He appears tousled headed in the doorway, wearing green scrubs, glasses hanging from a lanyard around his neck. “You’re good,” he says; “you’re good.”
“And you,” I say, “how are things with you?” It is my sixth month check-up at the Cancer Center. He is the radiologist who reads my films.
He steps into the room where I am waiting and I notice he is wearing heavy hiking boots.
He seems, by nature, somewhat quiet; he becomes more animated when he speaks. He tells me that in three and half weeks he is going to climb Mount Everest. Says that’s why he is wearing hiking boots; that he has been in training for several weeks now.
He asks me what I think about it. I tell him I think it is high-risk behavior. I do not tell him that my family lost a boy — a beloved son, grandson, nephew — in a fall from Glacier Peak. I do not tell him but the memory floods through me as I listen to his excitement about his trip. I watch him as he speaks.
He says that he will see rare orchids. He is fond of orchids. In the valley he will see rare animals. It will be, he says, a life-changing experience. What did I think?
He goes on to say he will take parchment and ink to keep a journal. I ask him if the ink will freeze in the Himalayans. He says maybe he’d better take along a Bic pen. He tells me about his porters, the need for oxygen tanks, the endurance required; that he has been training for the climb up Mount Everest.
When I first asked him how things were with him, he responded that he was leaving in three weeks. There was a selfish moment when I wondered what I would do without him if he left the Center; a moment changed to concern for him when he told me of his trip.
I know the need to seek out something bigger and grandeur than ourselves; to leave behind the arduous work one does; the yearning for some experience that takes us out of ourselves, and merges us with the whole of creation; the need to pit oneself against great odds and come away a survivor. I know this feeling.
I want the thrill of the challenge, the deep valleys and high peaks to all be his. At the same time, I want my mountain-climbing doctor to be safe and come back whole. And I want him to know that he has climbed high mountains and trekked through deep valleys from the plains of Kansas with me and others like me. What did I think?
I pulled him away from the wall where he was leaning, and gave him a hug. I told him he should get a chip under his skin so we could find him if he got lost. That’s what I think.