June 6, 2017: Flashback #4…The Emergency Room

The day everything came crashing down is one of those days that is burned into my mind like a brand. On June 6, 2016, I was at an event supporting a charity that helps families impacted by cancer (the same event I went to on May 23 of this year). My phone rang and it was Matt’s dad. I stepped outside to take the call, gazed up at the clear blue sky, and felt myself unravel.

Matt had left for work with a horrible headache. His dad called to tell me that he was sending Matt home; he looked pale and needed to see a doctor. Matt tried calling the urologist and his primary physician (a man he’d only ever met once before) but was having trouble getting through. On my way home, I called the primary physician and explained Matt’s symptoms. The receptionist told me he doesn’t need an appointment, he needs the emergency room.

I wasn’t alone in the car. And when the tears came, I told the friends I’d carpooled with to ignore me. I was overdramatic. Nothing could actually, possibly be seriously wrong with Matt and I had a tendency to overreact.

I picked up H from nursery school wearing oversized sunglasses and a smile to convince a four-year-old that everything was fine. When I brought H home, Matt was there with his mom, who’d come to help with both kids while I took Matt to the ER.

In the car, Matt sat holding his head, barely speaking, and breathing around pain I can’t imagine. I parked in a restricted zone (thanks to a kind parking attendant who saw my tears and didn’t ask questions) and led Matt into the emergency room for what would be the first of many trips.

I’ve told a part of this story before, how Matt’s amazing brain (April 12) allowed him to push aside the pain and symptoms while around strangers and doctors, how I compared him to the cartoon of the limp frog that comes alive to perform only when no one is watching. How I let the stress and fear overwhelm compassion and I wish I’d reacted better.

The hospital staff took Matt for a CT scan of his head. I waited inside a curtained off room not knowing what to do with myself. Not knowing who to call or what to tell them, hoping beyond hope that this was all a nightmare or a misunderstanding, but knowing with some foreboding feeling in the pit of my stomach that our world, as we knew it, was on the brink of collapse.

When Matt returned, he was mostly asleep. He wanted the lights off. My pacing annoyed him. So I paced on the other side of the curtain to let him sleep, and waited. And waited. And when no one came, I stood in the hallway and tried to catch the eye of anyone who looked like they might know anything.

Eventually the doctor walked in with the results. He didn’t make eye contact. He went straight to the light box on the wall and attached a piece of x-ray paper. He explained to me how to view the image of my husband’s brain and then pointed to the white mass in the front left. That confusing, impossible, nonsensical image remains burned into my memory, even two years later.

At this point, neurology was brought in. The neurological team told me Matt would be admitted into ICU and he’d need a MRI the following day. They didn’t say cancer. They said simply a mass, and they gave him medicine for the pain. They told me to go home because we wouldn’t get any answers tonight. Somehow, we now knew so much and yet we still knew nothing.

June 6, 2016 was my first night leaving Matt in a hospital, first night walking across a deserted parking lot on my own and feeling like the day had defeated us.

That sounds sad at first, but here’s why it’s not. We weren’t defeated on June 6, 2016. The next day, and everyday that came after, including June 6, 2017, we woke up, we fought, and we hoped for a miracle.

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