Florence meets Wendy

Florence heard her own heart beat in her ears. This had started years ago, and it was constant for a matter of minutes, but would always disappear. It didn’t matter at this point. She hadn’t felt this good in a very long time and this was a “good day”. As she strolled through the shop meant for outdoor excursions and backpacking, Thump, thump…thump, thump started and she held her ear until it stopped. She noticed ear plugs right in front of her and made the decision to put these in the basket hanging from her forearm. To anyone walking by her, Florence looked healthy. She wore Yoga pants, a tank top, a thin t-shirt over the tank top, and a pair of turquoise Nike’s. Florence had always been smaller, thin and frail. She liked to look as if she just stepped out of the gym and this shopping trip was just an after-thought. Of course, this visit to the Outdoors and Backpacking Store was the goal for the day.

And then her mind wandered as she stood looking over the wall of small accessories. She thought about all of the things she had planned for the thirty days. Second guesses of the choices made were happening more frequently in the past twenty-four hours.. “It’s like a constant war, and you want to settle that score…” Music and lyrics flooded Florence’s mind as she shut down the doubts. Florence walked to the front counter to pay for her items. A young guy, who looked as if he were in his early twenties, looked in Florence’s basket. He looked back at her and made the most sincere eye contact.
“Usually I can tell what our customers are going to do, but it looks like you are hitting a few activities.” The guy sounded like he was from California and at anytime, he might say “gnarly, dude”. Florence smirked. He was tall, with medium-blonde hair, and freckles. Florence envied his nature of calm.

“Thirty days of having fun.” She then found herself almost frowning as this reminded her of why there were thirty days to begin with.

“Ooooo…kay?” He seemed confused. “That’s a lot to cram into thirty days.” In her basket, sat ear plugs, fishing line, jigs for fishing, a helmet camera, a set of gloves for fishing, another set of gloves for rock-climbing, a voucher for one to an excursion of sky-diving, a voucher for an excursion for two to rock climb, another excursion for two for chartering a boat, and a final voucher for an excursion of base jumping- for one.

Florence was trying her very hardest to not reveal why this must happen now. “I only have thirty days off of work for the year, so I’m living it up!” She said this as enthusiastically as she could.

“Man, I totally understand and think it’s awesome!” The cashier smiled and showed his pristine white teeth.

“Ok, that will be $635.53.” Florence pulled out her credit card and handed it to the cashier. She didn’t feel bad for putting the money on the credit card now. Life insurance would pay for it as she planned to cash out by the first day of chemotherapy.

As Florence walked out of the store and turned to travel to the next set of stores in the shopping mall, she relished that the heat and the sun felt so nice and warm. Suddenly, Florence’s cell phone jumped and buzzed in her purse. The number was unknown. Florence slid the botton on her IPhone to answer the call. “Hello?”

“Florence Bailey?” A woman’s voice, clearly bored, came across the ear piece.

“Yes, this is her.” Florence was worried this would be more bad news.

“Florence, this is Dr. Junod’s office. Um, my name is Wendy, and I am her nurse.” The nurse spoke faster but now sounding bothered with making the call. “Yeah, so we were referred to you by Dr. Shillman’s office. He asked us to take a second look at your diagnosis. This is really common in our practice to ensure we are always seeking a second opinion. It looks like we are coming up with two different diagnosis and two different treatment…” Florence hung up.

She searched frantically for her keys, tears in her eyes, and walked quickly to her little car. She threw the bag of newly purchased excursions and accessories in the back seat behind her. She drove through the streets of people walking, waiting impatiently for people to cross. New Orleans was buzzing with tourists and all she wanted to do was get to Camp Street to reach her doctor’s office. After arriving, she quickly parked, threw two quarters in the meter, and walked into the office across the street. Tears rolling down her face, she screamed, “Who the hell is Wendy?” Never minding the random patients waiting in the lobby.

A middle aged lady with short brown hair and dark lavender scrubs came out of a door that led to the back of the doctor’s offices from the waiting room. “Are you Florence?” Her voice still sounded bored, but now exhausted and almost aggravated.

“You’re damn right I’m Florence. What gives you the right? I specifically asked my doctor, DOCTOR SHILLMAN,” She screamed the doctor’s name, “To give me thirty days. Thirty days to be with my family, my husband, no chemotherapy, no chemicals you think will fix me!”

“Mam, I’m going to need you to calm down.” Had anyone else been in the room that knew Florence, they would have very quickly held Florence back from the possible abuse that was about to take place. However, no one Florence knew was present.

“Calm down?” Florence’s right eye twitched involuntarily, which it had always done in stressful situations, and her hands shook. Florence straightened her arched back, as painful as it was, and released a flood of emotions in one solid lecture with a renewed calm. “Calm down? Have you ever been diagnosed with something that might mean the end of your life? Have you ever been forced to deal with a situation that might mean the END OF YOUR LIFE? Have you ever been asked to take chemicals that literally make you want to die? No?” Florence didn’t give the “nurse” a chance to speak. She then moved on to rethorically answer the questions for her and raised her voice with each point. “I don’t know you, and I don’t pretend to.” Higher. “I suggest you do the same with me.” Higher. “And I have asked for thirty days of uninterrupted time with my family and you can either respect that, or I can sue you for harassment.” Higher. “Are you getting this?”

Before the nurse could answer or blink, Florence turned around and walked out of the doctor’s office. She briskly walked to her car. Once in her car, she heard her phone again. “Are you kidding me?”

She started her car and reached for her phone. It said Dr. Shillman. “Crap.” Florence answered the phone and simply said, “Yes?” and was silent.

“Florence? I am so sorry. A colleague of mine didn’t know about your request for thirty days. It wasn’t their fault.” Florence just sobbed at Dr. Shillman’s apology.

“ What (sob) did they (sob) find?” Her chest hurt as she asked this, because did she really want to know the answer?

“They found that the cancer could be something else. Non-life threatening.”

Florence couldn’t believe her ears. “What?” She cried harder.

“I don’t understand it either but we can talk about it in thirty days. If this… Dr. Junod… is wrong, I don’t want to take this opportunity from you. I know how important this is to you.” Dr. Shillman sounded shaky on the phone and Florence realized he truly cared about her plan, and about her.

“Thank you Dr. Shillman. Can you do me a favor?” Florence thought of her mother and Ellis.

“Anything.”

“Can you tell Ellis, but not my mother, what you have found? I don’t need to know, but it will help him through the next thirty days.” If Jane knew, Florence would be harassed for the next month. If Ellis knew, he would have hope.

“I can do that. I should see Ellis at the hospital in about an hour if he is working today.” Dr. Shillman sounded happier. Ellis and Shillman had worked together for years now. Shillman had even written letters of recommendation for Ellis for school and continuing education.

“Thank you and please tell Wendy I’m sorry. I would but I’m so embarrassed.”

“Now that, I can’t do. She really just has a poor attitude. You think you’re the first one to go off on her?” They laughed and ended the call. Florence thought about Jane again and felt sad that she couldn’t explain this to her.

Florence texted Ellis:

“Hey babe! Dr. Shillman will talk to you today at work. They found something. Thirty days are still on and excursions purchased. It’s a good day. Love you and see you at home.”

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Florence (20) meets real life

When Florence was twenty years old, she received a simple phone call from Jane. Florence’s aunt, who was in remission from two years of breast cancer, was on life support suddenly. Florence’s part in this was the phone call she received that morning. It was a Sunday, as she woke up late after a night of partying and drinking entirely too much, in someone’s house. She answered the phone to hear Jane crying.

“Where are you at?” Jane asked with a sudden edge to her voice. She seemed frustrated with even having to call Florence.

“I’m in Houston.” Florence curled the end of her statement to almost sound like a question.

“You need to get home. Aunt Libby is in the hospital and she’s on life support.” Jane sounded exhausted to even have said this.

“What?” Florence was confused. Libby had been in remission for at least a year and was perfectly healthy.

Jane began yelling, “Florence, the cancer came back. She is dying. Are you coming to say goodbye?”

There are times in life that a punch does not have to be the only thing to take the wind out of someone. When Florence received the news, only in a fashion that Jane could deliver, she was quickly told to show no emotion.

“Florence, stop crying and listen!” Still yelling, Jane finished telling Florence how her aunt’s husband, Florence’s uncle, would be waiting to “pull the plug” until everyone said goodbye.

Florence could not stop weeping, no matter how much she tried to stop. “Florence. Don’t come up to the hospital like that.” Jane still acted as the situation should be something that should not affect emotion, or stimulate tears. Finally, Florence hung up on Jane. Florence could not say anything respectful to her mother at this point. She only resented her inability to be human in this moment that would forever change Florence’s reaction to losing someone so close, and her reaction to her own future.

Florence meets thirty days

It had been three weeks since Florence met with Dr. Shillman and his nurses. Ellis and her mother wanted to be in the room when the doctor spoke, however, Florence asked them to leave. She didn’t want them to console her, she just needed to make peace with this now. After all, she was the one who needed to be stronger. Florence was told that chemotherapy and radiation would be her best chance to even have the next six months. Without these treatments, she had two months.

Florence, in her mind, made the decision to start the treatments in thirty days. Thirty days for everyone else, thirty days for her. This sounded logical and was the best way for Florence to leave if she had to go. She started mapping in her mind the places she would visit, the money that would be spent, and the way she could help Ellis go through the transition. Florence had been through two people dying, watching them breathe their last breath and their veins collapse after the last heart beat happened. Florence cringed at the thought of her mother and her husband watching her do this.

“Have you told them?” Florence asked the doctor on that day as she looked through the hospital window to the hall where her family stood.

“ Yes, they know,” the doctor said with hesitation.

“Oh.” Florence looked around and then to the hall again. “Well, I want 30 days before I start treatment.”

“Mrs. Florence, I don’t think that…” He was cut off by Florence’s words.

“I need thirty days with my family. This is killing me and I need to live.” Tears streamed out of Florence’s right eye. The left eye always took longer to catch up when crying. She didn’t really want to cry at all. However, she couldn’t help it. She was arguing for her right to live. “Live” did not mean just breathing, it meant experiencing life.

“I understand.” The doctor then looked deep in thought. “Do you want to tell them or would you like me to?”

Florence smiled. “Thank you. I need to.” The doctor nodded. He and the three nurses that had been in the room without Florence even realizing their existence started to leave. They all walked out of the room in a line, each holding the door open as they passed Jane and Ellis.

Ellis smiled as he walked in. Florence tried to smile and was successful, but barely. She had been watching Ellis slowly rip at the seams in front of her. She knew his face, his mind, and his spirit. As she watched him walk in, and tears started marking his face, she knew she had made the right decision to give him her first thirty days.

Florence meets the truth

“Florence?” Jane kept trying to wake Florence as she sat next to her. Sobbing, Jane brought her forehead to Florence’s hand. Behind the sounds of IV drips, oxygen machines, and automated blood pressure cuffs, Florence emerged through the darkness in her mind. She started hearing the sounds of the hospital while tasting the sterilized air coming in through her mouth. Slowly, Florence opened her eyes. “Florence?” Jane was now watching Florence move. They were caked with sleep and when Florence tried to move her arm to clean them, the IV jabbed at her crease in her elbow. Great, that’s another bruise. Florence, now aggravated, looked around.

Florence tried to talk to answer her mother. “Hold on Flor, I’m grabbing the doctor. Don’t move!” Florence moved. “Don’t move!” Florence sighed at her mother’s OCD and how not even in a hospital as a patient, could Florence not be directed.

“Flor?” Ellis stood next to her. His eyes were red and swollen. Florence tried to clear her throat. There was something hard that hit her throat and she started to gag. “Calm down Flor. They will remove it now that you’re awake. “

“Mrs. Florence!” A tall man walked in with a doctor’s jacket, white and clean. “Ellis, has she tried to talk?” Ellis nodded. “Looks like it’s time to get that tube out. You’ve been out for quite a while.” The doctor’s voice was loud and deep. Florence’s doctor, Dr. Shillman, was a tall African-American who reminded Florence of Morgan Freeman. He was very smart and very nice to Florence, even though Florence had given him hell when she was diagnosed.

“We need to talk with you and then with your family.” To Florence, it didn’t look like good news. Ellis was tearing up as Florence stared at him. Her mother was holding back tears. The doctor was the jolly type but he was even forcing these words out. Florence raised her eyebrows to question this. “Let’s get the tube out and we can talk some.”

Florence wanted to cry. What happened to land me in the hospital? Why is Ellis crying? Florence’s mind ran to the worst scenarios. She grabbed Ellis’ hand and he pulled away. Ellis? Florence knew immediately what was happening. Florence rushed to make sure she still was in one piece, trying her best to avoid damaging her throat with the tube as she moved to view her toes, her fingers, and her mother. Ellis walked out. Her mother was leaving too. Everyone was trying not to cry in front of Florence. Are you kidding me? God, please! Florence silently shouted at the ceiling of her hospital room.

Florence and silence

“Ok, let’s get started.” The male nurse tied off her arm with the blue elastic band. Florence’s arm started to throb. She gulped and tried to swallow the feeling to cry. No tears. She felt the IV catheter enter the crease of her elbow and Florence cringed. She hated needles. She did not hate them for the pain, but for the idea that something foreign was entering her body. Florence felt the saline, a cold sensation rush through her arm and in her mouth, she tasted the familiar medicinal flavor.

“You’re all hooked up! I’ll be back to check on you shortly. ” Before Florence realized, there was medicine from a machine being pumped into her veins and the male nurse was leaving the small, private room. Ellis had opted to wait in the reception area.

Hmmmmm. Psh. Hmmmmm. The machine pumping medicine breathed in, breathed out, released medicine, and continued the cycle again. She remembered her grandfather. The machine was familiar and sounded similar to the silver cylinder oxygen machine he was required to use. Hmmmmm. Psh. Hmmmmm. She had also heard this sound when her grandmother frequented the hospital before… Florence shook the thought. Florence thought of how she couldn’t let negative thoughts breed in her mind. It would only keep her down is what her oncologist had explained.

The mental services, as Florence called them, were offered to Florence in the beginning. However, Florence simply had asked, “Can you just give me some advice on how to handle this?” to the sixty-year-old doctor. This particular doctor was not surprised, as in his twenty year practice, denial was the first step. However, Florence was not in denial, she was moving to the place she was required to be.

Florence’s pattern of thought as she waited in the small brown room moved to her mother. Jane knew about Florence’s condition but had not quite comprehended the magnitude of Florence’s state. Florence did not want certain people involved, and sadly, this meant her mother. In Florence’s mind, Jane was fragile and could easily be broken. Instead, Florence had told her mother about the infusions but had clearly left out the chemotherapy option and the stage of her cancer. There were technical words that only Ellis understood when Florence was initially told, which helped Florence feign ignorance when Jane fired questions on random phone calls.

Florence/Ellis Part 2

Florence and Ellis lived along the river in New Orleans. Their condo sat just above the levee, but low enough where Ellis and Florence felt like buildings were moving by when the really large ships passed. This made for beautiful sunsets. Driving on a Saturday, where the sun was slightly covered by the clouds while still bright enough not to depress anyone, made for Ellis and Florence’s favorite pastime. Windows were always down and coffee was always in hand. Florence was a like a child, in her innocence, being so sheltered as a child and teen, yet so exposed. She had reverted at the age of thirty in her downtime.

When Florence was a child, she was made to be an adult. She watched as adult issues and adult people ruined adult others and how no one never tried to apologize. For the rare instances someone did ask for forgiveness, it wasn’t honest. It was agenda driven.

Florence was now grown and knew how to navigate the world, or better yet, the people who occupied the world. She would only ever really let her guard down with Ellis. No one else knew what Florence looked like without makeup, without her hair perfectly in place, at least not those who hadn’t played a hand in raising her. Ellis knew her like this- Florence’s hair flying in the breeze as they ran errands while she exhausted herself by getting overly excited about the lyrics she knew to songs on her IPod.

Florence- not so perfect…

Back to I’m sorry. This was meant for one person, Florence’s husband, Ellis. She had torn his heart from the inside out, and had he deserved it? In her opinion, no. He also didn’t hold it over her head, he didn’t remind her of those months they barely spoke, and in her ultimate opinion, he defined the word “saint”. She didn’t idolize him, or worship him. She didn’t think he walked on water, and she didn’t make him the center of her life. She simply appreciated him and was grateful for him, because he gave that same loyalty to others she did. Florence Bailey may have acted picture-perfect, and been admired by others around her, but “pictures are worth a thousand words”, as most said. Florence Bailey was an absolute mess and Ellis loved her beyond her chaos.

Drama. It consumed Florence’s life. It was what her mother lived for, what her family knew, and in due course, something she created sometimes. This was never intentional. However, Florence’s idea of intentions was this: Intentions were useless, it’s the results that matter. She felt that her cloud loomed above and she accepted it with grace. Her cloud included, but was not limited to: simply put, loss.

“ Flor, what are you thinking about?” Ellis watched Florence’s gray eyes fixated on the ceiling in front of them.

“Oh!” Catching herself, Florence tried her best to recover. Here eyes always watered when she stared into the space in front of her. She never really fixated on a specific item or view when doing this. She would follow wherever her mind led her in that moment. “Nothing. Just tired.”

“Are you feeling okay?” Ellis tried to skirt around the question he was asking.

“No, today’s a bad day.” Florence was weak and didn’t like to talk about it, as much as Ellis hated asking it. The simple fact was, Florence had cancer.