On Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 1:00am my world was rocked. Not by my teenage daughter playing her music too loud. Nor by the sound of a car stereo blasting its way past our quiet house. No, this was far more sinister. And threatening.
I woke up to the disturbing sight of E in the hallway holding his head in his hands like a pumpkin leftover from Halloween. He must have switched on the light because I could see him so vividly heading towards our darkened bedroom. Like a zombie, one of the characters from The Walking Dead. He was stumbling and mumbling. I had been sleeping and had no idea what time it was, nor did I comprehend the scene that was unfolding.
Startled, dazed and confused I leapt from our bed. E stopped and did a 180, then shuffled off into the bathroom. I followed. I stood in the doorway and watched as he draped his face over the toilet bowl. His mouth agape.
“What’s wrong?” I cried. “What’s happening?”
E sounded like he had a mouth full of marbles. Saliva was pouring like clear corn syrup from his open mouth. A steady viscous stream of treacle. He continued to hold onto his head like it was a bowling ball. Burdensome, heavy and tiring. One false move and it could slip from his hands. Shatter everything.
Terror-struck, I asked again what was wrong.
This is what I heard:
This is the frenzied conversation that followed:
“Cancer! No-no-no! What do you mean? What do we do?”
“811? What is that?”
“I’m calling a nurse?”
So I called the nurses hotline. I was still dazed and confused. Still hadn’t registered what was happening. Everything was haywire. A living nightmare. A million thoughts were exploding in my mind all at once. I went from zero to the deepest darkest scariest place in no time flat. I lost it briefly. And then jumped into action. It was the only thing I knew how to do well. Act.
In our retro 40’s home, we have a little alcove in the hall where the phone is hung. It is directly across from the doorway to the bathroom so I had a clear vantage point to E’s agony. It was gut-wrenching to witness my love, my brawny man, so vulnerable and in such pain. Heartbreaking to see his beautiful blue eyes gripped with anxiety and distress.
I began to have this two-way conversation with E and the lovely (and calm) nurse on the other end of the phone. Her voice was soothing. Comforting. Reassuring.
I still didn’t understand fully what was going on at this point. I just knew it was bad. In every sense of the word. I explained to the nurse, as best I could, the symptoms that E was presenting. I’ve never been adept at understanding people who don’t speak English very well. I’m embarrassed to admit that accents are my Achilles Heel of communication. The mumbo jumbo dripping from E’s mouth was way beyond that. Nothing made sense. Partly because I was in a state of shock and what he was saying was simply unbelievable. Mystifying. Inconceivable. And partly because E was incapable of talking. It was like his mouth was full of bad food or dirty socks. Every word labored. Garbled. Distorted.
If it hadn’t been so terrifying, it would have been quite comical. We were participants in a game of charades where I had to “guess the symptoms.” I managed to figure out that he was experiencing severe pain in his mouth. His tongue was swollen. He couldn’t swallow. Saliva was pouring by the bucket full into his cupped hands. But he had no trouble breathing. The silver lining in the black cloud hanging over his head.
The nurse listened patiently and then offered two options. Either call an ambulance to take E to the hospital. Or drive him there. Since it was E’s life I gave him the choice.
Within minutes E, our daughter M and I were on our way to the hospital. I drove while E sat next to me in the front of the truck. M sat in the bumper seat in the back of the cab, her University textbooks in one hand, cell phone in the other.
The nerve-wracking journey across town was long, dark and eerily quiet. We hit every red light, which only exacerbated my frustration and fear. It seemed to take forever to get there.
As I drove I took E’s hand and held it tight. I didn’t want to ever let it go. Tears began to flow. Then anger.
We had a brief conversation that went something like this:
“Why didn’t you tell me you were having a biopsy?”
“I didn’t want to worry you.”
“Worry me? Look how well that worked out for you.”