The Bad Patient (Part I of IV)

“I will not willingly surrender myself to the medical industry.”

That had always been one of Isabelle’s assertions, and Rosie accepted it as much as she could. Everyone else said “Oh, you’ll sing a different tune if you’re ever diagnosed with cancer” and secretly Rosie agreed, but she and Isabelle cherished their friendship for its mutual respect, so she tried to believe that Isabelle would rather die than deliver her days up to medical procedures and protocols.

Isabelle was always bright and not dysfunctional; her friends and family thought it was just a matter of time before she would mature into mainstream thinking. Her mother forecast that she’d learn to like money and love shopping. Her father predicted she’d develop a desire to drive. Her friends insisted that she was bound to get lonely enough to look for a third spouse, even as they watched her live 15 happy years single, after the last breakup.

So far Isabelle was proving them wrong. She was 53 and hadn’t yet learned to love money or cars. She liked to live simply, alone with her dog. But the need for change loomed. Her just-diagnosed cancer was active and fast-moving. Six out of seven oncologists thought she wouldn’t have more than a year unless she underwent obnoxious procedures.

“Let’s take a walk,” she suggested. She set her empty coffee mug on the low table and stretched as she stood. She pushed her right hand through her short hair and massaged the back of her neck. Rosie was never opposed to a walk, but she considered her friend’s stamina and hesitated. “Do you think you should?”

“Sure. You’re confusing me with other ‘patients.’ (Actually I’m not a patient. I looked it up. ‘Patient’ means to suffer without complaint. I’m not into that.) If I let them do their chemo I wouldn’t be able to walk. But my energy’s fine. Let’s go listen to the water. See Spot run.” Her old beagle began to dance as Isabelle lifted the leash from its hook by the door.

“Fine. But grab a jacket. It’s nasty out.”

“It is not. It’s just overcast. Come on.”

Isabelle’s little house was a block and a half from the beach. She lived in a funky cottage which she thought would be perfect if it were just a little closer to the ocean. As it was she heard the surf at night. She smelled the tides. She breathed salt air. Her curly hair bent in the constant humidity. But the house lacked an ocean view. So she walked every day to the shoreline. It never failed to awe her.

“I know I’ve said this before, but isn’t it a trip that the beach is also the border of the country? The rim of the continent? I mean: straight out there? Hawaii if you manage to hit it, but otherwise Japan or most likely some part of China. I think we may even be at the edge of the actual plate.” She disconnected the leash from the eager dog. As usual, Spot dashed at the water.

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