One year ago, a 7-foot-tall black man came into my clinic in New York for chemotherapy, and howled like a child when the nurse stuck an IV into him.
Eyebrows raised, I approached him and asked if he was okay, since my adult patients rarely howl.
He grinned at me sheepishly and explained.
He used to run with a wild crowd and he abused cocaine. But when his friends switched to injecting heroin, he knew it was a terrible idea, and he would talk himself into a needle phobia until he truly feared needles.
“My friends all died and here I am,” he said ruefully.
His candor touched me and we became close friends. He called me, “My Blima,” and came to the clinic on his off days to drink green tea with me, pick up Ensure, and talk.
Every few months, he would lead my hand to an enlarged lymph node and I’d frown, and send him for another scan.
He got thinner and thinner and skipped more chemo appointments.
He lived alone in a homeless shelter and I treated him to Applebee’s gift cards when I learned that he couldn’t eat the frozen meals at the shelter.
(That’s when Applebee’s stepped in and sent him a $500 card.)
He was recently hospitalized, and when he showed up for chemotherapy yesterday, he weighed 126 pounds and his legs were as thin as my wrists.
I asked him if he wanted to proceed with chemo, or let me help him spend his remaining time in comfort.
He eyed me. “One more treatment, My Blima.”
I nodded. We treated him.
Today, he stumbled in and fell.
I picked him up and put him into an armchair. We looked at each other.
“I’m ready to go to the hospital, My Blima. I’m gonna die. It’s okay.”
I nodded and called 911.
“I forgot my charger,” he gasped through scarred lungs.
I wrapped up my charger and he pocketed it.
EMS and I tucked him into his stretcher with a blanket.
He eyed me: “I love you, Blima.”
Not one to profess my love easily, I kissed his hand and watched him roll into an ambulance.
And I’ll never forget the howling gentleman who gave himself a needle phobia, lived in a homeless shelter, and battled a lonely disease with grace and Ensure, until it was his time to die.