A friendly man comes to class this week. I have met the man before. Jovial, warm and gentlemanly, he sports a shiny newly bald head and we joke about our similar hairstyles. On the second day the man comes to me. ‘YOu know, I was a BIG professor in my country Fischer. I left when I was 54 so my family would have a better life than in Cuba.”
The man does not complain about the effort of re-learning all of medical school in his 50’s. He does not feel embarrassed to be with student 30 years younger than him. He makes no excuses for having a hard time absorbing all the new information. He does not get defensive or argue points of management in class with me to show everyone in class that he knows something, and ‘is somebody’ as often happens.
He just seems happy.
“I have tongue cancer Fischer. I have metastases to my lung. I got chemotherapy three days ago. But, you know, I want to pass my boards so that my three children who are all doctors will see that their father went all the way. Youknow that movie ‘The Bucket list”? the list of things to do before you die?
‘You are on my bucket list Fischer”
“I am 64 years old now, but the greatest pleasure I have in medicine is the week I sit in class with you. I just have fun. I was a teacher, but just to keep people awake for 8 hours straight is a big accomplishment. I am happy when I am here with you. I just wanted you to know”
This is the most jarring thing I have heard for a while. THe man says ‘I feel good, I might die this year, I might die next year, but I wanted to spend this week here in class with you”
I think about how people see me. I think about the constant quest for ‘Meaning’ in ordinary things. ANd I think, I will put spending a week with the warm, gentlemanly, Cubano on my bucket list.