poured out before bed
Born on a face painfully disfigured by a rare form of cancer, his expression is one of fear masked by resignation, a combination that has all the appearance of emptiness. The appropriate cheerfulness of the resident is sucked into that awkward vacuum as he goes about the history and physical, his kindness left as blunted at the patient’s affect. As is too often and unavoidably the case in such instances of unexpected and aggressive malignancy, the physical and emotional suffering of the patient is only magnified by the efforts of the oncology team, who cannot offer the type of hope that promises time in any quantity beyond quality.
The final part of the physical exam is thorough palpation of the patient’s oral cavity with gloved hands. The resident apologizes for the unpleasantness of this last leg of our interaction and fiddles with the bright blue nitriles on the wall.
“You know, it’s too bad they don’t make flavored gloves,” I say, winking at the young man on the exam table.
The patient places his hands on his hips and from deep in his chest comes a rumbling that quickly fills the great void of his expression. He throws his head back and laughs, too loudly, for too long, until there are tears streaming down his face.
The resident and I stand on either side of him, the resident rubbing his shoulder, I holding his hand, thinking of the vinegar of broken dreams, the salt of death, and of blueberry flavored gloves.