poured out before bed
When he was 20, he lost his mother to “a bad pneumonia.” He took to smoking to deal with the loss – the smell of cigarettes reminding him so pleasantly of the woman so careful not to light up around her children.
When he was 30, a doctor at a employee health fair told him that, based on his family history, he might be at risk for lung problems and suggested he give up smoking. He took to avoiding physicians, the memory of his mother’s last days and the thought of a similar fate haunting him.
When he was 40, he developed a cough he just couldn’t seem to shake. He took himself to the hospital, where a team of doctors ran a barrage of tests, looked at him grimly, gave stark news of a severe inherited pulmonary disease and his guarded prognosis.
He is 43 years old today. He has been on home oxygen and nighttime BiPap for 3 years now, in and out of the hospital with exacerbations and infections about every other month in that time. He has been smoke free for 3 months now, hoping to take it to that six month mark of abstinence which will make him a candidate for transplant. He has been in the hospital with a wicked pneumonia for 3 weeks now, and yet he is the most hopeful, the most pleasant, the brightest of all my patients.
When I enter his room in my isolation regalia, he wears regalia of his own. He points me to a colorful packaged birthday hat like his own and I unwrap and strap it on around my N-95, smiling beneath that respirator, willing him to see my smile. I listen to his awful lungs and to his wonderful conversation before I must move on to my next patient. I place my hat on the sink with a promise to wear it again.
On team rounds, only the pulmonary fellow, the attending, and I enter the room to cut down on unnecessary exposures and traffic in and out of the isolation area. I remind my companions of the occasion and don my hat as we step in. Suddenly, my attending links arms with me and begins to sing.
Happy Birthday to you!
I immediately join in.
Happy Birthday to you!
The fellow’s gravelly voice makes it a trio.
Happy Birthday dear Jonny! Happy Birthday to you!
There is a pause before I add, out of habit –
And many moooooore.
Mr. Jones grabs my hand and begins to laugh.
“Let’s hope so,” he says, offering party hats to the attending and fellow. “Let’s hope so.”