Beliefnet

A story from The Richest Man in Town

Marty and I were sitting at his kitchen table when he asked me for a favor. "I want you to give the eulogy at my funeral."

We had never talked about death. "Well ...," I said, fumbling for the right words.

Marty wasn't going to let me squirm. "Mick and I sat down with the funeral director today and did some pre-planning. We didn't think it was fair to leave that stuff up to the kids. So we decided to take care of things early just in case something happened. Will you do it?"

I stuttered a bit, but then the right words came to me. "Sure, Marty. I'd be proud to give your eulogy. It's probably going to be pretty long, though."

He winked at me and replied, "You take all the time you need."

It was Marty who didn't have enough time.

A little over two months later Marty found himself in the hospital. For more than a year he had been losing weight, and doctors couldn't figure out why. His white blood cell count was low and he was advised to quit work. White blood cells fight infection, and doctors feared he might fall victim to a disease passed along by a customer.

If he couldn't quit working, one doctor suggested, he might consider wearing a mask and stop shaking hands with customers. Marty wouldn't even consider it. "Now, that would kill me. I won't do it," he said.

Marty continued to shake hands-and he continued losing weight. Something was wrong.

A diagnosis finally came: an infected gall bladder. Now Marty faced the decision of surgery. "Well," he said, "I can't go on like this."

Mickey called me after her husband had left the operating room. The surgery had taken far longer than expected because the infection had spread beyond the gall bladder. "He's a mess inside," she said.

Marty was in for the fight of his life.

I decided not to visit Marty for a few days. He needed rest, and the drugs for the pain made him a little incoherent. He was dropping in and out of consciousness.

I had to summon a bit of courage to drive to the hospital, even more to find my way to the intensive care unit. A nurse told me I needed to wear a gown, mask, and plastic gloves. While putting on those protective garments I worried about what my friend would look like lying in the hospital bed. Was he in pain? How many hoses did he have connected to him? Would he even recognize me? All these thoughts had me on edge as I approached the room where they told me Marty lay.

Inside the room, I drew back a white curtain and saw a man lying on his back. He was sleeping. As I moved closer I could see a small hose leading from his nose and disappearing off the side of the bed. His mouth was wide open, sucking in as much air as his lungs could handle. I looked down at a face I didn't recognize.

I quickly retreated from this stranger's room. I went to the nurse's station and asked the young woman behind the desk if she could tell me where I could find Aaron Martinson. She pointed to the room I had just left.

At that moment I wanted to rip off the gown, throw aside the mask and gloves, and go home as fast as I could. But I knew that my friend needed me-and I needed him.

Slowly, I walked up to the side of Marty's bed. I stood there for a few minutes, staring at him and feeling sorry for him. On the other side of his bed, various pieces of hospital equipment were flashing lights and numbers. All of these things were connected to Marty, and I didn't know what they meant.

Then Marty's eyes opened. He looked at me and lifted his left hand off the bed. It was a sign he wanted me to grab his hand, which I did. He whispered, "Hi, buddy."

"How are you feeling?" I asked.

"It hurts," he said. Then, he drifted off to sleep.

Soon, a young woman walked into the room. A physical therapist, she woke Marty and told him she needed to move his legs and asked for his help. He groaned at the thought. Before she began, she asked Marty, "Is this your friend?" and nodded in my direction.

Marty said, "Yes, his name is V.J. Smith."

"Is he a good friend?"

Marty answered, "Don't get me started."

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