Paul had already beaten cancer. He had gone through five rounds of chemo. After his hair fell out, after he had thrown up for months, after his fingers tingled with the aftershocks of radiation, doctors announced remission. Paul had won. But as soon as victory was claimed, an infection wormed its way into his body. It wouldn't go away. It spread from his lungs through his kidneys and lodged in his brain.
I didn't sleep after Shannon phoned. I felt scared, like a big exam was before me and I hadn't studied. Early next morning I cancelled appointments, got on the freeway, and drove five hours to the hospital in their city.
The last time Paul and I had talked was three weeks earlier. On the phone he had taken shallow breaths between sentences, gasping like a fish on a riverbank, but his lung infection was only a setback, we all thought. When you're sick for a long time you have your ups and downs. In the days that followed, Paul drifted in and out of consciousness, unable to communicate except to point at an alphabet. One of the last phrases he spelled was: "What's happening to me?"