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.
“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.”