The rule of three is a common in stories and fairy tales—Three Little Pigs, Aladdin’s three wishes, The Little Mermaid’s three days. The rule of three pops up in superstition: bad things come in threes—catastrophes, celebrity deaths. The rule of three appears in this story, too. Three incidents, one after another, each more terrifying than the last. And the third incident, the one on January 8, 2018, was the one that brought me to tears, the one that left me shaking and terrified and simply helpless.
Today’s story is impossible to write. Along with a handful of other days, I’ve been writing today’s post in my mind for the last ten months. I thought by now I might know how I wanted to handle the story of one year ago today. And yet, 290 posts later, I still don’t know.
I still don’t know, because though I owe this story honesty, though I’ve given it all the honesty I can muster, the story of today is a story I’d rather not keep on the record. I’d prefer to let the details of this day fade into the tapestry of memory. I don’t want G and H to ever know exactly what happened. I don’t want Matt’s memory tainted by what happened, either. I wish I could forget. But then again, the story of today is crucial. The incident that happened one year ago today was the catalyst for Matt’s (final) hospital stay and for the MRI that finally revealed the truth that all those PET scans and biopsies (thyroid, bone marrow, and bone) had failed to find.
So maybe there’s a middle ground, some place where the worst details can fade but the story can still be written. I’ll try.
While G and H were eating breakfast in the kitchen, I walked up the stairs to check on Matt. I walked in on a scene that was nothing short of my nightmare and simply…fell apart. I just—I didn’t know what to do, how to move forward, how to help Matt or myself. There had been so many other moments when I’d managed to function despite terror and disbelief, but I couldn’t this time. All those pieces of myself I was holding together, simply came undone.
I called Matt’s parents for help. As I dialed the number, I felt nothing but guilt. I didn’t want them to know, to see what I’d seen. With all my heart I wanted to protect them from the worst of what was happening to Matt, but I also didn’t know what to do next, how to recover. Practically and emotionally.
Matt’s mom arrived within minutes and took charge when I couldn’t. In what seemed like seconds, while I got G and H on the school bus, she’d found a way forward. With her help, the nightmare didn’t feel so impossible and I could finally stop shaking, think clearly and gather the broken pieces of myself. With her help, we recovered practically, if not emotionally.
Once the situation was under control—thanks in whole to Matt’s mom—I called Columbia and told them what had happened that morning and the two days prior. They told me to come in; they’d squeeze Matt in for an appointment. We were in the office by 11:30.
At Columbia, the doctor examined Matt, listened to the three incidents, and determined that she wanted to admit Matt to the hospital. She wanted an EEG to determine whether the three incidents were sub-clinical seizures. She wanted a spinal MRI, because this last incident had involved Matt’s bowel function, and bowel and bladder function was so intimately linked with spinal tumors. And she wanted the surgeon to see Matt—admission to the hospital would speed up the surgery timeline, if we decided to go that route.
The one problem: the hospital was full—overcrowded city hospitals. There were no beds available. The doctor called in and put us on the waiting list for a bed, which was a kindness that allowed us to avoid the chaos of the emergency room. Matt and I went to lunch and then lingered in the relative calmness of the doctor’s waiting room. He napped, and I wrote. Matt didn’t quite remember what had happened in the morning, and that was a relief. Around five, a nurse found us and told us that there was no chance of a bed becoming available tonight. She gave me her cell phone number and took mine, and she told me she’d text me the minute she had any information.
That night, we went home, spent some time with G and H, and things seemed relatively calm. Things truly were relatively calm. I didn’t know then that it would be Matt’s last Monday night at home. I didn’t know then, as I fell asleep clutching on to the hope for an easy night and a better day, that we were marching toward tragedy.