“Is there anything else regarding your health that you’d like to mention? Anything at all.”
He hesitated before answering. It probably wasn’t really worth mentioning, after all, it was nothing like in the adverts or those public health announcements, and his GP, whom he highly regarded, didn’t mention it at all. Besides, was there really any point mentioning it to a student? Realistically they couldn’t do anything about it.
“Well, it’s nothing really,” he said, tone notably quieter than the rest of the conversation, “but, well, when you get to a certain age I suppose is it something that’s at the back of your mind, but I suppose it could be cancer.”
The student nodded, eyebrows furrowing a bit; now he was just concerned that he was making a great fuss about it. “Is this something in particular you’re concerned about?” This must have been the third time she’d mentioned the word “concern”
“Well,” he could have talked about how that was a conversation he didn’t want to have with his family, how he wasn’t sure that his son, who aged 40 still lived with his parents, was properly equipped to deal with loss or to look after his mother, but it seemed unnecessary. The closed curtains did very little to conceal the noise from the outside, and he didn’t want the rest of his ward mates to look at him with pity. “I wouldn’t say I’m concerned about it per say. I mean, I’d certainly be more worried if I had symptoms like blood, or weight loss, but I’ve no doubt that it’s a fear unfounded.”
“Sure,” said the student, refusing to drop eye contact as she ferociously scribbled down notes in her notebook. “Well, thank you for talking with me,” she said whilst reaching for the hand wash that laid at the foot of the bed. Immediately, the already sterile stench of the ward doubled, as alcohol dissipated throughout the room. It wasn’t a bad smell, but there was something overtly clean about it. He’d been in hospital a mere three days, and he was already longing for human smells, real smells – of weather and the sea from his back garden, of sawdust and woodworking oils from his garage, of rosemary and tarragon from his wife’s wonderful cooking, from real food, not like the gruel they served here at the regimented timetable.
“Yes of course,” he said smiling. Some of his ward mates seemed annoyed by students, but he really didn’t mind. It was someone to talk to at the very least. It reminded him of decades gone when he was surrounded by students. Years after retiring, he still loved seeing students flourish, seeing knowledge imparted, seeing people living up to their potential, even if it was just for twenty minutes at a time. He started to sit up to properly say goodbye, but his stomach was still in pain following the examination. At least she was thorough. “And best of luck to you in the future! I really do think it’s wonderful what you’re doing!”
“Thank you!” she said, a slight blush creeping to her cheeks. “Do you want the curtains open or closed?”
“Open I think,” he said, aware that he was mid conversation with his neighbour before she’d come in. It was merely small talk, but at least it was something.