In a cold and sterile room, Ernie sat on the end of a table. He waited in brutal silence for someone to enter. He studied the floor intently through his boredom. The light-colored tile was clean. He could find no dust in the corners, although he examined the areas closely. One small window that could not be opened allowed a little sunlight to fall to the floor. The counter along the wall was clear. The cabinets were labeled with the contents. And a small chair awaited an occupant.
Ernie did not feel well. He had not felt well for months. Perhaps it was longer. He had been somewhat in denial until recently. His body could no longer ignore what his brain had tried hard to conceal. The persistent aches and acute pains had become a fact of life. Now there was this, the reason for his waiting. His vital signs had been taken, and he was made to sit on the end of a rather hard surface, trying not to think of what was to come.
Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. The person on the other side announced himself and then came in. He was a man in his mid 50’s according to Ernie’s way of thinking. He was as official as official could look. He sat in the small chair, put a file folder on the counter and began.
“Hello Ernie. How are you doing today?” the businesslike gentleman asked. He studied Ernie’s face for his response.
“Hello Dr. North. I am doing OK, I guess,” Ernie lied in a tone that was not at all convincing.
“Really?” The doctor responded. He had been treating Ernie’s ailments for over 15 years, so he knew all too well what were the complaints and attitudes that went with Ernie’s comments.
“Well, I guess it is not that good,” Ernie confessed. “My neck and lower back are almost always in pain. My right leg and arm sometimes get numb. If I sit too long, it is hard to get up.”
This admission of his problems was a hard thing for Ernie. He was only 61 and ardently believed that he should still be leading an active life. He wanted to do everything he had done in his thirties. As a bit of an adventurer, he wished to be off to foreign lands in search of new and exciting things to do. He wished to climb mountains and paddle canoes down rivers. He wanted to fish and to swim. He wanted to ride a bike through small towns and villages of Europe. In other words, he did not want life to change. His hopes for the future could only be achieved with a time machine, however, and he did not have one of those.
The doctor proceeded to make a quick exam of Ernie. He focused mainly on his coordination, flexibility and strength. He was not pleased with the result. He did not have to say that. It was written all over his face. Ernie knew it. He was a good reader. Doctor North sat back down in the little chair and made notes in his folder. Then he wrote a prescription and wrote down some phone numbers for Ernie. He began with a voice that could only be described as sad.
“Ernie, I am sorry to say that your strength and flexibility are not what they used to be. Some of this should be expected as we age.”
Ernie sat motionless and expressionless as Dr. North went on.
“The MRI you had last week revealed acute cervical spine disease.”
His patient did not react, so the good doctor continued.
“You have degenerative discs. That is to say your spine is in bad shape. That is why you have these pains and the occasional numbness. We will treat that with some prescriptions now. Here is Prednisone. And you should see a specialist for this. These are my recommendations. This is what we can do in the short-term.” At that, the doctor handed Ernie some papers.
“And in the long-term, doctor. What about that?”
Dr. North looked down to avert his eyes. He thought a moment and spoke without looking up. “It’s not good. This is something we can not make very much better. It will get worse in time. I want you to get all of your treatment options from a specialist. He maybe able to relieve the pain for a while.”
“I see,” Ernie responded. “I guess I know how Hemingway felt.”
“Ernest Hemingway. I understand the end of his life now.”
The doctor was not exactly sure what Ernie meant. He was not a student of American classics and their authors. Ernie was and he just understood something he could not grasp from high school until now.
“Fill the prescriptions and make an appointment with the specialist today,” Dr. North advised. “Call and let us know when you have an appointment and we will send records to the rehab specialist. Make an appointment to come back here in two months. And Ernie, I think you should stop driving. Get someone to take you to these appointments.”
The doctor left the room and Ernie got up slowly. As he stood his right arm and leg began to tingle. It was as if he had slept on them and cut off circulation. He carefully left the exam room and walked to the reception desk. He handed the doctor’s charges and appointment instructions to the receptionist and began to walk away. She called after him.
“Oh, Ernie. The doctor has you down for an appointment in two months. Would you like to schedule that now?”
Ernie responded with an odd grin and a simple reply, “No, thanks.”
At that, Ernie carefully walked to the door, opened it and went out into the quiet hallway. He was never heard from again.