Whisky sour, please

As I navigated the cobbled streets on the way to the hotel, I hoped that would be less awkward than I had been at 13. I was 20, on my way to meet a charming British gentleman at his hotel in Strasbourg, France.

I was studying abroad and my aunt’s father-in-law was attending a meeting not far from my temporary home. My aunt, always interested in strengthening the ties between the people she loves, had insisted that we get together. So here I was, teetering precariously through the ancient streets on brand new heels to meet a man I barely knew.

The last time I had seen Bill – the only time, in fact – was at my aunt’s wedding 7 years earlier. I had been an awkward 13 who fell hard for a handsome blond British boy who’d flown in for the wedding. He was one of my very first crushes. We had spent a lot of time gazing and each other and dancing. There is a distressing amount of photographic evidence of this. Bill, the bride’s father and the 15-year-old’s great uncle (I think), apparently found me charming, though looking back I did not recollect feeling charming in anyway. ‘Self-conscious’ would have been my choice of description.

I was definitely self-conscious now, as I walked into the lobby of a fancy hotel on the River Ill and glanced around for a man who was 44 years my senior. Ah, there he was, crossing the room with a welcoming smile. I can’t remember if he kissed me on my cheek or placed a comfortable hand over mine, but I’d bet he did both. He embodies graciousness, and his kind presence calmed me as we said hello.

He immediately suggested an aperitif, and naturally I agreed, but as we walked across the lobby to the elegant bar, I was suddenly aware that I had no idea how to order a drink. Of course I had been on dates before, and I’d been to college bars, but I wasn’t a big drinker, and since I wasn’t of legal drinking age at home, I’d never ordered a drink in a fancy restaurant. What was I going to do?

We sat down, and my increasing panic must have shown. A glass of wine? Surely not a beer? I didn’t even know the names of most cocktails. My eyes darted to the bar as the waiter approached. Then, quietly but with a sparkle in his eyes, Bill leaned towards me and said, “If I may. I suggest a whisky sour. In my experience, the ladies enjoy the sweetness and the men are always impressed by the whisky.”

I ordered my first whisky sour that evening, and I kept ordering them for years. Bill was right: I impressed many a date with a confident, “whisky sour, please.” Their sweetness accompanied by the complex undertones of the whisky always brought the echo of a lovely evening in Strasbourg, France with a charming older gentleman who saw me as I could be.

Bill turned 90 this week – my aunt, still connecting us all these years later, has been sending me pictures of the celebrations –  and I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him a few more times in the quarter century since that evening. To me, he is the epitome of graciousness. So today, I raise my glass to Bill, and to his clever recommendation and simple kindness to a young woman he barely knew in a restaurant in a foreign country 25 years ago. I’ll have a whisky sour, please.

All we need is a miracle

Update, July 10, 2018: My friend, her daughter (and the rest of the family) are in for a long, grueling year or more, but the doctors say that they have every reason to believe she will live. I’ll take it. THANK YOU for all the support you shared when I was in my deepest grief.

My father is a not-quite-retired infectious disease doctor. He chose this path in the late 60s when infectious disease was a research-based kind of medicine, a good fit for my logical, thorough, bookish dad. He liked identifying symptoms, looking them up in the library and finding the best diagnostic fit; disease was a puzzle to solve and he’s good at puzzles. He also liked talking to the patients, but from the stories he tells, I think that was a skill he developed over the years.

He does tell a good story, and by the time I was 10 he was a teaching doctor who was often invited to give lectures in other cities. Sometimes he would take one of us with him, and as I got older sometimes I actually listened to what he told these doctors: corny jokes, technical details that were of no interest to me, and a few stories that marked me deeply.

My favourite story was when my dad talked about a patient he treated in the early days of CT scans. The young man came in complaining of severe headaches. They checked him out and finally ran a CT scan. The diagnosis was devastating: he had brain cancer. The young man was a youth pastor and had a long-planned church retreat scheduled for that weekend. He asked if he could put off treatment for a few days and attend this final retreat. The doctors agreed. When he returned, after a weekend where his whole church prayed for him and took care of him, his headaches were gone and he felt much better. His surgery was scheduled but the doctors decided to do one more scan because the technology was new & they just wanted a clear image to be sure about what they were dealing with. The image came back – no tumor. It was just gone. They had the previous scan: tumor. They had the new one: nothing. A third scan confirmed it: no tumor. What happened? Did they make a mistake the first time? Did the prayers work? My logical father could only say, “Sometimes in medicine you have to believe in miracles.”

My mother-in-law is a nurse who worked for years in a cancer treatment centre. Just moments ago she told me a story about a patient of hers who was diagnosed with mesothelioma and was given mere months to live. He was distraught, naturally, and spent three days in a panic of fear and anger. Then he remembered that he was a statistician and he could understand statistics, so he pored over the numbers and realized that the odds that he could live longer than the median were in his favour. He lived for 20 more years.

I would like to request a miracle, please. The 4-year-old daughter of one of my best friends was diagnosed with cancer on Friday, and I would like a miracle now. She is such a vibrant, funny, smart, HEALTHY little thing. There is nothing wrong with her – except this cancer. Cancer. She is four. I am trying very hard to remember that sometimes we have to believe in medicine and miracles. People are praying for her in all the various ways that people pray, but I’m having a little trouble praying right at this moment. But stories, I believe in stories. So please, accept these stories as my prayers. And if you can add your own, we’ll take that, too.

 

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