THE LAST TOAST TO LIFE - BY GEORGE PETRIE MD, LONGBOAT KEY FLORIDA
He had been VERY successful all of his professional life. He was an accomplished surgeon and had even pioneered some of the procedures that are still in use today. His symptoms were vague when he first became ill and, even though he was well versed in medicine, he had to reach out for diagnostics to determine what was going wrong.
His body was not responding appropriately. He rapidly became debilitated enough that he had to stop doing surgery. His hands were unsteady. There were other unexplainable symptoms that made him realize he would jeopardize his patients if he continued to do many of the procedures that had almost become second nature to him after all of his years
I learned all of this from him after he was bedridden and I was assigned to his care. My solitary role was to visit with him as many times as possible during the week and on the weekends. His children lived in other states and his wife needed respite care in order to preserve her own health. Basically, they were suddenly “on their own”. As if often the case, with terminal illnesses, the people we counted on as friends, slowly drift away. I’m not sure if they don’t want to be reminded of their own mortality or it is simply too depressing to see their “old” friend fading away. We became great acquaintances over a short period of time. I grew to love hearing his stories and truly enjoyed being able to spend time with him. Some people have the way of making you feel that way and, as important as it is not to form deep “attachments”, it is sometimes impossible. Such was the case with this man.
Several weeks of visits went by and one day when I arrived at the house, I could see that his condition was deteriorating more rapidly but he still had that same grin and the sample bright twinkle in his eyes. We sat and talked for a while and then he suddenly looked at me and said “Has my wife left yet?” I knew that she had as I had seen her drive away. I said “yes, she just pulled out of the driveway…why?…do you need me to call her and ask her to come back? “NO….NO…he responded. I was really hoping she would leave as soon as you got here because there is something I need to ask you to do for me, while she’s away. She would never permit it. She still hasn’t accepted the fact that I am dying and my time in this life is very short.” My palms started to sweat…….how was I going to say no to this guy who was living on “borrowed time” I looked at him and said “As long as it isn’t illegal or immoral, I guess I would consider it….tell me what it is that you want me to do” “Well…George, do you know how to make a Manhattan Cocktail?” “Yes”, I responded. I don’t drink alcohol but I think it’s made with whiskey and vermouth”. “Yep - yep…that’s right…..and if you go into the bar in the living room, all of the ingredients are there….even a cherry!” I thought seriously about what he was asking…..could it cause a problem with his medication? Could I get in trouble?”. I asked him to “hold on for a moment, and said “I’ll be right back”. I went to the kitchen and called my Director (DR. Ann Kravitz) and (miraculously) she answered on the first ring. I explained to her about the request. I remember her chuckling and saying “Well….that’s a new one….Sure go ahead and do it…..just make it kinda weak and I’ll chart it. “At this point it can’t do much harm and doesn’t seem like an unreasonable request.” So, with my best amateur effort I made a “Manhattan”, put it in what I thought was the appropriate glass and brought it to him. The smile on his face was priceless and you would have thought that I had performed some major miracle. He took the drink from me, took a sip and said……”I’ve never been a big drinker but I love an occasional Manhattan and it has been a long time.” I sat and talked to him while he sipped his drink. It was somewhat amusing to see how much relish he took with each sip. After he finished the drink he said “Do me a favor and wash this glass and put it back in the bar before my wife gets home”. When I returned to the room he was still grinning from ear to ear and said, “Finally, someone gave me something I wanted….rather than something they felt I needed”. When it was time to leave I looked at him and asked him if there was anything I could bring him on my next visit. Without hesitation he said “Just don’t bring me any green bananas (I probably won’t be around long enough to see them ripen………Oh, and don’t bring me any Long Playing records!!!…..and, by the way, George, do you remember several weeks ago I asked you if you believed in Heaven and we had a long conversation about that?” “Yes”, I answered in the affirmative. Without skipping a beat, he said, “Well, I’m still not sure what I believe in but if they don’t have vermouth in Heaven, I sure as heck don’t want to go there”. I lost a good friend about a week later.
Now when I think of “Heaven” and wonder if I’ll get there, I hope I can go with a bottle of Vermouth, just to see his smile again!