The first nurse who saw the test results couldn’t hold back her tears. Her companion had slightly more control, but we all could see the tremble of his lip as he quickly perused the file.
In the hospital bed just inside the room beside us. Doctor Marcus Annoma slept soundly. He was a big man, in all respects and attitudes. Even his snoring, the regular sounds muffled slightly by his bushy mustache, sounded like the product of pure testosterone.
We had all been overjoyed when he agreed to join our consulting staff. He had trained in the military, perfected his skills at a top research institution, but he always managed to spend most of his time in a hospital – like ours. We were, of course, one of the top hospitals in the country, if not the world. We served royalty, the rich and the famous, those who could afford the best. Our rooms were exquisite and well-decorated, with plenty of natural light and none of the antiseptic green usually seen in hospital rooms. One patient, an aging rock star, even remarked that the bed was far more comfortable than anything he had at home – and he purchased his own hospital bed to be brought to his mansion.
Dr. Annoma almost immediately became a fixture of the hospital. He would stride through the hallways, his six-and-a-half foot tall frame towering over the other doctors and nurses. His deep, booming, hearty voice would echo up and down the halls- especially when he burst into rolls of thunderous laughter.
The man was an instant hit. He would pause at the nurses’ station and drop a ridiculous dad joke, adding a bald-faced wink to make them all titter in delight. He’d invite the other doctors out on manly activities like hiking or rock climbing, and would make sure to thank them for any consultations, making them feel wanted.
He was more than just a great oncologist, possibly the greatest cancer doctor in the world.
He was a great man.
Dr. Annoma had never showed concern, fear, or worry, even when patients were on the brink of death. He would merely ruffle his mustache, nod, and then confidently declare that he’d “have this damn thing licked in no time at all.” Patients would draw on that utter, unshakable confidence, replacing scared expressions with shaky smiles. And it always somehow seemed to help.
The nurse brought the chart to me, holding it out like a live snake. She didn’t have to tell me the results of the biopsy. Her face betrayed the answer to my unspoken question.
I took the file from the nurse, took a deep breath, did my best to steady my own nerves. I had known Dr. Annoma for his entire time at the hospital, had grown close to him. As had we all. I had volunteered to be the one to deliver the news.
To my surprise, the doctor was awake when I entered the room. He was sitting up in the bed, gazing down at the morning paper. A cup of steaming coffee sat on the small table next to the bed, a little vapor trail rising up from the porcelain. The man was dressed in the typical hospital gown, but he had insisted on wearing his doctor’s white coat as well, making him look almost as if one of the doctors was playing a joke by sitting in the bed.
Dr. Annoma glanced up at me as I stepped in. I was doing my best to keep my face straight, but I could feel my expression cracking. He set the paper down on his lap, his gaze fixed on me.
I nodded to him, but didn’t waste any time on small talk. The man didn’t deserve that. “The test is back,” I spoke up, holding up the folder, opening it up to confirm the diagnosis. “And I’m afraid it’s bad news. It looks like the tumor is cancer; it’s likely metastasized by now.”
I didn’t know what I had expected. Perhaps I was thinking that the man would crumble, or shut down at this terrible news. But Dr. Annoma just gave me a single brisk nod, a military nod. He reached out and picked up his coffee cup, his big hand wrapping around the entire cup. He took a sip, careful not to dip his mustache into the hot liquid.
“Ah,” he said, after lowering the cup from his lips.
“Finally! A real challenge.”