His whole life flashed in front of him, as the words filtered into his ears. He was never one to hold that expression to be realistic. It was something he often came across casually in novels and articles in magazines.
When people come across a sudden life-threatening bad news, the first few seconds often feel like eternity.
They say an average intelligent individual uses only eight percent of his brain’s full capabilities. In that moment, he wondered if that was true. He felt his entire brain open up. He recalled clearly every event of every day of his life for the past twenty years. He could almost swear he recalled the additional three years, which were the first three years of his life.
He remembered everything that led him up to that point.
He felt panic within him. Due to his nature, however, panic never shows on his face. Not even the medical doctor sitting on the other side of the untidy desk detected it. Perhaps, when the doctor saw no change in countenance as he delivered him the news, he had thought the patient did not hear him. He proceeded to read to him again the contents of his test results.
This time, Pitt blanked out the words coming out of the doctor’s mouth. He hates it when people repeat themselves to him. It annoys him, perhaps, because it makes him feel he is thought of as dumb, or probably because of the high level of impatience he has for people. The doctor’s initial report was still fresh in his head. It had just been a few minutes ago.
“I have your test results here with me,” the doctor had said. “Your erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) readings are good.”
He had no idea what that meant.
In the last eight weeks, he has had two episodes of a potentially dangerous and completely non-transmissible oral infection, which he had tried to treat with an antifungal prescribed to him by a pharmacist. That would have been enough to keep him away from a hospital, if not for the arrival of a stubborn fever and ever persistent headache that did not seem to relieve him for more than a few hours within the last two weeks. He often found himself struggling for breath, as he could hardly take deep breaths without his lungs and heart wanting to explode. He knew it was time to go to a hospital.
Hospitals are nightmares to him. They all seem to have one distinct smell that reminds him of the time he had a terrible typhoid fever that almost killed him. He had been admitted into a private clinic for treatment. He often still wonders if his veins have completely healed from the countless needles that poked them. He lost count of the number of water bags and injections the doctors had to pass through his body. As if that was not bad enough, he was transfused a pint of blood. The transfusion needle was so large, that it made him cry when the doctor inserted it into the vein (or artery, whichever one it was) on the outer palm area of his left hand. It stayed on for three days.
He hates with a passion needles and anything that might lead to an injection. This time, he made that abundantly clear to the doctor he met for consultation.
The doctor smiled in an understanding way and said, “Let us hope it doesn’t get to that.” He wrote out a couple of tests he should do, and directed Pitt to the clinic’s medical laboratory.
They were to test for the presence of malaria parasite, hepatitis, diabetes, and HIV. They were also to carry out a full blood count to determine how strong his immune system was, and lastly, a chest x-ray to check for an acute or chronic infection of the lungs called pneumonia.
He smiled when he saw the long list of tests he was supposed to undergo.
Deep within him, he knew he had a weak immune system, and that was probably the cause of his recurrent oral infection. What he did not know was why it was that way. His mother often told him it was because she stopped breastfeeding him earlier than recommended, and that was for the reason that he had started rejecting her breast and breast-milk altogether sooner than was expected.
He often finds that ironic, considering the great love he has grown to have for breasts. That was his untold weakness. He could spend a whole day fondling a soft breast. Nothing else would matter at that point. Size do not really matter to him; what is more important is the texture.
As he entered the laboratory, he was greeted with the smell he dreaded, only this time, it was stronger. His legs almost failed him when he saw new packs of syringes, needles and small test-tube-like bottles for blood storage lying on a table in a corner of the room. He had not been in that situation in a very long time.
If he had not strongly felt the tests were really important, at that moment, he would have simply turned back, and found the nearest exit out of the clinic. The money he had paid would not even have crossed his mind. He was so terrified of a needle being inserted into his arm for a blood sample.
After all formalities with the young lady he met at the desk, she proceeded to do the dreadful.
He could still feel the needle pain as he sat opposite the doctor, listening to his results.
“A significant amount of malaria parasite was found in your blood, and that is not strange, considering this is Africa.” the doctor continued.
That explained the fever and headaches, which was not a surprise, as he had always been prone to malaria due to his blood type. He somehow suspected the doctor was trying to get the little things out of the way, before giving him the ultimate bad news. He was a different doctor from the one he had met during consultation. The doctor’s body structure was no different from that of a club bouncer, and the way he walked made him look like one. He was cross-eyed, and that made it difficult for Pitt to look him in the eyes. When the doctor spoke, he was not sure if he was looking at him or not. He had to occasionally switch his gaze from one eye to the other, trying to decipher which one the doctor had on him. After a few attempts, he gave up, and kept staring at the somewhat arranged books and files on the table. Whoever had tried to arrange that table had no clue what they were doing.
“Your blood sugar level is normal, which means we don’t have to worry about diabetes. Also, we found no signs of hepatitis.” the doctor further announced.
Though he had heard the term a quite number of times, he never really knew what hepatitis was all about. He made a mental note of it, planning to do a little research on it later.
From the next statements of the doctor, he gathered that his chest x-ray test result came out normal; he had no pneumonia.
As that last report was settling in, the doctor looked up from the laptop computer he had been fidgeting with and said, “However, I have two bad results here.” He waited for a few seconds to watch the patient’s reaction, and probably allow him process the thought. Pitt did not as much as flinch upon hearing that.
“How bad are they?” he asked, probably the first thing he had said since the meeting started.
“Very bad.” the doctor confirmed, as he proceeded to disclose the other test results.
“We tested you for HIV, and the test result came back positive.”
Pitt had sincerely thought he was in one of his dreams where he could pinch himself and wake up on his bed. A million thoughts ran through his mind at once, as he immediately started to brainstorm on how he could have gotten the virus. He knew in that moment what it feels like to be the recipient of a life-changing bad news.
The doctor, probably expecting a different outward reaction, was surprised when Pitt, almost immediately, asked calmly what the other bad result was.
The doctor said, “We discovered that you have cancer of the blood; Acute Lymphocytic Leukaemia, and it has been present for a while.”
It was in that moment that panic gripped his soul. He knew exactly what that was. It was a death sentence. Last time he checked, leukaemia had no certain cure, and averagely, one would be dead in five years or less.
“How bad has it gotten?”
“I will have to refer you to a specialist for further tests to get an accurate answer to that. However, since it is an acute case of leukaemia, without treatment, that should give you a year, maybe two. That is my professional opinion. I’m sorry. You need to remain strong.” the doctor replied, making a sad face that he had obviously been rehearsing on for a while. He could see no noticeable change in his patient’s countenance, and that obviously baffled him.
Pitt kept a reserved smile, as he got torn apart inside by the news. He is a very strong young man, admittedly, but some news cannot but sweep you off your feet.
He felt dead, he felt really sick, and then he felt nothing.
He could see all his dreams waving to him, as they go up in smoke. Only one thought kept looping in his head; “I am only twenty-three, why me?”
Back in his room, Pitt could still hear the doctor’s voice in his head as he laid out those words. It was a Friday, which meant he had two whole days before he could see a specialist on Monday. He was alone in his room, and he felt terribly lonely. He made up his mind to keep the news to himself, since there was nothing anybody could do about it. Telling his family would only bring them unimaginable pain as they count the days to his death.
HIV on its own can be completely managed, and one could live a full life with it. HIV with leukaemia was another thing entirely. He wondered how he got the virus.
He had been a very shy boy during his High school days, one that could never bring himself to ask a girl out. His early university years had been no different. He did not kiss a girl until he was in his final year. That girl went on to become his first ever girlfriend. The relationship lasted a year, and two years later, he was still single. He never slept with her, or any other girl, so sexual transmission was completely ruled out.
Another possibility that came to his mind was the blood transfusion he received ten years earlier. The doctor told him it was possible to have gone unnoticed for that long, especially if the viral load had been very low.
Another probable source could be through hair clippers he shares at barbing salons. He was never one to share sharp objects or play around one.
The following day was probably the longest of his life. He had only slept in the early hours of the day, as sleep eluded him all through the night. He woke up with the usual fever and headache. He felt within his body he was really sick. He spent the whole day in his room getting sad and feeling depressed. He was angry at life. Why does it have to be him? He had colleagues who live their lives recklessly sleeping with women, drinking excessively, shooting hard drugs, and smoking weed. He never did any of these, yet, somehow, life has decided to fuck him over.
The tears finally came on Sunday afternoon, as he pulled himself together, and rose from his bed to tidy up his room. He had tried to make them come earlier. The tears flowed endlessly. At the end of it, his pain and sorrow had come to a permanent end. He felt those emotions drain out of his body as the tears left his eyes.
He felt happy for a while. He finally felt okay.
He figured he had spent enough time mourning his impending death. He had other things to do than waste more time sulking over an inevitable death. Moreover, if the cancer and virus are going to kill him, they will have to do it all by themselves. He was not going to give them a helping hand.
He continued the rest of the day as he normally would. He replied all his messages, and even invited some of his friends over for a hangout. They had no idea what he had gone through the previous day.
He had been sitting for two hours waiting for his test results. He met up with the specialist’s appointment early enough, despite the weakness running through his body.
She was a gorgeous mid-age woman who could not seem to stop smiling as he spoke to her. The neatness in her dressing was well diffused into the arrangement of her office. She shook his hand as she invited him into a seat across the desk from her.
When she looked up from the old test result he had given her, Pitt could tell she was genuinely concerned. She recommended further tests to determine the exact nature of the cancer.
“Mr Pitt,” the receptionist called, “the doctor will see you now.”
As he entered her office for the second time that day, he noticed something was different about her. The smile, it was gone. It was now replaced by a look of helpless sadness. She tried to hide it upon seeing him, but it was too late. He had picked it up.
“Mr Pitt…” she started.
“Please, call me Pitt.” he protested.
She smiled and continued. “Pitt, are you aware that you have HIV?”
“Yes, same day I found out I have leukaemia.”
“And how has that made you feel?”
“Sad, obviously. Not too many people hear such news about themselves and not get sad. But if you’re asking how I’ve been holding up, I’d say well enough. I believe I have gotten over it. Life is meant to be lived fully, until death shows up. It might show up sooner or later, but it always shows up eventually.”
He saw the smile return to her face for a few seconds before she was reminded again of the new test result she was holding in her hand.
“This test result,” she said, “confirmed my worst fears. Cancer in human body progresses through four stages. The fourth stage is usually the fatal stage. Right now, your cancer is in the late third stage. I could recommend treatments, which are very expensive and largely uncertain, but to be sincere with you, at this stage, that would only prove useless.”
“How long do I have?” Pitt enquired.
“Nothing is for certain. In my experience, you could have up to a year, a couple of months, maybe weeks.”
“Thank you ma’am.” he said, as he stood up to leave. She shook his hand, and wished him the best of luck.
“Do you believe in God, Mr Pitt?” she asked as he approached the door.
“It’s Pitt ma’am, Pitt.”
“Do you believe in God, Pitt?”
“If you’re asking if I believe in the existence of God, my answer is yes. If you’re asking if I believe God can help my situation, my answer is same as before, yes. But if you’re asking if I’m counting on it that God will help my situation, certainly not. I’m a very realistic man, doctor. Faith isn’t one of my strong points.”
The expression on her face showed she knew not what to say. She was trying to be helpful by selling a medicine she herself did not believe in. He had just spoken her mind. Right in front of her was a dying brilliant young man, dying with all his potentials and impact he could have had on his generation. She felt sad.
“I wish we hadn’t met under these circumstances.” she said.
“Sadly, wishes are luxuries I can’t afford right now. Have a wonderful day ma’am.” he replied.
“Call me Stella.” she said, as she smiled at him.
“Have a wonderful day, Stella. I hope we meet again.”
They never did.
His next stop was an appointment with the HIV clinic. It was brief and pleasant.
“Your test result indicates that your viral load is at a minimal level. I don’t see the need to place you on any retroviral drugs as of now. There is no cause for concern, all you need to do is make sure you eat well, exercise regularly, and check in with us every six months for a check-up.”
“Thank you. Have a nice day sir.” Pitt said, as he stood to take his leave.
The doctor smiled and said, “Today is a good day.”
Pitt was determined not to waste the remaining of his days. He had to leave a legacy behind to be remembered with. He could not think of anything better than to get on with that book he had always wanted write. An enviable writing skills like his, should not go unnoticed.
They finally got the door to open.
For the past six weeks, his neighbours rarely saw him leave his room. In the last four days, they had not seen him at all. The low music coming from his room had kept them away for a while. They recognised the songs to be his all-time favourites. Their concern grew when the tracks kept repeating over the days. They knew him too well to know he would never take off without switching off all his gadgets, and informing them.
They suspected something was wrong. They were not wrong.
There he was, lying so gracefully on his well laid bed. The whole room was perfect, but for the smell.
Sitting on the white table beside his bed was a large brown envelope, stuffed with hundreds of paper sheets that had been neatly written on.
On the back of the envelope was boldly written, “Roads untraveled, Words unsaid.”