"Can you come over the hospital?" Ronnie said. " We just got some terrible news."
Alicia had been admitted to University Hospital after complaining of fever and pain in her bones that had descended upon her the day before. Initially, it was thought that the chemo she had been given to combat the myeloma was causing the pain. The fever, well, they didn't really know where that was coming from. Thus began the scans and blood work that resulted in the call from the hospital a week from last Saturday.
I had been dreading this moment from the day I met Ronnie and Alicia Weimer on that beautiful Fall day last year. Although she went into partial remission on at least two occasions, cancer is awfully scary stuff despite being treated for it at one of best places in the world for treatment of multiple myeloma.
Since starting the chemo last November she had been through a sinus infection that hospitalized her back home in Thibodaux. She developed a weird rash all over her body. She got pneumonia. She still had a trace of that in her lungs when they returned to Little Rock last month. Still, she seemed to be doing fairly well on this trip. 3 weeks ago we celebrated Ronnie's birthday at Cafe Laredo with some of their other Little Rock friends. But a week or so ago back in the RV park where they like to stay she woke up with severe pain in her back and ribs.
I don't know much about cancer. But I had a bad feeling about this bone pain stuff.
Alicia was sitting up in her bed when I got there. I put my arm around their daughter Cindy. Ronnie came over and shook my hand.
"Go sit over there," he said, pointing to the spot he had vacated. " You need to talk with my sweetie." He left the room.
I stood over her bad and took both her hands.
"What's going on?" I asked.
"Please sit down."
I sat down by her bed. She took my hand. Cindy, the daughter, covered her mouth and left the room.
"We got some tough news tonight. Although they can't say for sure until some of the other scans come in, they believe that the myeloma is everywhere in my system now."
"Oh God," I said. "I am so sorry." I couldn't think of anything else to say. How inadequate.
"I need you to help me make some decisions."
"Me? I'm just a lawyer. You need to talk to your family."
"I will. But you're a good listener. You're good at helping people with problems. And at this point, you're family."
"OK. I'll do my best."
She looked over my shoulder out the window. Over across Markham where the church steeples peek through the trees of Pulaski Heights. She always did like looking at the trees. Much different look than back home in Thibodaux. After a bit she returned her eyes to mine.
" They can try another type of chemo. But it's pretty toxic and I would have to do it here. Maybe it would buy me a little more time. Maybe I would die in Little Rock. It's pretty clear that this thing is going to do me in. I want to spend as much time with my family as I can while I still feel pretty good. If they can't fix me at UAMS I can't be fixed. And I don't want to die in Little Rock. What do you think, Paul?"
I was struck by her serenity. I was in the presence of the holy. It took me awhile to find my voice.
"If they can't fix you here you can't be fixed. If I were you I would go see those grandbabies."
She rolled over and looked at the ceiling. Silently, she nodded her head. Ronnie came back in. I got up. He took my seat.
I took her hand as I walked by her bed.
"I will see you again," I said. "And not ..." I pointed to Heaven. Not that I am much of a candidate for entry there. But she grasped my larger geographical metaphor.
"Good," she said. "I love you."
"I love you too."
As I left I noticed she and Ronnie were holding hands. Just as they have since they were young sweethearts.
The test results confirmed the doctor's preliminary guess. There is a mass on her pelvis. It is "active and growing." The fluid they drained from around her lungs is full of myeloma. There is no use. It's time for Alicia to go home.
I visited with everybody the day before they left. By then her 3 sons had arrived to help her make her decision. I allowed as how Alicia must have felt good about going home.
"It's bittersweet," she said. " We came to like Little Rock. It's such a beautiful place. So different from home. We made new friends. Everybody has been so good to us. Here at UAMS. The Methodists and the Baptists came to see us. It's bittersweet."
Ronnie announced that he and the boys were heading back to Maumelle to boil shrimp and drink beer. This seemed like a perfectly Louisiana thing to do under the circumstances. He gave me a hug before he left.
"I'm going to miss you, my buddy," he said, with tears in his eyes.
"I'm going to miss you too." And with that he left.
Alicia and Cindy were staring at each other.
"What?" I said.
"Ronnie Weimer does not hug men," Alicia said.
" I'll be damned," I said. "I'm honored. I guess."
It's cool. What happens in Little Rock stays in Little Rock.
Cindy will keep me posted. I hope to see her Mom again before things get really bad. As they will. And I hope that I am granted just a small measure of the strength and courage possessed by Alicia Weimer when my time is at hand.
I miss my Louisiana friends already but I thank God for the privilege of this past year.
And that holy conversation by Alicia's bed that Saturday night.
But like the lady said. It's bittersweet.