January 9, 2018: Contingency Plans

One year ago today, I woke up and started planning. Contingency plans stacked upon contingency plans. I had a plan prepared for almost every possibility: if a bed became available at noon, or five, or even in the middle of the night. Friends and family were on alert to jump in and cover G and H so that Matt and I could rush into the city at whatever time. Our hospital bag was packed—extra clothes, phone charger, water bottle, chapstick—and ready by the front door.

That Matt wouldn’t get a bed on January 9, 2018 was the one contingency I hadn’t planned for, the one that had seemed most unlikely—because of course Matt would get a bed. We’d been waiting more than twenty-four hours. He was a brain cancer patient who was possibly suffering sub-clinical seizures, a brain cancer patient who’d suffered three terrifying episodes within three days, who was not unlike a walking time bomb—the next terrible incident could occur at any moment, without any warning.

Which is why, often during these January days, after the three incidents that sent me running back to Columbia, I found myself constantly watching Matt. Whether I was cooking dinner or helping with homework or talking with G or H about their days, my attention was also on Matt, noticing where he was in the house, how he was walking, and how he was acting. It became second nature to have one eye on Matt. If Matt had still been Matt, I might have reinstated the checklist and he might have good-naturedly rolled his eyes while answering my questions. But he wasn’t Matt, and he couldn’t answer my questions; I could only guess about his pain or the status of his vision or the height of his spirits through observation.

Months ago, I wrote about the difficulty, the impossibility, of being in two places at once. Then, I was thinking only about the need to physically be in two places: with Matt and with G and H. But as I read through the text messages from one year ago today, and as the memories of this final week at home took over my thoughts, I remembered the overwhelming feeling of these days. The feeling that I was constantly in two places. Not physically, because that hadn’t somehow become possible, but mentally, emotionally.

The day marched on and by noon, I’d heard nothing. I texted the nurse who’d been kind enough to give me her cell phone number so I didn’t have to go through Columbia’s antiquated automated phone system. She said nothing was available and she’d call the hospital again in the late afternoon. Around five, the nurse texted me and said there was no chance of a bed becoming available overnight and we’d have to keep waiting.

And I remember the weight of that responsibility settling on my shoulders. Matt was a brain cancer patient who was only not in the hospital because of logistics and space. Matt was a brain cancer patient whose doctor determined he needed hospital-level care, but all he was getting was me. The hope that day was simply this: that I would be enough.

In retrospect, I could never be enough–we were too far out of the realm of anything one person could manage alone. And also, in retrospect, I was always enough–the steady strength of a beating heart full of love maybe is always enough.

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