At about 5 p.m. on January 15, 2018, after just over one week of waiting, I got the call we’d been waiting for. A bed had become available in Columbia’s neurology ward. The woman who called me asked whether we still wanted the bed.
I had no contingency plans in place anymore. I’d been prepared to call the neuro-oncologist’s office when they opened the next day and schedule all of Matt’s tests as outpatient procedures. But, I couldn’t say no. The day before, Matt had fallen. The days before that, he’d needed help getting dressed and pouring cereal. We were plummeting too quickly and a hospital stay seemed like a way to change the speed of that plunge. The logic was this: if Matt took the bed at Columbia, he’d get the tests he needed sooner—the EEG and spinal MRI, he’d been seen by the surgeons sooner—they would stop into his room on morning rounds, he’d be safer.
Matt’s parents came to stay with the kids, and I drove Matt to Columbia. By 6:54 p.m., we were on the neurology floor and waiting for the nurse to complete the admission paperwork. Unlike every other admission, this time, Matt didn’t launch into a long-winded story about the weekend he was diagnosed. He didn’t mention the kilt or the beer-B-Q or the incontinence. By 7:23, Matt was settled in his room. At around 9 p.m., someone—a resident, maybe—from the neurology department arrived to test Matt’s cognition. They asked him where he was. He named the hospital in which he’d been diagnosed. They told him he was at Columbia. They asked him the same question a few minutes later. He said he was at the small, local hospital that sent him to Columbia in October. And my heart broke. Though, in retrospect, maybe I should have been prepared for those answers. I wasn’t. Somehow, I was always surprised and heartbroken when presented with evidence of how out of Matt had become. Because he was Matt and because he had that amazing brain, and because I kept expecting that upswing.
The neurology resident then asked Matt who the president was before Trump, and Matt—my husband who could rant about politics for hours, who could pull obscure sports facts and statistics out of his memory without missing a beat, who beat me at Jeopardy every week—said Conan. And I burst out laughing, which made Matt smile, at least.
Why the completely inappropriate burst of laughter? Maybe because I was stressed and exhausted, maybe because there’s only so much heartbreak one heart can take before becoming delirious, maybe because we’d ventured so far from the realm of possibility and I needed to do something besides cry. The resident looked at me and agreed that was a funny one he hadn’t heard before.
A few days ago, it occurred to me that though I am telling our story, I am officially only telling my side. The story of today illustrates why I can no longer give insight into Matt’s side of the story. Aside from the fact that I have no text messages or emails from him (to me or anyone else) because he’d stopped texting and emailing, I don’t know Matt’s side of the story; I don’t know what he understood of his story and what he could tell of his story. I can’t even begin to guess what and how he processed these January days.
I wrote in May that the problem with lasts is that they sneak up on you. It’s only in retrospect that you realize a last has passed, and then it’s too late to commit the details to heart. January 15, 2018 is a last that seems impossible. This last, the very nature of this last, should be crystal clear in my memory. It’s not. It’s a rushed, blurry moment on the way to another moment that is equally rushed and blurry.
The true story of January 15, 2018 is not the story of Matt’s final admission to Columbia. It’s the story of a last we didn’t see coming; the story of January 15, 2018 is the story of Matt’s last good-bye to G and H, his last time seeing them and speaking with them.
One year ago today, in an effort to slow down the speed of our plummet, Matt said a quick good-bye to G and H, walked out of our house, out of our forever home, for the last time. We (he and I) rushed out of the house convinced he’d be back in a few days, maybe a week. He wasn’t. We plummeted faster than anyone ever could have guessed.
We were so busy trying to slow down the pace of our plummet, we didn’t slow down the pace of this last we didn’t see coming. As a result, the details are hazy. So I’m left simply hoping. Hoping that G and H remember the feel of his arms hugging them close, the strength of his love, and the determination in his unsteady steps out the door in order to continue a battle against an invisible monster, all in the hopes of getting more time with them.