues, including one from his chairman who hinted at tenure. As he pumped his fist into the air, the doctor saw another package tumble from the pile of mail.
The return address said, “Anna Smith,” and the note read, “Dear Dr. Edison. I wanted to thank you for everything you did for us, and to let you know how well Smitty did. A few days after our son filmed this video, Smitty kissed me goodnight, and woke up in heaven.”
The DVD showed Mr. Smith, looking quite dapper in his tuxedo. He had a full head of wavy, white hair, and he laughed as he waltzed with the beaming bride. Dr. Edison stared at the proud father, and thought about his other patients, shedding hair by the handful, puking out their last weeks in the hospital. Finally, the doctor understood some things he’d never considered; perhaps, he’d never dared to consider. There are things worse than dying.