He looked across the shadowy haze, death’s mirage,  shimmering  in the space interposed between his sickly body and my outstretched hands.

“How long do I have?”

His words were expected, but no less difficult to hear — and to answer. I took a deep breath and cradled my thoughts before leaning over to speak.

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“A few days.”

His lips parted and attempted to rise above his teeth. He was trying to smile.

I wondered why.

The lung specialist had thought decades. His capacity had diminished, but the pulmonary function tests were adequate. If he used his inhalers, he may need steroids from time to time but he would live to breathe another day. Many more days.

The heart doctor said it could be years. The catheterization showed that the blockages were nearly complete, but wouldn’t kill him. The sharp pain radiating through his chest could be ignored. He just shouldn’t exert himself. It was better to take it easy.

The infectious disease doctor had stopped visiting weeks ago. At his last consultation, he noted that all infections had resolved.

And the oncologist refused to give numbers. He optimistically ordered the next round of chemo with assurances that experimental protocols had been promising. He wrote each order with a certain flourish.

A week after our conversation, I imagined him smirking as I watched the nurse pull a sheet over his head and prepare him for the trip to the morgue. I heard his voice bouncing through my mind, as if his mouth were still capable of chuckling.

“Only you, my own doctor, sold me short. I told you that I’d make it more than a few days. “

I couldn’t help but smile as they wheeled him away. He had set out to prove me wrong.

And indeed, he had.