I remember watching Matt follow the technician into the room where he’d receive radiation on December 6, 2017. And I remember him walking out. I remember the jolt of panic I felt when he walked out. Something seemed different. His gait or the look in his eyes.
We drove home—listening to Hamilton—and I crafted theories to explain the difference I saw from one moment to the next. I came up with two possibilities. Either I was imagining the change. Or, this latest dose of radiation had prompted swelling, which was a possible side effect of the radiation. Matt was prone to swelling. It was a harsh lesson we learned early on.
Things didn’t improve by the afternoon or the evening. At 5:50 p.m., I texted a friend that Matt had another sudden cognitive decline and I’d gone into panic mode. In looking back, I suspect the panic was more pronounced because the day before had been relatively easy; Matt had been slightly back to himself and I’d begun to believe things were getting better.
Something had changed with Matt. More than he was mixing up words or speaking irrationally. He’d stopped making sense, as if his reality had become distorted.
The best way I can describe what I mean is by example: A knife had gotten lodged in the garbage disposal. I’d tried using pliers and tools and YouTube tutorials to help me dislodge the knife, but, if anything, I was just making the problem worse. Eventually, I realized all that would happen is that I’d cut my hand open (either thanks to the knife’s sharp edge or the disposal’s severe blades) and a trip to the hospital for stitches was the last thing we (our family of four) needed. Matt had heard me explaining to G and H what I was doing and somehow had taken the concept—that I was afraid of getting my hand cut—and translated it to mean he couldn’t use a fork to eat dinner because he needed to worry about getting his hand chopped up.
At the dinner table, that all too familiar anger of his surfaced. He used his fingers to eat, deeming it safer than a fork. I remember feeling desperate and terrified and simply overwhelmed by the uncertainty of what the next moment could bring.
I told Matt that I would give him thirty more minutes, and if the dip in his cognition didn’t resolve, I’d have to call the doctor.
I don’t know that I ended up calling the doctor. After G and H went to bed, Matt’s anger subsided and it became easier to think clearly. I suspect I realized that the doctor could do nothing for Matt—for us—in that moment. I suspect I did not realize then, though I do know, that the support I needed was more emotional than medical, anyway. I needed someone who understood that trying to convince my husband to use a fork was hard. I needed someone to confirm it was okay to feel tired in a way that went beyond physical exhaustion.
At 9:09, a friend texted and said maybe tomorrow would be better. I wrote back: I think it’s very possible! Based on how good yesterday was, it’s not crazy to think tomorrow will be better than today.
One day was fine and the next wasn’t. One day could break our spirit and the next could buoy us back toward hope. The difficulty in these days became that it was impossible to know what to expect. The benefit of that unpredictability became the promise that tomorrow could be better than today.