Most of the details of June 7, 2016 are a blur. I only barely remembering waking up alone with a sob in my throat. I only barely remember rushing the kids to school and holding myself together while they asked questions about Daddy. I don’t remember all the moving parts and logistics as family and friends swooped in to help.
I do have a single, vivid flash of memory from June 7, 2016. Matt in the hospital bed in the ICU, attached by a dozen wires to machines that continually beeped and hissed and monitored his vitals, his phone in his hand, his gaze barely lifting from the screen when the neurosurgeon came in to tell us the MRI confirmed the mass was a tumor.
I promised Matt’s version along with mine, but I didn’t mention his version of the story yesterday, and I won’t today, either. He had no version. He didn’t remember these days. When the neurosurgeon announced that Matt was scheduled for surgery the next day, Matt barely listened. He barely reacted. When the neurosurgeon asked the same questions a dozen nurses and residents had already asked to test memory, focus, and cognition, Matt answered relatively well. But he remained unaffected and stoic. The surgeon noted Matt’s lack of emotion and told us that the position of Matt’s tumor could impact logic, emotion, and executive function.
And yet, I looked at Matt’s blank expression and didn’t know what to believe. I couldn’t tell whether he was putting on a brave face or simply not capable of emotion. It still seemed so impossible that a tumor—something so solid and real—could be impacting something as abstract as personality and emotion. Somehow, I still hadn’t made the connection between the issues we’d been facing—the arguments that traveled in irrational circles and the seemingly abrupt bad tempers—and the tumor.
The neurosurgeon recommended surgery, as soon as possible, the next day. He said the tumor was the size of a grown man’s fist and putting dangerous pressure on Matt’s brain. But—and here comes the sentence on which I pinned my hopes for the next twenty-four hours, the first glimmer of hope to ever appear in this hope-filled story—the tumor could be benign. There was a chance that the tumor was not cancerous.
That night, I went home to the kids. They were already fed and in bed. Somewhere in all those minutes that had passed like lifetimes, the hours had raced away in double time. Two years ago today, I learned that hospital time doesn’t work like real world time. The minutes feel as though they are barely inching along and yet suddenly it’s midnight, half the ordered tests and procedures haven’t been completed, and your body’s exhausted, your heart’s too heavy, and your mind won’t stop asking what if.
At some point in the sleepless night, I Googled. I researched the image I’d seen on the CT scan and learned how to tell the difference between a malignant brain tumor and a benign one. When I compared the image I’d seen on Matt’s CT scan with what I found on Google, I knew the tumor looked malignant. I refused to believe it. The neurosurgeon had said there was a chance; he’d offered a glimmer of hope and I reached for it, refusing to believe that our story would have anything but a happy ending.
A year ago today, on June 7, 2017, I also clutched a glimmer of hope in the form of the Polio virus vaccine, and I refused to believe that our story would have anything but a happy ending.
At first glance, June 7, 2016 seemed like a bridge day, nothing but a day stuck between the revelatory CT scan day and brain surgery day. But in retrospect, it was fundamental. It set the tone for the next twenty months. Because two years ago today, while wading through overwhelming darkness, I reached for my first glimmer of hope and chose hope over despair.