Friday, March 14
St. Sebastian Medical Center
Scully spoke to ease the tension.
"Aren't we supposed to say something like, we should see each other under better circumstances?"
The gray haired woman who sat across from her smiled. "You have a point. I haven't seen you in five years and you drop by with this request?" Mary rolled her eyes dramatically. "Couldn't you have written first?" The warm expression on the woman's face relaxed Scully, and she exhaled for what felt like the first time in minutes.
"I'm really sorry, Mary. I feel terrible appearing out of the blue and asking for your help with this. But you were the only person I could think of, who I knew would understand. This is not exactly the kind of thing you can ask your own doctor to do for you."
"Unless I was your doctor." Mary leaned back in her leather chair and stretched out her arms. The cuff of her navy blazer tugged out from underneath her lab coat. Scully marveled how professional she looked. Scully remembered Mary from medical school, with her gray bun always coming undone as she rushed to class in old jeans and dirty sneakers. Mary was by far the oldest student in her class. As a 43 year old mother of two teenagers, she had more demands on her time than the rest of them. She had returned to school after growing tired of the "Betty Crocker act", as she referred to full time mothering, but caring for others seemed to be in her blood: she acted as a parent to all the other students, and would frequently have the poorest and loneliest over to her house for dinner. Scully was commonly one of those dinner guests.
Mary Sullivan always knew what kind of doctor she wanted to be. After watching two parents and her five year old daughter die of cancer, she was interested only in Oncology. As an oncologist, she earned the reputation as an empathetic clinician with a dedication to pain control. But what was also known about Dr. Sullivan that was rarely spoken out loud was her willingness to be a participant in euthanasia. "We put our animals to sleep but we make humans die horrible deaths—what kind of culture does that make us?" she had argued with the professor in her Medical Ethics class. Being idealistic medical student, few agreed with her at the time, but, Scully suspected, that changed when her classmates saw firsthand the pain of illness and felt the complete helplessness familiar to doctors who can no longer cure, but only comfort.
"What stage is the cancer?" Mary asked, bringing Scully out of her revelry and back to the reality of why she was there.
"Stage 2, they think. There isn't any sign of metastasis, but the tumor has gotten larger."
Mary laced her hands together and pressed her lips to her forefingers. "You realize that you can possibly live a really long time with this cancer, don't you? Especially if the radiation treatment successfully shrinks the tumor."
"I realize that, Mary. And I also realize that I could wake up tomorrow with gross neurological deficits. Or liver or bone metastasis. Or in incredible pain. I have to be prepared for the worst."
"You are still working, right? Able to do everything you want to do?"
"Yes. Besides occasional nosebleed, I am pretty asymptomatic. I haven't had to cut down on work at all. If I did, I think that would kill me."
Mary smiled again. "Ah, still the same Dana Scully. I remember that we all used to make fun of you in med school for working yourself to death. Some of our classmates closed the bars, but you always closed the library, even on weekends. Some things never change."
"Oh, if you think I'm bad, you should meet my partner! The man is a maniac. I don't think he has taken a vacation since he started at the FBI. He makes me look like a sloth." Scully shook her head as if to clear it. She didn't want to think about Mulder. If he knew I was here, he would be furious, she thought. But this isn't about him, this is about me. For a change.
She hadn't been entirely honest to Mary about the tumor not affecting her. She had the first headache three weeks ago, which came on with such intensity that she found herself on her kitchen floor gasping for breath. She half expected to look up and find someone holding a baseball bat over her head. Through tears, she was able to drag herself to the bathroom and found the nearly forgotten bottle of Percoset her doctor had prescribed her last year after she fractured her wrist. She swallowed two of them without water, and then curled up in fetal position on the bathmat and waited for the pain to stop. It did, but not until she threw up twice, each time amplifying the already unbearable pain.
The second time, and then the third, happened when she was on the road with Mulder. Both coincided with torrential nosebleeds in the middle of the night. She had been so frightened from the pain that she almost called out to Mulder, who was staying in the adjoining room. She had to put a pillow over her mouth to stop herself. I won't let him see me like this, she thought. I won't. Ever.
The headaches, even more so than the cancer diagnoses, brought up unwanted memories of her illness after the abduction. She remembered pulling herself into consciousness and trying to focus on her mother's face—and Mulder's. On her mom's face she read love and relief, but on Mulder's she saw fear. And guilt. Always the guilt. In the days following waking up from the coma, Dana felt like a child. She remembers the shame of having to ask for a bedpan because she was too weak to get out of bed. She remembers trying to walk for the first time with Mulder and fainting in the hall, falling clumsily in a heap as Mulder grabbed at her. She remembers being unable to move her arms to feed herself because they were taped to boards to stabilize the IV's. Mulder had brought her pad thai from her favorite restaurant, but she denied her hunger rather than let Mulder help feed her. That horrible memory flashes in her head every time she feels Mulder is acting overprotective. What he must have thought then, watching me unable to move my arms, knowing damn well I was hungry but rather starve to death than let my partner feed me. No wonder he perceives me as fragile, she thought bitterly. And stubborn.
That will never happen again, she thought as she nervously brushed a piece of lint off of her skirt and looked out Mary's office window. I will never again sacrifice my dignity in the name of medical science. I refuse to suffer and die slowly so people can stand around my grave and say how brave I was. What is so fucking noble about dying of a brain tumor? I'll lose my mind first, and then my body through a bunch of tubes and machines. Never. I will die on my terms. She realized that Mary was speaking to her in a serious tone again.
"…are several people in the Baltimore medical community who contribute whatever they can to my cause. All anonymously, of course, but at great risk to their careers. Hospice nurses are the best. Several of them give me narcotics left over after one of their home care patients die. No one ever misses it."
She leaned forward and rested her arms on her desk. She looked at Scully sitting across from her, studying the younger woman's face. She lowered her voice. "Now, I don't want to come across sounding like one of those cold doctors who can tell a person they are dying and then go to lunch without a second thought. But I just need to be honest with you. Taking a bunch of pills is not always the greatest means. You run the risk of the narcotics making you ill and vomiting before the job is done. I prefer IV morphine. It's quick and easy, and guaranteed to do what you want it to do. It suppresses your breathing as you become more and more sedated. I think it is really the most gentle, painless death."
She continued to stare at Scully, looking for some kind of reaction to her blunt words. Scully's face was unreadable.
"That's what I thought too. I think I could start an IV on myself okay, so that shouldn't be a problem."
Mary reached out and place her wrinkled hand on Scully's smooth, dry one. She gave her hand a quick squeeze. "Promise me, Dana, that you will surround yourself with people you love when you die. That is the point of this whole thing, remember? To die before the suffering becomes so great, too great, so you can have your dignity . Promise me?"
Scully placed her free hand on top of Mary's. "Of course," she lied. She knew she had to die alone. She didn't want her family there for this. Or Mulder. Especially Mulder.
Mary sighed as she stood up and walked to the corner of her office. She took a key out of her lab coat pocket and opened a small file cabinet that was almost completely covered by the overgrown spider plant that sat on top of it. She reached in and pulled out two small bags of IV fluid. She fished for a moment longer until she found IV tubing and a needle. She carefully locked the cabinet and walked back to her desk, and rummaging through a drawer until she found a brown paper bag. She put the IV solution and the supplies in he bag and handed it to Scully.
"You should piggyback the two bags and keep the line wide open, Dana." she said softly. Scully looked into the kindly woman's dark grey eyes, watching a strand of gray hair escape Mary's bun and nodded slowly.
"I don't know how to thank you, Mary. Go home tonight and know that you have done a very compassionate thing." Dana watched the woman turn away so Scully couldn't see the pained look on her face. She reached down to her feet, carefully put the supplies in her briefcase, picked up her raincoat, and stood up to leave. As she took a step toward the door, she felt a hand grab at her sleeve. She turned her head as the first tear trickled down Mary's face.
"This is not a substitution for hope, do you understand? I did not just hand you an easy way out. You are a strong woman, Dana. You have to fight this." Her voice cracked.
Scully nodded, struggling to hold her own tears back. She reached out to embrace the older doctor and then silently walked out the door. She got in her car and headed back to D.C trying to occupy her mind with anything besides the reason behind her visit to Mary Sullivan