The August sun filtered through the dirty glass of the dining room window. Dust particles danced and fluttered through the air as though having life within them. The once starched white lace curtains were now covered and darkened by the dust of time, neglect had settled upon them. A corner table spilled over its catchall contents, much of it now settled in piles on the once spotless floor. A home that was once bright and clean now stood sad and silent, waiting – for the passage of time.
Jim’s gaze was fixed past the curtains and through the window to some distant time, now only in memory. The edges of his mouth curled in those memories of happiness, his eyes glazed in the present thoughts of despair. He brought the coffee cup to his lips, giving the black liquid a gentle blow. Swirls of steam forced him to squint his eyes; it was still too hot to drink. He carefully placed the cup back on the table.
Strewn before him were mountains of envelopes, bills, notices, and well wishes; most left unopened. There was a time when the table was clear, a fresh bowl of fruit sat at its center, but that time was now forever gone. He riffled through some envelopes wondering if he should read some of the cards, but knew there was no point to it, all hopes of ‘get well soon’ were now faded. He picked up the coffee cup and went outside.
The morning air was humid and stuck to him; he knew Jennifer would not be able to take the heat that was becoming day. As he sat down he pulled his pocket watch out and looked at the time, seven thirty, he would have to wake her soon, morning medications. He took a sip of coffee, closed his eyes and enjoyed the warm liquid as it permeated his body. It was a pleasure his wife could no longer feel. The warmth of the rising sun, the aroma of fresh coffee, the sounds and joys of life, it was these things that Jennifer was no longer able to share in. A wave of guilt washed through Jim’s mind. Guilt that he could still enjoy these things that he once took for granted but his wife would never enjoy or feel again.
His heart cried for Jennifer, it had long ago broken and crying was all that was left. He allowed himself to sink deeper into the blackness of his despair. In the rush of the morning he heard sounds of happiness, children and parents starting their day and somewhere in the distance the bark of a puppy. His eyes snapped open, they had waited too long to try for children, and now there was no hope of any part of Jennifer continuing. He tossed the reminder of his coffee over the railing of the porch and went to gather the medications that kept his wife alive.
Three times a day, every day he had to sort out her medications. Each assortment of doses was different; pills, patches, and liquid’s, requiring three lists. He had made a mistake before using the list, a mistake that nearly sped up times take on his wife. When he had her morning medications properly measured out he poured a glass of orange juice, cup of coffee and dished out some peach cobbler from the refrigerator. He picked up the tray of his assorted goods and made the routine morning trip to her room.
He paused in the doorway to take in the sight of his beloved; still asleep as if she would always be there; be here with him. His breath was deep and painful, his heart ached knowing the pain she was in, and what lay before her. He felt a wave of helplessness wash over him, as her protector there was nothing he could do to save her from this fate.
When she was forced to spend most of her time in bed Jim rearranged the bedroom and had additions made to make her life easier. The bed they shared had been removed and an adjustable multiple position bed put in its place. The head was positioned three feet from the wall to allow full access from all four sides. Behind the bed was a window that faced east, to allow the morning sun to beam in and awaken them, which was their hope when they built the house. To his wife’s left as she lay in bed was a small table. On it sat medical items that she needed on a daily basis; it was also the table at which Jim ate most of his meals. Next to the table sat a breathing machine that provided her with a supply of fresh oxygen. In the corner, behind the table, a small red cushioned chair was pushed. It was his chair whenever he spent time next to her bed. A few footfalls from the same side of the bed, was the master bathroom. The doorway had been widened and grab bars installed to assist Jennifer as she descended into death. The once oversized walk in shower had been replaced by a step in tub with a waist guard to prevent her from slipping under the water. Through an easy access control panel she could summon jets to massage her at any place her body ached. To the right of her bed was her closet and dresser, containing clothing that had been altered to allow Jim to dress and undress her easily as well a supply of Depends to allow her to maintain her dignity in her last remaining days.
He entered the room and placed the tray on the table next to the bed; the sound caused her to stir. He opened the curtains allowing the morning sun to be a part of their new day.
He turned and looked at his wife who squinted her eyes to block the morning sun.
“Ya, hot and humid again today.”
“I want to go to the park.”
“Think you’re up to sitting in the heat?”
“I want to.”
“Then; to the park we shall go.”
He helped her to sit up and pulled the red chair next to the bed, keeping the tray to his side.
“So what did you bring me?”
“Some whites, blues, one yellow, coffee, orange juice and peach cobbler.”
“Skip the first three?” She said giving him a wryly smile and shifting her eyes back and forth.
“Can’t do that, I need to keep you here with me; at least for a bit longer.”
Her smile became tight, they both knew that bit was going to be short, and they were still waiting to learn how short. With gentleness and patience he fed his wife small bites of cobbler, and brought the coffee or juice to her when she asked. The tremors in her hands made holding liquids impossible and when she tried to feed herself the spoon would shake so violently that the food never found its way to her lips. He never conveyed the idea that he felt burdened or that she took too much time, she was his love and he wanted to do all he could to make what time she had left the most precious time they had.
“I’m done.” She said dragging the back of her hand across her mouth.
“Okay. I’ll go run your water; then we will set the compass for the park.”
Jim stood and pushed the chair back to the corner, its small brass castor rollers squealing on the hardwood floor. After the chair was back in its resting place he turned and faced his wife pulling his watch from his pocket. He flicked open its cover to look at the time.
“It’s eight thirty. You’ll have to shave some time off your bath in order to go to the park.”
“You’ll buy that boat after I’m gone.” She tilted her head left so she could look up at him where he stood next to the bed.
He closed his watch and stuffed it back in his left front pants pocket.
“Don’t think so. That was our dream, not mine. When you’re gone all our dreams will be gone as well. How can I think about our hopes and dreams when you’ll no longer be with me?”
He pivoted on his heal turning from her, hoping to conceal the tremors in his voice.
“You’ll carry what you remember of me. You don’t plan to forget me do you?”
“You know the answer to that. But I – to be honest after you’re – I don’t know what I’m going to do? What is there for me after? You’re my life.” He looked at the floor studying the wood grain, redirecting his mental energy to avoid breaking down. When he felt strong enough he turned back around to look at her, his eyes red and swollen from fighting back tears and emotions.
He moved closer to the bed and leaned over kissing her forehead and then left her alone to consider all that would change after she was gone. As was the pattern every morning he ran her bath water, it was cold for most people; but it needed to be for her. While the tub filled he placed two towels over the warmer and squeezed some toothpaste on her brush and laid out her hairbrush and hand mirror. When the depth of the water was where she liked it he returned to the bedroom, she was still sitting up in bed, but crying.
He looked down at her, his face a reflection of the life that was being taken out of her. He softened his voice and knelt beside the bed, gently stroking her hair.
“Why the tears?”
“You. If I’m your life, when I die what will your life be?”
He let his head drop on the edge of the bed and sighed.
“I’ll have to wait to see what happens. That’ll be a different chapter, a new page. I’m sure I’ll go on after – but I’ll never give my heart to another.” He raised his head and smiled.
“You can’t say that Jimmy. You might find some sweet young woman that takes your breath away, sweeps your off your feet, melts your heart.”
“How many clichés you gonna’ hit on?”
“Just sayin’ you can’t say you won’t fall in love again.”
“Right now you have my full heart, my whole life.”
She gave him a playful smile knowing that he meant what he said, but at the same time realizing he would have to move on, he would have to let someone else take his heart. He folded the covers back off her and removed her Depends and carefully cleaned her. Then he gently placed his left arm under her knees and his right arm behind her shoulders and carried her to the bathroom, he slowly lowered her in the bathtub.
“Ah! You got the water perfect, nice and cool.” She said, letting her approval show on her face.
Jim returned the loving gesture and smiled back.
“You’re welcome. Enjoy, if you need anything press the buzzer.”
“You know I will.”
Jim shifted the van into park and started the lift that would allow Jennifer to exit out of its side. After she was diagnosed as terminal Jim applied for all the handicap aid and benefits that he could obtain for his wife. It had taken nearly six months to get the approval for the van, but he was determined to give his wife the freedom to continue to go where she wanted. As he walked around to the passenger side of the van the side doors gently opened and the lift lowered, positioning itself even with the van floor. He used a side step and entered the van coming up from behind his wife. Her chair was securely locked in place to prevent movement while the van was in motion, so he reached down and released the locking clamps, allowing the chair independent movement. Jennifer then used the arm control to roll the chair back to the opening of the van and onto the ramp platform.
“Ready for drop.” She said in a childish playful tone, flicking back what remained of her sandy brown hair.
Jim pressed a button allowing the ramp to slowly and gently lower his wife to the ground. When the ramp stopped he unlocked the safety gate, giving her the freedom to move about wherever her chair was able to go. She rolled off the ramp and then stopped giving time for Jim to lock the van and set the alarm.
“Ready to roll?” Jim asked.
Jim walked as she maneuvered the power chair next to him. It had been seven months since the last time it rained and the late summer grass was brown and dry, crunching under the wheels of the chair. They made their way to a tree they had shared for the past twenty one years.
Jennifer just turned ten and her parents brought her and her friends to the park late one summer evening for her party. The young girls spent their time under the evening sun exhausting themselves with games until they were too tired to run. With sweat covering their bodies they collapsed under a tree in the cool shade to rest. Unknown to the girls, and Jennifer in particular, was a boy of twelve who noticed when they arrived and watched as they played. The boy watched from a distance, too shy to approach the girls and ask Jennifer her name. He continued to watch as she tossed herself back on the grass under the tree, exhausted from the hard play she had been in. Jim realized if he did not act quickly she and her friends would leave and he may never know who she was. From deep within himself he found the strength he needed; swallowed hard, wiped his brow and started the walk across the field of thick green grass to the tree. As he approached he could hear her laughter and the sound of her voice. To him it was the sound of a symphony of strings and wind, more than music, and it caused his heart to leap. When he stepped into the shade of the tree the other girls grew silent, Jennifer was lying on the grass, still with eyes closed.
“Name’s Jim.” The boy said. He stood tall and erect with his left hand placed in the palm of his right and kept them folded behind his back.
With fear inside him and confidence outside he watched as she opened her blue eyes and propped herself up on her elbows, her sandy brown hair tangled around her shoulders.
“Jim; is that supposed to be important to me?’ She said shifting her weight to one elbow and shielding her eyes with her other hand.
“It needs to be. See I saw you when you arrived and well, I would like to be your boyfriend.” Jim said. He pulled his shoulders tightly back and pressed his chest forward.
“I don’t know you and you don’t know me. I don’t even know what school you go to.” She sat up and wiped her hands together, knocking the dust from them.
“Yorktown Academy;” Jim extended his hand to her, “Name’s Jim.” He cheeks dimpled when he smiled at her and his emerald eyes appeared to glaze over.
“Ya you said your name was Jim. I caught that.” Jennifer stood up to be face to face with this boy who took it upon himself to crash her tenth celebration party.
She took her time studying the boy before her; she could see the confidence in his emerald eyes, a future man of strength and purpose.
Jim was stocky for a twelve year old boy, the build of a boy who spent more time in physical activity than in front of a television. His dark hair was well groomed and parted to the left side. Even his stance gave the impression of trust and power under complete control.
“Yorktown Academy; that’s a rich kids school, I’m just an average poor girl, I go to Westside.” She took Jim’s extended hand in hers giving a firm handshake. “Name’s Jennifer.” She said returning his smile.
“So now that I know your name and you know mine, and we know where each other goes to school. Would you like to be my girlfriend?” Jim allowed his posture to relax, his shoulders dropped and he resumed the appearance of a boy.
“Don’t you think I have a say in that?”
The unknown voice startled Jim; it came from behind him and was the voice of Jennifer’s mother. Jim spun around on one heal, extended his hand, and gave Jennifer’s mom a dimpled smile.
“Hello ma’am, Jennifer’s mother I presume?” Jim said, projecting his smile.
“You do so correctly. What were you asking my daughter?” Her tone was sharp and had a matter of fact demand.
“I wanted to know if she would be my girlfriend. I will be happy to give you my phone number and address so you and your husband can meet my parents and learn more about me.” Jim said. Before she could answer he reached in his back pocket and removed a small tablet of paper and pulled a pencil from its spiral binding.
“Well I must say young Jim, you are indeed bold. Have you ever met my daughter before?” She folded her arms across her chest to increase her visual size, a mother protecting her child from possible danger.
“No ma’am. May I ask your name please?” Jim asked. He kept his smile on and allowed his long curved eyelashes to catch her notice.
“You are respectful as well. My name is Kassidy. How do you know that she does not already have a boyfriend?” Kassidy asked. She hoped the question would be enough to send little Jim on his way.
“I would suspect that if she did; she herself would have informed me upon my first proposal.” Jim said. His answer came across sarcastic although in his mind he was presenting a point of logic.
The word ‘proposal’, forced Kassidy to raise her eyebrows and a turn of surprised etched across her face. For a moment words escaped her as she fought her desired reaction to form a reply.
“Did I say something wrong?” Jim asked. At twelve years old he still held the innocents of a child and was unaware of the weight of the word ‘proposal’.
Kassidy swallowed hard and cleared her throat. When she started speaking her words were slow and carefully spoken.
“No Jim, nothing’s wrong, just the choice of your words at such an age.” Kassidy answered.
Jennifer was still standing behind Jim and unaware to him she mouthed the words to her mother to get his phone number. Kassidy did not see any danger in the young boy and thought that in time the two would play out their childish dating game then part and move on to more serious things in life.
“Well Jim; I’ll take you up on the offer of the phone number and address. But mind you, Jennifer’s father and I will call your parents.” She said.
By her posture and tone of voice Jim know it was not a threat, her words were a promise, she intended to protect her only child.
“Yes ma’am I suspect so.”
Since that first meeting twenty one years ago the two have continued to come to this park and sit under the same tree. They were married under it when Jennifer turned eighteen. From that day as children it had become their spot.
“This is fine Jim.” Jennifer said as she brought her chair to a stop.
Jim unfolded a lawn chair and set it next to her power chair. The sun had reached its halfway point in the sky and was now on its decent when they made it to the tree and he knew she was exhausted. He took out her noon medications along with some drinks and a light lunch; it would provide her with some added strength. Jim sat their lunch on a small table he had unfolded and noticed Jennifer was transfixed on the children that were playing.
“Does it upset you Jim?” She asked.
“That I put wanting kids so long.”
“If you had known what we know now, would you have put it off?” Jim asked. He stopped setting up their lunch to give her his full attention. He hated having these discussions, but knew she needed to have them. With the passing of each day, she was filled with more regrets of putting life off.
“Of course not Jimmy.” Jennifer said. She brought the corners of her mouth up attempting to smile but instead made an upside frown.
“What I mean Jen, neither of us knew what we now know. How many things would we have done differently if we had? Kids, that trip to Europe, the boat. Our whole lives would have been different. But we did not, nor could we have known what our future held, so no regrets, okay.” He reached over to stroke her cheek with the back of his forefinger.
“Do you regret our first meeting here?” She asked. It was a question she had held for the past year, she needed to know that he had no regrets that he had been happy with what she had given to him.
Jim’s eyes flooded over with tears at recalling their first meeting, and the corners of his lips curled in a mischievous smile as he remembered his introduction to Jennifer and her mom. He knew the value of his boyish looks, emerald eyes, dark hair and dimpled cheeks had gotten him many things, including his wife.
“Oh no, never. Jen from our first meeting and when we married, I’ve been the happiest man on the planet, in the universe. I would not exchange one fraction of one second of the past twenty one years with you. In fact I would do it again, even if I did know what we know now.” He leaned over and gently kissed his wife on the lips.
They remained in the park until the setting of the sun, from time to time Jennifer dozed off, and Jim let her sleep. She would always wake to new children and fresh shrills of joy in the air, which would cause a wave of smiles to wash across her face. As the evening started to surrender to the night Jim knew their time at the park was over, he still needed to clean her and allow time for her to soak in a cool bath. He packed up the remaining bottles of water and carried their trash to a nearby trashcan. After dropping their trash in the can he thought about picking up the paper and empty bottles that lay on the ground. It was such an easy act to throw something away and it kept the park clean for everyone. It was only a few that ruined it for the many. Realizing it was useless to try and change the way people felt about the world around them he disregarded the trash on the ground and walked back to Jennifer. When he was finished cleaning up their spot he unlocked the wheels on her chair and they made their way back to the van. He reversed his earlier movements when he let his wife out, and when her chair was locked in place he climbed in behind the steering wheel and headed home. He pulled the van into the garage and repeated the steps of letting her out, he walked next to her as they made their way in their home.
When they entered the house Jim went to start her water while she stopped in the living room to watch the evening news. She rolled to the arm of the couch and picked up the remote from where he had left it. With her left hand she pressed her right arm against the arm of her power chair to keep it from shaking as she fingered the buttons. After pressing the power-on button she turned to CBS in time to catch the narrator introducing the broadcaster.
“This is the CBS Evening News with Ted Daniels”
Jim cut a path across the front of the television as he made his way to the kitchen to prepare her night time medications. As he did so the attention grabbing music played from the speakers. As the camera zoomed in on the news desk the narrator read the headlines.
“What did he say?” Jim stopped working on the medications, picked up a dish towel and walked to the edge of the living room.
“I know, and it’s the first story, hurry and sit down.” Jennifer said. She tilted her head to the couch to encourage him to sit next to her as they presented the story.
Jim tossed the hand towel on the table and rushed to the bathroom to turn off the water and just as quickly made his way back to the living room in time to hear what he hoped was good news.
“’In a medical breakthrough; scientist believe they have found a way to slow, if not reverse the ageing process, while at the same time curing many diseases. With us here in the studio is our CBS medical news consultant Doctor Emily Thomen. Welcome Doctor Thomen.’
‘Thank you for having me.’
‘So exactly what is this breakthrough? Is this the elusive answer to all of humankind’s illnesses that we have been longing for?’
‘We can’t say for certain Ted, yet, but we are hopeful. It was discovered quite by accident and because of the ethical issues involved the process is still being kept in the lab. But what I can tell you is how it was discovered. Recently a man in his late seventies presented his doctor with a case of leukemia. Now given his age, most doctors would have simply attempted to extend his life and made attempts to increase the quality of life he had remaining. However his case proved to be unique.’
‘In what way was his case different from that of another person in his age group?’
‘You’ve heard of location being important, in his case it proved to be most important. He happened to live in an area with one of the largest cancer research facilities in the world, and at that facility they just happened to be testing a new serum, which by the way, has not been approved for human trials nor has even been approved for stage one testing by the FDA. But a doctor there, with the patient’s permission, made the gamble to test it on him.’
‘And the results were unbelievable I presume.’
‘Yes, in fact the FDA gave post approval, but no further approval due to the ethical questions involved. But in this single case, the man’s leukemia not only went into remission, but thus far no trace of reoccurrence has been noted, but there were unexpected results. At first it was believed to have been a clerical error, until more in-depth testing proved otherwise. His aging process appeared to, at first, to have stopped. It did not stop but was drastically decreased. As to the ratio of the decrease, that is still being determined. The man also had scar tissue from years of smoking, that also cleared up, along with several other age related complications.’
‘If I understand you correctly doctor, this process not only cured his leukemia, but slowed his aging process and reversed the effects of age related illness?’
‘That’s correct Ted. But there’s more to it. Doctors feel that this is the cure for all cancers, AIDS and other diseases that affect all humankind. The slowing of the aging process and the reversal of age related complications is a side bonus.’
‘And a major side bonus at that. Thank you Doctor Thomen.’
‘You’re welcome; and again thank you for having me here to share this.’
‘As noted by Doctor Thomen there are some very serious ethical concerns with the serum, questions that must be dealt with before the FDA will allow stage one trials to begin, so this is something that is still decades away, even after the ethical questions are answered. Join us here on CBS tonight at nine Eastern eight Central for a two hour in-depth special report into this remarkable discovery.’”
“Jim?” Jennifer’s cheeks flushed a dark rose and tears gently flowed down them.
“I will record it. I promise.” Jim said. He leaned toward her to stress his words.
Jim leaned over the arm of the couch and kissed her on her tear stained cheek and then returned to the bathroom to restart the water. For the past two years they had both put their hope and faith in cures and promises that never manifested, only to be cruelly dropped off the edge of despair. They knew discussing anything would only feed hope; hope that could later turn to discouragement. So conversations dealing with any hopeful cures were intentionally avoided. He sat on the edge of the tub and let his hand dangle in the water, feeling the coolness wash over him as the current passed from the spout. Inside his heart he could feel hope starting to build, but he knew not to allow it. He wanted to scream at the cruelness of the world, at how hateful life could be to offer him, and more so his wife, hope only to have it yanked away time and again.
From the day the doctor informed them that she was terminal he had grown to hate life outside his wife and it was his plan to end his after she was gone.
He did not notice when the water passed the safe mark for his wife. He reached over and turned off the tap, then allowed the water to drain until it was low enough for her. With the water at a safe level he attached the extra handrails and placed washcloths within easy reach.
Jennifer enjoyed her bath time, it was a time her body could float free, and pain and pressures were eased. It was not unusual for her to remain in the bath for an hour or more, it seemed as if the cold water took away the burning sensations. When he had completed preparing the tub area he went to the sink to wash the tears away that had slid down his cheeks. With his nerves settled he returned back to the living room and his wife.
“Did they say anything else about the cure?” Jim asked. He dragged the sleeve of his shirt across his cheeks to ensure any reaming tears or water was removed.
“No. Jimmy I was thinking? I can put my medications off until, say about thirty minutes before the show ends? I want so bad to stay up and watch it. What do you think?” Jennifer asked. Although she had promised him not to put hope in anything they heard, she could not resist the hope within her heart.
“I think it’s a good idea. But…” Jim said.
“I know you don’t have to say it. But I will. We can’t talk about it until we talk to Doctor Ellis, and we can’t let hope build.” She cut him off in mid-sentence having heard his lecture on hope so many times in the past two years.
“And you know that’s easier said than we have ever been able to handle.” Jim said.
“I know. But I promise no words of hope until we talk to Doctor Ellis.” Her words were spoken as a promise, but her eyes were filled with hope.
“Let me take you to your bath.”
When they were in her bedroom he lifted her from the power chair to her changing chair. After securing her in place he started undressing her, being careful not to pull or snag the port tubes in her chest, or inflict undue pain. When he finished cleaning her up he carried her to the bathroom then gently lowered her in the cool water. She let out a sigh of relief as the water flooded over her body; she then laid her head back and closed her eyes to the burning pain that was starting to subside. Jim quietly exited the bathroom and returned to the kitchen to finish her medications and prepare the evening meal.
Most of the information presented in the special report was a rehash of the evening news, except with added interviews, charts and a projected timeline of approval, if the ethical questions were cleared. It was those ethical questions that interested Jim and Jennifer the most, and the reason why they had watched the entire late version of the presentation. However it was the one topic not mentioned in the story. As Jim had expected Jennifer fell asleep as the story grew into its second hour, he had the recorder running, knowing that she would want to see the remainder in the morning. When the newscast was over he stopped the recorder and tenderly carried his wife to bed.
They had stopped sleeping together shortly after she was given the diagnoses; his turning in bed caused movement which in turn caused her pain. He hired a contractor to remove much of the wall between the master bedroom and an adjoining bedroom. Then he set up his bed in the newly created space and let her have the master bed. Months later the master bed was removed to be replaced by the hospital bed. Although not sharing a bed, they remained in the same room.
With the rising sun he followed the same routine that he had for nearly two years, except for one difference, before waking his wife, he made an appointment with her doctor. He knew she would ask and the earlier it was made the earlier they could get in to see him.
As with every morning the two started with talk of – after – she was gone, but this morning he cut it short by letting her know he made an appointment to see Doctor Ellis at eleven o’clock. This early time altered their routine so they now had to hurry their morning schedule, a hurry she did not mind. After she was dressed he positioned a floor mirror in front of her so she could give approval, once given he sat on the bed next to her and started brushing her hair.
Chemo had taken its toll on her once full beautiful sandy brown hair, most had fallen out and what was left was dry, brittle and course. Its sandy brown tone no longer had shine to it; it now had the appearance of sun baked grass from the heat of a summer’s day. When they were in the van and en-route to the doctor’s office the conversation of hope started, as he knew it would.
“Jen, this is dangerous. We, you have been let down so many times…” He kept his tone tender, but firm in hopes of sidetracking the conversation.
“Jimmy its different this time, it works. Whatever the ethical questions are I’m sure that someone is doing testing, with or without FDA approval.” Jennifer said.
He could hear the pleading in her voice, the begging for hope, and hoping that he would share those same feelings.
“We can’t do this. We can’t think or talk like this. Let’s wait and see if Doctor Ellis knows anything about this.” He kept his voice firm, but this time removed the tenderness. He felt the same hope within his heart, but they had been dropped so many times he felt it necessary to press it deep inside.
She turned away from him and locked her gaze out of the passenger window. She was not mad or upset with Jim, but she knew he was right, it was wrong to hope. The remainder of the trip was in silence, each alone with their thoughts and feelings.
When they arrived at Doctor Ellis’ they did not have to wait and instead of being taken to an exam room they were taken to his office. His office was large, with oversized plush furniture; his desk was also oversized and made of cherry wood. The walls were covered in English tiled wood panels and a deep red accent of colors completed the look. The wall opposite the desk was lined with shelves of books, ranging in topics from medical to physics. The room conveyed the impression of knowledge and authority.
“I thought I would see you today. How’s my favorite girl, and guy – well couple?” Doctor Ellis asked as he entered his office. He approached Jim and Jennifer, leaned over and gave her a kiss on the cheek and extended his hand to Jim. Jim stood and took the doctors hand, returning the firm handshake.
“We’re fine – well no we’re not. Did you see the news last night?” Jim asked. His tone carried insecurity and disbelief, unsure if what he saw was not a hoax. He stepped backward and sat back down.
A couch and two chairs were positioned in the middle of the room and a large oversized coffee table that looked like a stack of books sat in the center of the furniture. A single large rug covered the hard wood floor under the table. Doctor Ellis was sitting on the couch across from Jim and Jennifer.
“I can only imagine how you feel after seeing that report. And yes I did see it, but there’s more to it.” Doctor Ellis said. He shook his head up in down when he spoke to affirm his statement.
“Are you speaking of the ethical question?” Jennifer asked.
“There’s that; but I’m part of the research team.” Doctor Ellis said. He spoke the last statement with hesitancy, unsure if he should reveal his position.
‘REALLY! Oh Jimmy; I told you so; I told you this time it would be okay to hope.” Jennifer’s voice pitched high and quivered. Her blue eyes glazed with tears of hope and joy, her cheeks flushed deep rose.
“Jen, back down. We don’t know anything yet, we have to hear him out.” Jim said. He placed his hand on her shoulder, as if pinning her back to the Earth.
“He’s right Jennifer, there’s that blasted ethical issue. I can’t tell you what it is, but I’m aware of it and it’s extremely complicated. No matter the benefits to all humankind from this serum, if we can’t find a way for medical science, the American and other governments to see past this single issue, this is something that will never come to fruition. The ethical issues surrounding this are way beyond cloning or stem cell research. In fact congress would approve stem cell usage long before they would even consider ever looking at the data on this. I’m on the ethical board and I’ve already tried to lobby congress and the FDA, they will not allow us to enter stage one testing, and that’s all in lab testing, no human trials at all.” Doctor Ellis said. His body slumped in the chair, resigned, his statement was laced with frustration and when he retold his efforts that frustration seemed to be aimed at Jim and Jennifer.
“I own you two an apology. I’m sorry for letting my frustration out. It is so – I don’t know how to express my feelings about the regulations of this country. People are dying needlessly why the bureaucrats of this country debate unrealistic possibilities.” Doctor Ellis sat up on the couch and leaned forward to stress his apology, when he leaned back he pushed the bridge of his glasses with his forefinger.
“So what’s the hang up, what’s the issue with ethics?” Jim asked.
“Jim I can’t tell you, I know it has to be frustrating for you, and more so for you Jennifer, but everything they said on the news is true, but – it’s the means we use to obtain the serum and no one alive feels that the ends justify the means of collecting the cure, not even me, at the present time. We’re looking for a better method, but I see nothing on the horizon, nothing for decades.” The frustration was still evident in his voice, but no longer aimed at his patients.
“I’ll be gone long before then.” Jennifer said. She turned and buried her face in the pit of Jim’s arm. Both men remained silent until she was able to bring her sobs under control.
“I shouldn’t bring this up, because I know if I do you’re going to want answers right now, but I’ve gotten close to you two over the years.” Doctor Ellis took off his glasses and wiped the lenses with the tail of his shirt. He held them to the light to inspect his cleaning, then put them back on, pushing the bridge with his forefinger until they were tightly on his nose.
“What?” They both said at the same time. Jim leaned forward in his chair to impress his impatience on Toby Ellis.
Toby again pushed his glasses back with his forefinger, and then ran his fingers along the arms of the glasses and over his ears, to ease the pressure they placed on the sides of his head. His hair was parted down the center and feathered along the sides and his glasses were wire-framed, he gave the impression that he was still in nineteen eighty five.
“There may be a second option. Because the serum looks to be decades out, maybe even as much as seventy or more years. And due to that delay the committee is considering a second option for some candidates, Jennifer you’re on the candidate approval list. However we wanted time to get final approval and setup done before mentioning it to potential candidates, but you two have forced my hand. I won’t go into detail at this meeting, but I do have a committee meeting tomorrow, at which time I’ll mention your case again and if approved I’ll give you and Jim a call to come back here so we can go over the details. But I can’t tell you more than what I’ve already said.” Toby’s tone was firm and definite; he did not want to be asked questions.
“I understand Doctor Ellis, and I’ll keep Jen as level as I can until you call. So does all this have a name yet, the cure or committee oversight?” Jim asked. His question was intended to direct the conversation away from the second option, and prevent Jennifer from asking questions of her own.
“Thanks Jim. No, no name yet. We’ll pass that motion tomorrow as well. We’re reluctant to call it anything; there’s serious doubt of getting any kind of approval to move forward. The committee feels that giving any part of this a name instead of a number will create false hope, for us and any who hear a name. I’ll give you a call to set up a meeting as soon as a decision is made, okay?” Toby said.
“Thank you doctor.” Jennifer said her voice shaking as she held back a surge of emotion.
“Hold on this time Jennifer, this is a real hope, and I’m sure that you’ll be approved for the second option. This is the most complicated medical and ethical question that has even been faced by doctors and governments. I believe that it will somehow be approved, but I don’t see how it will be, yet.” Toby said.
“Thanks again Doctor Ellis.” Jennifer said through tears and sobs.
“Jim, you’ve done a wonderful job taking care of your wife. I’ve never seen such devotion and love. I have continued to use the two of you as examples of what love can do. As you know Jennifer, when the leukemia in you got the upper hand, I figured you had only six months to live, that was two years ago. I truly believe that the love between you two has helped you to endure. You’re an unbelievable couple. Keep that love strong, because somehow I feel that this will work to your advantage.” Toby Ellis said as he stood up to indicate the conversation was over. He walked to the door and held it open, first Jennifer and then Jim exited. He watched as they approached the lobby exit then shut his office door and removed his cell phone to make a call.
When they were in the van it was Jennifer who broke the silence.
“Jimmy; what do you suppose the second option could be?” Her voice was soft and full of wonder, as if she was ten years old again and holding his hand as they walked through the park to sit under their tree.
“No idea; I was sitting here considering that myself.” He answered. He reached up and dragged his right hand through his hair, flicking his fingers as the last stands of hair filtered through.
“But; what if the insurance won’t pay for it and the cost is too high?” Jennifer asked.
When Jim turned to look at her, a look of panic shrouded her face, hope gave way to fear.
“You already know my answer; can you put a cost on life on living? No. There’s always a way. We have managed thus far, we’ll continue to manage.” Jim said.
The remainder of the drive home was in hopeful silence.