Joe has smoked two packs per day since his teens. He knows better. I don’t need to lecture him on the dangers of smoking.
“I was a respiratory therapist back in Brooklyn,” Joe says in his thick New York accent.
“And you smoked?”
“Yep. All the respiratory therapists smoked, Doc.”
“Reminds me of cardiologists who order bacon and eggs in the hospital cafeteria, but then tell patients to eat low-cholesterol diets.”
Joe continues, “It’s my anxiety. That’s why I smoke. I moved to Oregon a few years ago for the quiet life. I’m gonna turn my life around. You’ll see, Doc.”
Today we’re celebrating. Joe hasn’t had a cigarette since he went into the hospital last month with pneumonia.
“I feel terrific!” he says. “I’ve turned the corner, Doc.”
The next day I’m bicycling through town. I turn at the corner of Sixth Avenue. To my right, I see a man smoking a cigarette. I have a feeling it’s Joe. He’s standing next to an apartment complex. I get closer. Oblivious, he has headphones on and he’s tapping his left hand on his thigh. So I speed up and then stop suddenly right in front of his face. The high-pitched squeal from my brake pads startles him.
He does a tough guy pose and tries to stare me down. “What’s your problem?” he says.
I lean my bicycle against the door to his apartment.
“Who are you?” he demands as he closes in on me.
We’re in a standoff. He takes off his headphones. I take off my bike helmet. He removes the cigarette from his mouth. I remove the sunglasses from my face.
Then he slinks back against the building and almost cries, “Oh my God. Oh no. Oh no. Oh my God. I can’t believe it. I promise this is the first cigarette. I just picked it up just now. It’s the first one. I mean the last one. I promise I’m going to quit, Doc. I’ll quit now, tonight, as soon as you leave. It’s the last one. I promise. I can’t believe it’s you. What is this? Why are you here? What are you, an angel?”
I put my hand on top of Joe’s balding head, look straight into his eyes, and I bless him: “Your life has been spared one more day.”
Then I ride off into the sunset.
This is PART 1. Read PART 2.
Chapter 78 from Pet Goats & Pap Smears: 101 Medical Adventures to Open Your Heart & Mind. ** R.I.P. Joe 12/10/13 **