One day in March, I felt an excruciating abdominal pain, so painful that I fell to he floor. Because my wife Sally was out shopping and I was immobilized, there was nothing I could do. Within five minutes, the pain left, and I felt as if nothing had happened. I decided not to tell Sally, because I knew that she would freak and want me to see a doctor immediately. I thought it best to see how things played out, and see my doctor at the earlier of my next incident, or within a month.
Ten days later, I had severe pain in both of my middle toes. Again, the attack lasted a few minutes and then disappeared without a trace. Totally flummoxed, I got an appointment for three days later.
At my appointment, I told the doctor my symptoms and he took some blood tests. I got another appointment for the next week. He told me that he had no idea what my problem was, so I was nervous leading up to the next appointment.
At the following appointment he told me “I have very bad news, bad news and better news.” I had never liked Dr. Unman, because he was always so grim.
I wanted to hear the worst, so I told him “Tell me the very bad new first.”
“You’ll die in six months from your first symptoms.”
After a long pause in order to digest the indigestible, I asked “You must mean about six months. It could be more or less.”
“Nope, exactly six months from your first symptom. You could marry an actuary and move to South Dakota. You wouldn’t live longer, but it would seem like it.”
The thought crossed my mind that I might as well kill Dr. Unman, since they wouldn’t get around to executing me before I died.
“Let’s say for the moment that I’m buying what you are telling me, what is the bad news and the not so bad news.”
“In order, there is nothing you can do to live longer than six months, and there is nothing you can do to hurt your health before you die, outside of you or someone else deliberately trying to harm you.”
I didn’t believe the crazy story he was telling me, but I decided to play along. “How did you come by this diagnosis?”
“The history of your disease goes back to before the time of Christ. The exact symptoms are documented in the apocryphal book of Ezra. In fact, it is called Ezra’s condition. Documented cases only occur about once every hundred years. That explains why you haven’t heard of it. If anyone came up with a cure, there would be no money in it because there are so few cases. I hope that you don’t think that medical researchers are in it to save lives.”
“I should have done this years ago. I’m getting another doctor and a second opinion.”
“Knock yourself out. Don’t let the door smack you on the ass on the way out.”
Without going into all of the details, the second doctor agreed with the first bizarre opinion, but without being the total asshole that Unman was.
After I explained it to Sally, she said “I don’t know what to think. Do you believe it Duke?”
“I don’t know what to think, but I’d like to hedge my bets. I’ve been so conservative all my life, maybe I’d like to live as if I only had a little less than six months to live. Even if I’m wrong, it could be liberating.”
“What does that mean? Do you want a hot car? Do you want a hall pass? How about travel?”
“I hadn’t given it any thought until just now, but maybe on hot car, no on hall pass and I’ll think about travel. I’m not going to change one of the few things that I’ve done right in my life and cheat. I’ll look at my car choices. No travel if it’s a pain in the ass. Whatever I do, I don’t want to leave you broke if I do die in less than six months.”
“OK, let’s set a six month budget for you. I think that we are fairly good on retirement funds and if you are gone, I can save on car expenses and your food, razors and q-tips, but our total social security goes down. Maybe there are some other savings that I haven’t thought of. I don’t see any problem with setting aside a quarter of a million to fund your fun.”
“Sounds generous to me, and if I don’t die, we won’t have broken the bank. Anyway, I think that I can hold it to $100,000.”
For the first couple of weeks, I tried all of the unhealthy things I could think of and quit all of my hiking, exercising and volunteer work. I found out that I didn’t even like expensive cigars; I could only drink so much high priced cognac and cokes, and eat so many pizzas and burgers. Further, if there was a chance that I wouldn’t die after six months, I didn’t want to be completely unhealthy, so I mostly returned to my old routine. Maybe a little more alcohol and pizza. I decided not to tell anyone, partly because I might be crying wolf, and partly because I’d already exceeded my life time whining quota.
So what could I spend money on that would make me happy? We are still thinking about travel. The house that we are in suits me except for one thing. I’ve always wanted a purple and orange color scheme. I think it goes back to the earliest car that I remember, an old purple Chevrolet with some orange patch up. Sally agreed to let me paint the inside of the garage. I made it purple with orange racing stripes. Sally didn’t like it, but she knew that it could always be repainted if we needed to sell the house. How about putting something special into the garage? Even with death staring at me, I couldn’t totally escape the practicality bred into me. Rather than a Tesla, Corvette or BMW, I decided to get a Miata or Mini convertible. We ended up with a 2012 Mini convertible. With our Ford Fiesta trade in, we only paid $5678, so I didn’t have much of a start on spending the $100,000, much less the quarter million, but I liked the new car and the new paint.
Money can’t buy happiness, but I do like our new 100-inch top of the line TV.
My bucket list always included Italy and the Mediterranean, but we hate the hassle of traveling. To make it as easy as possible, we booked an all inclusive charter tour / cruise. All together, it cost $21,309, but only half of that counted against my death fund, since both of us went.
Of course there was great food, the Coliseum, the Parthenon and the many art museums, but half way through the tour, I yearned for my own bed and shower. I didn’t even think any more about the Far East tour we had talked about.
I thought about a last visit with any of my old friends. All of them were dead or disinterested. I called up my old girlfriend up north and she told me she was tied up with her dying husband. The first serious girlfriend told me to go to hell. That hadn’t ended too well.
Except for the new car, our lives went on much as before. I guess that it was good to know that I had already been living the life that I really wanted.
As we got close to the six month mark, Sally suggested that I write my obituary. If I didn’t die, I could just update as necessary. Here it is:
My family life was closer to the Nelson family than the Manson family. My parents and sister were more or less ordinary. I had my heart broken a couple of times before meeting my soul mate. Regrets I’ve had a few– never had a job that I liked, didn’t get along with in-laws and I’m under 6 feet tall – way under. My work life was as boring as possible and I retired as soon as possible. I enjoy volunteering more than any jobs that I had. Up until now, I’ve had fairly good health and adequate money.
After I wrote my obituary, I decided that I wanted a legacy that would last at least a little while. Sally agreed to get me a memorial bench somewhere, but I still wouldn’t be anywhere close to using up my budget. I asked her to give some of our money to my relatives at my death because their provision in our will was fairly small.
But wait there’s more. Maybe we could get this story published somewhere. I found a list of possible publications. Sally agreed to find a publisher if I didn’t make it past the six month mark and I would do it if I did.
My six months are up tomorrow.
Doug Hawley is the author of thirty some short bios and an equal number of sci-fi, general fiction, crime, humor, essays and memoirs. He might still be able to turn cartwheels at his advanced age and definitely still hikes and snowshoes with editor Sharon.