Perspective: The Only Perk of My Job Was Being Able to Watch My Friend Die
I closed the lid on PCR thermal cycler 2, checked the hallway was clear, then snuck out in the opposite direction to my lab.
My lanyard allowed me access to anywhere in the hospital, so I swiped my way through the closed ward doors with a satisfying beep. I wasn’t 100% sure I was supposed to be in there, but no one was 100% clear on the ever-changing COVID-19 rules, and the nurses all smiled at me as I passed - or at least I think they did - beneath their fitted masks.
I found the bed number my friend had texted earlier - it changed often - and rounded the curtains to see him leaning against the dull, gray window. Folded up on a visitor chair, his arms were around his legs under a blanket, like he was trying to make himself small. He was a very tall guy, so this was no easy feat.
“So, how’s it going today?” I enquired, plopping myself in a socially distanced, ugly orange chair.
“Apparently one of my tumors has managed to fracture my spine. I barely even felt it over the other stuff.” His eyes were dull, reflecting the gray, cloudy window, and my heart sank. How far can a heart sink? It seemed to sink a little more with every scrap of bad news, but there was always more room to keep sinking. I tried not to let it show as painful pictures of our times surfing, hiking, and camping together flashed across my mind. Things you probably couldn’t do with a fractured, tumor-riddled spine.
These good times weren’t that long ago. We’d only met about 8 months prior when he’d flown home from Canada after a shock diagnosis of stage four lung cancer in mid-2019. He’d had a niggling cough, he’d told me, and had delayed going to the doctor since it was expensive for a traveler. They’d sent him home as soon as possible for treatment.
I tried not to let it show as painful pictures of our times surfing, hiking, and camping together flashed across my mind. Things you probably couldn’t do with a fractured, tumor-riddled spine.
He’d told me all this while playing board games at our mutual friend’s house, looking like any normal, healthy, 29-year-old. He wasn’t coughing or anything, but I guess he was already on some form of suppressive medication. With a dry, blunt kind of humor, he explained that he’d like to do as much ‘fun shit’ as possible while he felt OK. He was even planning a ‘retirement trip’ around Australia, in a van he was going to handyman into a mobile home with the help of YouTube. Complete with solar panels for dimmable lights. I was immediately inspired to get involved, and definitely on board to partake in all the ‘fun shit.’
We bonded pretty quickly over our mutual interests in traveling, exploring, and the outdoors. He’d never tried surfing before but picked it up pretty quickly after borrowing my spare board. Our new surfing group bought matching blue foam boards when they were on sale - he added a white ‘speed stripe’ to tell his apart.
Before setting off to Canada, he’d bought himself some huge, multi-panel world maps, to mark with pins where he was planning to travel in the future. Once he found out I was a travel enthusiast and general map lover, he bestowed one of these maps to me.
“I think you’ll get more use out of it than I will any time soon,” he’d declared, and proceeded to source polystyrene backing, the best glue to use, and helped me mount it to my office wall. It became pretty obvious he was a generous guy, quiet yet thoughtful, and willing to help out wherever he could.
His selflessness got a little frustrating a