Dying Under a Beautiful Moon

by Ruth Z Deming

All her patients received letters in the mail. "We are sorry to inform you that Dr. Carolyn Curtis is closing her practice. We recommend Dr. Richard Levy in her place."

A scratchy signature appeared at the bottom of the letter.

Did anyone know why she retired so quickly?

If you look on a Google page, you'll see she was very popular. "I had a cyst in my breast and Dr. Carolyn quickly drained it. 'This will hurt,' she cautioned me, and told me to put warm washcloths on it at home."

Her waiting room was spacious and filled with an assortment of magazines. She also had a white porcelain bowl filled with tangerines. Patients would often tuck a couple of them into their pocketbooks.

Audrey, Sue and Marian - unknown to one another - got to chatting so that when their names were called, they were actually disappointed to leave their temporary social circle.

Audrey, only twenty-two, was told by the secretary to go into Room No. 2 and to take her clothes off and put on the hospital gown. As she waited for Doctor Carolyn, she noted photographs on the wall - a fishing village in Alaska, a deep-sea diver swimming around Barrier Reefs in Australia, and a close-up of a small child, smiling broadly. A caption read "Doctors Without Borders" under each picture.

Another showed Dr. Carolyn with her grown-up daughter. Both could have been beauty queens.

The doctor entered, wearing comfortable Minnetonka moccasins.

"Good morning, Audrey. Show me the bump you were talking about."

Audrey pulled her left arm out of the blue hospital gown and looked up expectantly at the doctor.

The doctor tapped the spot her patient pointed to.

"Not to worry," Dr. Carolyn said, breathily. Everything she did was fast. As if she had ADD. Who knows? Maybe she did, wondered many of her patients.

"This is very common, Audrey. Haven't you ever seen a wart before?"

"A wart? You mean, this is what a wart looks like?"

"Yes, ma'am," said the doctor.

"Close your eyes and I'll get rid of it. You may feel some pain."

She applied liquid nitrogen to the pencil-eraser-sized wart, held it there a moment, and heard the patient moaning out loud.

"You're all fixed... for the moment." She explained that warts tend to return, but not to worry about it. "Make an appointment in three months with Miss Barker."

In three months, a sign on the front door read "Closed."

Audrey looked forward to returning. She was fairly sure her wart hadn't returned. The parking lot was empty, but she walked to a man-made pond at the end of the parking lot. "How lovely," she thought, and wondered what had happened to Miss Carolyn.

Carolyn, beloved by her patients, walked, like an automaton, over the hardwood floors of her modern home. She avoided the only diagnosis that made sense, until she was ready to accept it: a fast-growing melanoma that was bound to suck up all her blood and leave her emaciated.

"Richie," she said to her husband. "Do you believe this is happening?"

They snuggled in bed together as she finally began to cry against his hairy chest.

They had already made out their wills. He agreed to her request that they tell no one until she was bed-ridden. She did know how it would end up and it would not be pretty.

They lived in a large two-story house with a fireplace, a family room with built-in book shelves, including her textbooks from the University of Pennsylvania, where she had studied, and a pool filled with salt water, which was better for your health.

In her two-piece bikini she would take daily swims. When she did the backstroke, she would look up at the clouds and pray, "Please, Dear God, let there be some miracle and let me live."

They set up Carolyn's hospital bed by the patio, so she had a good view as she got weaker day by day.

"Honey," said Richie. "Look up in the sky. It's the first night of the "Supermoon." Amidst the glorious stars and constellations, there it was dwarfing everything like a magnificent diamond pendant.

One morning the door bell chimed.

Richie answered the door.

A shy, unsmiling young redhead stood outside on the "Welcome to our House" mat.

"Hello?" asked Richie.

"I, I'm a patient of Miss Carolyn. I was looking for her, to see why she retired... "

He invited her in. She marveled at the magnificence of the house and simply stared.

"Who is it, hon?"

"It's one of your patients, an... "

"Oh, my name is Audrey. And Miss Carolyn is the best doctor I ever had."

She followed Mr. Curtis to where the hospital bed was. A nurse dressed in a flowered top was feeding Carolyn.

Audrey put her hands up to her face and began to sob. "Oh, it can't be, it can't be," she said.

"Is there anything I can do?" asked Audrey.

"Yes," said Mr. Curtis. "You can pray for her."

"Oh, I will, I will," she said. "I belong to the United Methodist Church with the nice stained glass and I promise I'll go there today and get down on my knees and pray for her. Miracles do happen," she insisted.

"Audrey," Miss Carolyn managed. "I am not afraid to die. We believe in Christ the Holy Redeemer and believe we go to a better place."

On the second day of the Supermoon, which was the biggest and brightest the moon would get this year, the revered dermatologist passed.

Obituary notice in the local paper: Surrounded by her loving family, dermatologist Carolyn Fiorno Curtis died a peaceful death. Patients are invited to her wake and funeral at Sanders and White Funeral Home in Willow Grove. Donations may be made to a charity of your choice.

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