One year ago today, Matt and I were supposed to fly to Napa with friends for his 40th birthday. Instead, he was rounding out his first full week at the hospital—his longest hospital stay up until that point.
The hospital was quiet. I remember exiting the elevator and being startled by the lack of energy and chatter. A skeleton crew of nurses, doctors, and technicians presided over the PET/CT scans Matt’s Columbia neuro-oncologist had ordered before the weekend. They scanned his chest, spine, lungs, stomach, and pelvis. Test after test returned with the same result.
Negative. No sign of disease in his body.
The results weren’t unexpected. Matt couldn’t have two cancers—that was simply ludicrous. Nevertheless, when the results came back negative, I realized I could breathe easier, let out the breath I hadn’t realized I was holding. (Although, I’d be back on edge. The most important test—a bone marrow biopsy—wasn’t scheduled to be completed until Monday, October 9.)
I don’t remember much of this day. Most of the memories have faded into the aether, lost in the shadows of so many vivid days. But a single memory stands out.
Around one, a transport technician took Matt for his final PET/CT scan of the day. We (I) celebrated because Matt had walked the two steps from the bed to the wheelchair with only one person assisting. While Matt was gone, I walked outside to the Starbucks around the corner from Columbia. When I returned with two coffees (caffeine addict…a character flaw), Matt hadn’t returned. An hour later, he still hadn’t returned.
I went in search of him and found him lying on a stretcher in the middle of the CT scan room. Alone and supremely agitated for reasons I’ll share in a later post. I remember the flare of anger in my stomach. Matt was a known fall risk—he had fallen from the bed earlier in the week trying to stand on his own. He wore a bright yellow bracelet around his wrist alerting the staff to his “fall risk” status.
When I found someone to ask, they told me they were waiting for transport to wheel him back to his room, which was right down the hall. Things were moving slow due to the weekend skeleton crew. I offered to wheel him back myself and they said I wasn’t allowed, that I shouldn’t even be in the CT scan room. I complained and was permitted to stay with Matt while he waited. Eventually, Matt made it back to his room.
Why share this memory? Not to tarnish Columbia’s reputation. I doubt anyone following along will be surprised to learn that a city hospital is prone to city crowding and city inefficiency; After all, I’ve already written about our two hour MRI experience. I’m sharing only to give an example of our changing relationship.
For our entire relationship, Matt had been our voice. When we needed someone to do something for us, he spoke up and I cheered him in the background. Now, I had to learn how to use my voice for him. I am sure my voice was shriller, more high-pitched and certainly more hysterical than Matt’s would have been. I’m sure Matt would have had the transport technicians moving faster. But I talked my way into staying in that room in which I wasn’t permitted and I complained loudly enough to encourage a speedier transport. And though it wasn’t much, it was a victory and another step into our new dynamic.
The day ended with no more answers than those with which it had started.
But we (maybe just me) felt the forward progress of the day. Tests were completed and the results were negative. I’d managed to speak up for Matt. We were no longer at the rock bottom of our downswing. We were climbing up. Slowly, but surely.
And during the climb, we celebrated all the victories, however small. It was all we could do to survive one more day.