Dr. Christine Meyer's The Longest Mile chronicles the first incredible year of the Team CMMD Foundation. Her story takes readers on an emotional journey from her darkest hour, when cancer was claiming her self-worth as a doctor, to the struggle and triumph of forming, funding, organizing and sustaining an army of volunteers and cancer fighters, now over 1,600 strong and with over $800,000 donated to cancer research. The story describes how Dr. Meyer decided to harness her grief and anguish, transform it into hope, and create nothing short of a movement. As they say, read it and weep.
Meyer's animated account of her successful efforts exemplifies how one woman imbued with infectious zeal can make a difference.
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The elevator door opened onto a bustling medical world I had spent days and nights and years in, and yet I felt completely out of place. I hated the noises. I hated all the beeps and buzzes and indecipherable overhead pages. The smell of antiseptic mingling with that of human excrement turned my stomach. At every nursing station I passed, the cast was the same: weary nurses slurping old coffee from flimsy Styrofoam cups.
The incessant ringing of phones complemented the droning. Whatever that person on the other end of the line was calling for could not have been as important as my tant. How could people be sitting, eating, chatting, and calling, when she lay there so sick? How dare they interrupt my grief-stricken walk down this endless hallway? I thought.
She was in the last bed in the corner of the intensive care unit, but when courage finally willed my shaking hands to pull back the curtain, I did not see her at first. On the buzzing radiator, a half-eaten doughnut lay against a still-full cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. It had been there a while. That cold cup of American coffee was nothing at all like the coffee Tant and Uncle drank. It did not belong there in that room. I wanted to reach for it and fling it down the hallway and as far away from Tant as I could.
The woman lying on the bed was thin, frail, and pale. She looked so small—like the bed itself might swallow her up. There were tubes erupting from her arms, her nose, and her bladder. My once beautifully accessorized Tant was now adorned with nothing but a thin hospital gown. Her feet—usually crammed into the most fashionable of shoes—were now held hostage by compression boots. Their periodic inflation managed to startle me even after the tenth time. In place of her necklaces and bracelets lay oxygen cannulas and IV tubing. I squirmed a little at the sight of the Foley catheter draining urine from her bladder. She hates that thing, I thought with authority. At the sight of clear yellow urine filling the bag, I let out an audible sigh. Her kidneys are good. And yet everything was wrong.
The private room did not provide much respite from the beeps and buzzes of the ICU hall. They came from the heart monitor and blood pressure cuff and IV lines. She could barely turn her head, but she knew I was there. Her eyes grew wide. I was already weeping. I leaned in to kiss her cheek and hug her, but I ended up lying on top of her. So many things strapped her down that I could not get my arms around her. “I am so sorry,” I cried over and over again.
I was sorry that she was sick and in pain. I was sorry that I hadn’t called. I was sorry that it had taken this to get me to her. I was sorry that I hadn’t been there for her. Maybe if I had, she would have told me she hadn’t been well. Maybe if I had called, I would have heard the ever-so-slight weariness in her voice. I would have asked her questions—good questions—just like she had taught me to. I would have found out that she never did get that colonoscopy. I would have convinced her to. I would have been the kind of doctor she inspired me to be—the kind of doctor she was.
When I finally pulled myself off her, she smiled feebly at me. “I’m fine,” she whispered. “Don’t worry. I’m fine.”
But I knew she wasn’t fine. I knew because even as the words left her mouth, a single tear rolled down her cheek. Somehow I knew she wasn’t crying for herself; she was crying for us—her family, her sons, and especially her husband.
It was not until that day in the small, dark ICU room that I really understood the meaning of the word “anguish.” There sat Uncle, squeezed between the window and the commode she was too sick to use. He looked smaller than I remembered. His eyes, which always seemed to beam sharply and thoughtfully, suddenly looked lost. And when the weight of it finally was too much, he did something I had never seen him do: he put his drawn, contorted face in his hands and wept. As the sobs racked his body, a single lock of his carefully combed-over hair fell across his brow. And there it stayed. Because for the first time ever, my tant did not have it in her to reach over and push it back into place.
April 12, 2016
250 pages | $16.95
Published by She Writes Press
Cover Photo courtesy of Jamie Stanek
Author Photo courtesy of Rebekah Ulmer